Carnegie Mellon University

Meredith Levene

May 13, 2021

Levene Presents: Pittsburgh’s Story of Environmental Justice and Renewable Energy

CEE Junior Meredith Levene has always been interested in how renewable energy could create a better, greener future. And after taking CEE courses that introduced her to environmental justice, she began to formulate sustainability-based ideas that could help others. “I want to look into how renewable energy could improve environmental justice—which is how I came up with the project idea,” she mentions.

The May 2021 undergraduate research symposium Meeting of the Minds provided Levene with the opportunity to present her research project, Pittsburgh’s Story of Environmental Justice and Renewable Energy to the wider CMU community.  

"I want to look into how renewable energy could improve environmental justice"

Under the supervision of Professor Costa Samaras, Levene investigated how redlining—the refusal to give a home loan to someone in a certain area because of their racial identity—impacts Pittsburgh today. She plotted locations where minority and low income communities are concentrated and compared it to data on air quality, toxic release sites, and other environmental indicators. 

“I found a really concerning overlap between poor environmental conditions and the location of minority and low income communities,” Levene states.

She then researched the communities that paid the highest percentage of their income to energy costs, discovering that minorities and low income communities were paying the most. 

To suggest potential solutions to this problem, Levene used Google Project Rooftop data to quantify how much solar energy was available in each region of Pittsburgh—as well as the number of homes that could be powered by solar. She asserts that the results showed that the minority community's energy burden could be nearly or entirely alleviated by solar energy. 

Presenting her research at Meeting of Minds showcased her undergraduate work and the interests cultivated during her time at CEE. Thanks to this research project, Levene believes that she’s found that renewable energy can help to provide environmental justice for minority and low income Pittsburgh communities. 

“It will be important to consider how to make solar installation equitable and look into how renewable energy can help work towards a more just world.”

SDG 10 Icon This story demonstrates CMU's work toward attaining Sustainable Development Goal 10 of the 17 Global Goals to create a more equitable and viable planet by 2030.