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Research Questions

  1. What green and green-adjacent sectors are strong in the region now, and sectors leverage regional assets and attributes, and which sectors are likely to have broad stakeholder support and interest?
  2. Which sectors demonstrate the potential to grow or progress, and which sectors provide the best opportunities for equity and inclusion?
  3. Which factors could hinder the growth or development of these sectors going forward, and which sectors have uneven stakeholder support or risk creating regional divides?

Creating and expanding a green economy—one that is focused on producing more-sustainable goods and services—is a promising opportunity for the seven-county greater Pittsburgh region to consider. A green economy offers the possibility of bringing together existing regional assets and strengths with significant funding from the federal government. Recognizing the potential for growth of a green economy in the region, especially in the context of historic federal funding, the Richard King Mellon Foundation (RKMF) asked RAND to identify opportunities for local and regional stakeholders to build and grow robust and equitable green economic sectors in the region.

This companion report summarizes an assessment of the economic development potential of sustainable sectors in the greater Pittsburgh region. Through qualitative and quantitative analyses, the authors identify the most promising sectors based on their relative strengths, opportunities, and challenges for success. The study's findings and recommendations are intended to support decisionmaking by local and regional stakeholders and to highlight potential areas of focus for regional philanthropic organizations, including RKMF, the study's funder.

Key Findings

  • Seven sectors are already important or potentially promising as green sectors in the greater Pittsburgh region: sustainable agriculture, the circular economy, clean energy, green building, advanced manufacturing, outdoor recreation, and water management.
  • Two of these promising sectors might be best suited for focused support by local and regional governments, nonprofits, and philanthropic entities: circular economy and outdoor recreation.
  • More than half of existing jobs in needed green occupations typically do not require education past high school for entry, making green sectors more open to a variety of educational and skill levels.
  • Several common challenges could affect the growth of promising sustainable sectors, such as fragmented regional communication, coordination, and collaboration; a lack of awareness of green jobs in high school or earlier; an inability to retain highly trained talent in the region; and an aging workforce and declining population in some parts of the region.


  • Focus on sustainable sectors that support regionally distinct opportunities, have broad stakeholder support, and can do the most with modest or incremental investments, such as a circular economy (centered on a green building materials subsector) and outdoor recreation.
  • Develop and support better and more investment mechanisms to seed and grow new businesses within the most promising sectors.
  • Develop and build support for policies that create appropriate regulatory or market signals at local and regional levels, when possible.
  • Make sure that proposed projects have proactive outreach and education.
  • Support existing education and training providers that seek to bridge gaps rather than create new programs.
  • Target opportunities that can increase diversity, equity, and inclusion and avoid unintended negative consequences.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Richard King Mellon Foundation conducted in the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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