Andrew Butcher (HNZ '07) and Chris Koch (HS '04, HNZ '07) were walking to their cars after a meeting when Butcher answered his cell phone.
"We were hooting and hollering in the parking lot," said Butcher, explaining their reaction upon learning they'd just been awarded an Echoing Green Fellowship for their work with GTECH, a start-up committed to community revitalization.
GTECH, or Growth Through Energy and Community Health, began in 2007 as a master's project for Butcher and Koch, who were attending the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. (Co-founders Matthew Ciccone (HNZ '07) and Nathaniel Doyno now serve on GTECH's board of directors.)
The company's unique strategy links urban redevelopment with environmental sustainability. GTECH aims to accomplish this lofty goal with a three-pronged approach: reclaiming blighted urban land, planting renewable bio-fuel crops, and providing community growth through job training.
One year after graduation, the GTECH founders have already planted energy crops on almost 15 acres of previously vacant Pittsburgh land. Crops include sunflower, canola and switchgrass — all used in the production of bio-fuels like cellulosic ethanol and bio-diesel. These plants also absorb pollutants from the contaminated soil — what's called 'phytoremediating.'
GTECH is looking to further community renewal through its pilot Green Job Corps, which will provide 'green collar' job training for the residents of economically distressed local areas.
"With 14,000 vacant lots in the city of Pittsburgh, we can utilize the land as a mechanism ... serving as the first rung on a career ladder to the green economy," Butcher explained.
Echoing Green was impressed enough to award Butcher and Koch one of its 20 coveted annual fellowships — out of a pool of 1,500 international applicants.
"It is an honor to be apart of the Echoing Green community," said Koch. She noted that the grant will allow GTECH to continue its expansion here and beyond the Pittsburgh region. Butcher notes three cities have already been in contact.
"It's truly amazing to learn from some of the individuals we've worked with at Carnegie Mellon, and how we've been propelled by them," Butcher said.
"Carnegie Mellon prides itself on interdisciplinary collaboration and we are honored to represent what can come from that," concluded Koch.
Photographed: Canola (rapeseed) grown in East Liberty in partnership with East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI) — funded through The Sprout Fund's Engage Pittsburgh Grant. Canola is an ideal crop to remediate soil, and has the potential to yield 120 gallons of vegetable oil per year.