Lately, Pittsburgh and the surrounding region have made headlines for green initiatives that have, in large part, taken place at the grassroots level. Starting this week, however, Allegheny County will follow the lead of major cities like New York, Portland and Seattle and make sustainability a policy. The Post-Gazette reports that Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato signed a law that mandates energy conservation and trims wasteful spending in county government. Within the next five years, the county aims to reduce county waste by 20 percent through a reduction of energy consumption, an increase in water efficiency, and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

One key addition to the new policy is the creation of a green advisory committee, the brainchild of the existing "Green Action Team" created by Onorato a year ago. The group will consult with the county to develop and maintain sustainable government practices. Existing projects to reduce the county's footprint include new lights in the county jail, LED street lights in some neighborhoods, and rooftop gardens on the county office building.

Future projects and policies will include a consistent recycling program for each neighborhood as well as county buildings, an annual green jobs forum, and the establishment of a minimum LEED certification for new construction or renovations. Some of the policy's plans, including updating the county's vehicle fleet and motorized equipment to lower emissions, might be costly, but officials say the changes will pay for themselves through energy savings.