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Budgeting for Climate: The City of Pittsburgh Repurposes Resources for a Sustainable Future

Pittsburgh, PA, USA

At a Glance

The budget is a potent tool to leverage for change. It is logical to begin there when implementing a major initiative like Climate Action. A shared language between finance and sustainability departments is needed to connect strategy and budget. Priority Based Budgeting builds that language.

Problem Addressed

Governments must continually juggle multiple issues of immediate importance. Resource scarcity and organizational constraints make it difficult to address "new" issues such as Climate Action. But local governments don't have the luxury of not preparing. They have the unique opportunity to prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change. At the local government level, resources and opportunities exist, but they must be reviewed and prioritized for action. Local governments know their communities and their citizens and can create climate action plans customized for the specific circumstances of their communities.

On April 22, 2021, Mayor William Peduto issued a sweeping Earth Day Executive Order that builds upon the City of Pittsburgh's leadership in fighting climate change. This Executive Order committed the City to become fully carbon neutral by 2050. But 2021 doesn't mark the beginning of this endeavor to mitigate climate change for the City of Pittsburgh.

Following the leadership of Mayor Peduto, the City has been working towards this goal over his tenure in local government. On February 9, 2007, the City of Pittsburgh signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to implement local climate change mitigation solutions that would save taxpayer dollars and reduce long-term energy use. In 2012, Climate Action 2.0 was created to review efforts toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2017 the City of Pittsburgh recognized a need for expedited measures and a more holistic plan across all sectors. And in 2019, the City became the second in the nation to formally integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals best practices into its own goals and policies. Pittsburgh again marks itself as a leader in achieving a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

It is under his leadership and with his support that the City can pursue a course of action. However, that course needs to unify the organization, elected officials and community behind this goal and prioritize resources accordingly. A shared language that allows for clear communication and decision making that will most positively impact the City across all priorities, including Climate Action, is needed for the contents of the Earth Day Executive Order and Climate Action Plan 3.0 to be successful.

To reach the ambitious goals set forth by City leadership, all City Departments will assess climate impact scoring when crafting budgets. This requirement must be applied uniformly across all services and departments to ensure that the data upon which budget requests and decisions are made is reliable and repeatable. Through the Priority Based Budgeting methodology and the creation of a program inventory, all 23 City departments can communicate the services they provide, the cost of providing them, how they serve the organization or community, and their impact on the successful achievement of the City's Climate Action goals.

City of Pittsburgh, PA used/is using Priority Based Budgeting and Program Insight Workshops to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

In partnership with NRDC, the City of Pittsburgh was awarded a grant in November 2020 to implement Priority Based Budgeting (PBB). PBB is a methodology and intuitive software that creates the data to support fiscally responsible decisions that drive resources to the programs most aligned with the community’s priorities. Through this NRDC and American Cities Climate Challenge grant, Pittsburgh was to apply PBB data to identify opportunities to free up, repurpose, and prioritize resources to fund climate objectives.

The City of Pittsburgh is leading the way and establishing best practices for other municipalities to emulate. They are actively seeking data, staying open to information from their department leaders and staff, pursuing best practices, and seeking to lead others through PBB implementation. Implementing PBB, creating program data, and applying that data through Insight Workshops provided the City with the language needed to foster an inclusive conversation among all City Departments. The PBB process is based on the knowledge of the entire organization, and input from all levels of the organization is crucial to developing this shared language.

Municipalities must identify the services they offer so that they can understand what it costs to deliver them and how it all contributes to their overall strategy and values. This program identification is foundational to this work. The City of Pittsburgh identified 249 programs across all 23 of their departments. Each of these programs now exists in their OnlinePBB model to easily manage, apply recommendations, and track changes over time. Of these 249 programs, 74 (45%) programs were marked as actionable towards impacting their Climate priority.

This actionability was based on the evaluation against a set of results developed by the City's project leaders including climate impact. The aggregation of result data and the calculation of the overall alignment provides invaluable data for the City to communicate and make decisions.

All programs include a clear description of the service provided, the FTE who contribute their time to delivering it, the operating expenses associated with the service provision and its alignment to their specific set of results. This bundling of information into a single unit, the program, enabled conversations, both internal and external, that were easy to understand and backed by data.

These conversations took place over a three-day Climate Action focused Insight Workshop facilitated by ResourceX. The purpose of these workshops was to encourage Departments to produce a library of ideas, present those ideas to a cross-functional group of peers for feedback, develop chosen ideas into recommendations and then submit them to leadership for approval. The City of Pittsburgh team identified 186 Program Insights with $41 million in potential repurposing opportunities and entrepreneurial revenue-generating opportunities toward their Climate objectives.


  1. The City embedded Climate into their Budget Prioritization Framework. City programs now have the criteria against which they can be measured as communicated by the Earth Day Executive Order
  2. All 215 budget requests from the 2022 budget were submitted at the program level, with 37 marked as having some impact on climate, and 4 identified as having a clear impact on climate.
  3. Twenty-three City Departments and Executive Sponsors were represented and contributed to the data creation and the generation of Climate focused budget recommendations.
  4. The city’s new budgeting methodology led to the inclusion of including 2 budget requests that have a clear impact on climate in the 2022 Operating Budget.
  5. The program data collected led to the introduction of two ordinances to help Pittsburgh transition to sustainable consumption and production through innovative procurement practices

Lessons Learned

  1. The valuable data needed to prioritize resource allocation can be created and applied in a short period of time with a motivated staff and executive sponsorship support.
  2. The peer contribution during the Insight Workshops helped to create a richer set of opportunities. Each idea was questioned and vetted by colleagues cross-departmentally.
  3. The carryover effect of investing in climate action contributes to other outcomes vital to the community's safety, economic growth, infrastructure stability and overall well-being.

Something Unique

The City of Pittsburgh made history with its 2022 budget preparation by submitting all 215 budget requests at the program level utilizing OnlinePBB Budgeter. Moving forward, the City of Pittsburgh will continue to integrate sustainability into City processes. To accomplish this and the 2030 climate goals, the City is building Priority Based Budgeting into the City’s budget process, releasing an energy strategy to create a framework for the 2030 goals.

Who Should Consider?

Local governments pursuing resources to make an impact in their community. Whether your goal is Climate, Equity, Resilience, or any of today's major challenges, PBB provides rich data to support your endeavor.

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