Sustainability isn’t a new concept at Pitt.
Pitt dominates the university division in Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Green Workplace Challenge and is recognized regularly on the Princeton Review’s annual list of Green Colleges and the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking.
From building and renovation projects that routinely aim for U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification to Dining Services menus that feature locally sourced and more sustainable plant-based fare, the University community’s well-established commitment to sustainability can be seen in nearly every corner of campus.
Each year the campus community celebrates its Pitt Sustainability Awards winners — the faculty, staff, student and group advocates who are making an impact.
This year’s winners were honored April 20 at the culmination of the University’s first-ever Pitt Sustainability Week.
- Faculty winner: David Sanchez, Swanson School of Engineering
- Staff co-winners: Andy Moran, Facilities Management Division, and Gina Gowins, Parking, Transportation and Services
- Student winner: Sarah Grguras, Department of Geology and Environmental Science and program assistant, Student Office of Sustainability
- Group winner: Pitt Pantry
- Student Group winner: Fossil Free Pitt Coalition
Photos from the award winners at a celebration honoring their efforts can be viewed at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation's online photo gallery.
Setting the Bar Higher
In addition to celebrating what’s been done and recognizing the members of the campus community who are making it happen, Pitt Sustainability Week raised awareness of a new University-wide sustainability plan that sets the bar even higher.
“This plan is a critical component in Pitt’s ongoing efforts to advance sustainability,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher stated in his introduction to the plan. “As we begin to look to the future and shift this ambitious plan into action, I encourage you to join in. By working together, and propelled by your ideas, talents and passions, we can cultivate a thriving culture of sustainability at Pitt — one that has a far-reaching, long-lasting and meaningful impact.”
Developed with the guidance of a broad-based committee of faculty, staff, students and administrators in accord with the University’s strategic plan, the plan outlines a host of measurable goals including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and landfill waste and increasing the percentage of renewable energy used on campus.
The plan also creates an Office of Sustainability, which will function as a part of Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Operations Greg Scott’s team and will oversee progress toward the sustainability plan’s goals.
Physical space is being prepared within the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) in Benedum Hall to house the new office, and interviews are underway to identify a sustainability coordinator to lead the office, said MCSI co-director Gena Kovalcik.
- Reduce water usage by 3 percent.
- Compost 50 percent of food waste.
- Serve half of to-go meals and drinks in reusable containers.
- Cut the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, including commuting and campus transportation emissions.
- Produce or procure 50 percent of the University’s energy from renewable resources.
- Replace 15 percent of campus lawn area with indigenous and adapted plants and increase tree canopy by 50 percent.
Making a Difference in the Workplace
The biggest opportunity for faculty and staff to help Pitt reach its goals is in cutting greenhouse gas emissions — especially transportation emissions, said committee co-chair Rich Heller, senior manager of electrical utilities and energy initiatives in the Facilities Management Division.
While living close to campus — within walking or biking distance — is ideal, he said, using the free public transportation that comes with a Pittsburgh campus ID or considering commuting alternatives such as vanpools, carpool and shuttles also helps.
“That could make the biggest impact on our greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Once at work, alerting facilities management to a too hot or too cold workspace is also a sustainable thing to do. A significant amount of the University’s energy usage is related to heating and cooling, Heller said.
First, dress for the season. If comfort is still an issue, instead of opening a window or bringing in a space heater, help Facilities Management correct the underlying issue.
“Don’t try to fix it yourself,” Heller said. Instead, submit an online maintenance request. “If we don’t know about problems, we can’t fix them,” he said.
An updated Sustainable Pitt website and a new “green guide” for faculty and staff are in development. A Student Green Guide offers tips, many of which are applicable to everyone on campus, Heller noted.
Kovalcik encouraged members of the University community to read the new sustainability plan and reach out to a committee member — they’re listed in the document — about particular goals of interest.
“Also, share your stories” with the committee co-chairs, she said. “If you and your team are already doing great things, we want to know and spread the word.”