Part 1: Looking Back at GTECH’s First 10 Years

Some highlights from GTECH’s first 10 years, from the Swiss Cheese Memory of Co-Founder and CEO Andrew Butcher

Part 1: Looking Back 

In reflecting upon all of the glory, trials and tribulations, humor, and defining moments of the last 10 years I am awash with memories and nostalgia.  The following is a series of brief snapshots of some unique moments worthy of sharing as we begin to celebrate ten years of Growth Through Energy + Community Health.  

I’ll never forget the long nights of graduate research in Hamburg Hall at The Heinz College pacing the halls at 2am hypothesizing what could be done to address the growing sea of vacancy and blight in the City.  I recall the exact night when the burden of research tilted towards the elation of creating solutions.  When granted the ability to explore creative reuse strategies – I woke up every morning for months with enthusiasm and delight around the possibilities.

That energy manifested into GTECH’s original sunflower reclamation strategy resulting in tens of thousands of sunflowers being planted and cultivated on vacant lots throughout the County.  The “Great Sunflower Hunt” fueled the organization’s startup, international exposure, early reputation – but most importantly – it changed people’s perceptions of places – ultimately enabling insight into the deep energy that exists in communities often defined by vacancy and disinvestment.  

I remember our first 80 yards of compost dumped on the Hazelwood Almono brownfield and the first sprouts of crops grown on the rubble laden field.  

Separating sunflower seeds, 2009

I remember the first time we made canola oil from crops grown in East Liberty – and the mind blowing expression of a young child when they learned that 1 sunflower seed can grow a plant yielding over 500 seeds that can then be crushed into sunflower oil and used to power a school bus.  

In an effort to link land use and the growing green economy I remember the first few summers of hosting summer interns to learn about energy, material reuse and pathways to green jobs.  I especially remember the first time an 18 year old in the program pulled me aside to tell me that not only had they had a fulfilling day of on the job – but that fundamentally loved the work.  

After helping the Larimer Green Team grow and cultivate a full city block of sunflowers amidst a national celebration of Green Jobs it was so exciting to set our sites on our future home at 6587 Hamilton in Larimer.  With some fortunate office furniture donations from Construction Junction suddenly the scrappy start-up days of GTECH evolved into a professionally gritty organization.   

I remember simultaneously being excited about GTECH’s first few gallons of waste cooking oil collected from local fish fry’s while also mapping out the pipeline for workforce development in the local energy efficiency and weatherization sector.  I remember being so excited by helping organize the first of many Green Economy convenings among dozens of inspiring organizations to better establish pathways for education, training and employment in the local green economy.  

I remember when we first stumbled into the power of helping transition places by giving the power away as project investments in the East End and Northside evolved in creative and inspiring ways.  

I remember the very first cohort of Ambassadors we convened on The Northside and feeling so humbled by the breadth of knowledge and experience in the room.  I remember sharing the announcement of my daughter’s and son’s birth with Ambassadors and blushing from the hugs and jubilee.  

The bouquet flowers at my wedding were grown on a vacant lot in Homewood.  

My garage once was overflowing with sunflower seeds and hand tools.

I have a scar on my left leg from rebar jutting out of the ground in Lawrenceville

I once wore a fully body beaver costume to a meeting at The Heinz Endowments.  (True story)

I remember shouting to a crowded river boat that “I love Pittsburgh” during the Ohio River Watershed awards ceremony in 2007.  

There is a life time of potent memories to recount and savor.  More than I could possibly hope to share here.  But that is one of the most profound gifts of the last 10 years and validation of the journey itself.  In the same vein there is a lifetime of memories awaiting the GTECH community as we pause to celebrate and affirm that we are Grounded For Good on April 21 @ The Heinz History Center.  

I can’t wait to see you there and hear some of your memories and highlights.  

Written by Andrew Butcher.

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