Ravell Call, Deseret News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams lead a group of cyclists from Liberty Park during a bike to work event, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. The Clear the Air Challenge, Becker noted, is an effort where people can make a difference by every day choices.

SALT LAKE CITY — Peggy McDonough leads a downtown architectural firm that incorporates sustainability into the buildings it designs.

"Clean air and sustainable practices are something we support. We think green when we design for our clients, and we want to be able to walk the talk."

That "walking" turned into 4,904 vehicle trips not taken by the employees of MHTN Architects who participated in the 5th Annual Clear the Air Challenge.

Their efforts earned the company an overall third place team finish and employee Dennette Nobles earned “most consistent silver," for personally reducing the trips she takes in her car by 272 for the July challenge period.

MHTN was one of multiple award recipients recognized Saturday in a presentation at the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market.

McDonough, president of the firm, said MHTN employees have been participating since the challenge's inception, and in fact, associate principal Brian Parker won the individual award the first year.

"We're no strangers to this," she said. "We recognize there is a real need (to reduce air pollution).”

This year's challenge attracted nearly 8,500 participants who eliminated close to 1.9 million miles traveled by reducing vehicle trips by 169,035. In the process, nearly 90,000 gallons of gas were not used and $1.1 million was saved.

Participants pledge to reduce vehicle emissions and improve Utah's air quality by using a web-based tool to log trips eliminated by biking, walking, e-traveling, trip chaining, teleworking, using public transit, carpooling or working a compressed workweek.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, dubbed the "father" of the Clear the Air Challenge, said the collaborative effort grew out of the recognition that people need to do their part to improve air quality.

"What could we do beyond what is required of us to improve air quality?" he said, pointing to the obvious answer of reducing vehicle miles traveled.

"The largest contributor to our air quality problem, the largest cause of our problem, is us."

Becker said the air quality problem is the No. 1 deterrent identified by state economic development officials to new businesses locating in Utah. He said that a neighbor of his has moved out of Utah specifically due to air pollution.

"And that's a shame. It harms everyone."

The Clear the Air Challenge, Becker noted, is an effort where people can make a difference by everyday choices.

"If we are going to have better air quality, it really needs to go beyond the regulatory realm," he said.

This year, 11 companies battled it down the wire to be the first-place finisher, rankings that decided on the final day.

In the end, Overstock.com came away with the victory, followed by Fidelity Investments and ADP. O.C. Tanner garnered the most trips saved, and Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen got "gold" for eliminating 562 trips.

First place winner for teams was the University of Utah Facilities Management, followed by Goldman Sachs at second place.

Over its five-year life, the challenge has saved more than 7.1 million vehicle miles traveled and reduced vehicle emissions by more than 9 million pounds.

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