Sustainability officials say going green doesn’t have to be that difficult


There are many moves any staff member can make today, right on campus, to decrease the University’s impact on the environment, says Erika Ninos, Pitt’s sustainability program coordinator.

Ninos and Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainability, presented some of those ideas at an Oct. 12 brown bag seminar on sustainability hosted by Staff Council, ahead of rolling out their Staff Green Guide, which they expect to premiere soon. The guide will cover e-waste, surplus materials, recycling, water and food usage, purchasing and other areas, and will lay out the requirements for green office certification — an opportunity coming in the spring.

Tops among Ninos’ suggestions is to label office recycling bins clearly so that staff members know what can be recycled (such as cardboard, paper, certain plastics) and what cannot (such as takeout coffee cups, which are coated with wax, greasy pizza boxes and any other food-contaminated waste).

Because Pitt shares the city of Pittsburgh’s practice of single-stream recycling, proper separation of waste from recyclables is crucial, she noted. If custodians notice non-recyclables in the blue recycling can, they have no choice but to dispose of the recycling.

"Get away from using bags in your recycling,” she added, since they’ve become too expense for recycling haulers to handle.

She also recommended giving every staff member a recycling can but placing the waste can in one central office location, forcing everyone to think about recycling first, tossing something into the trash second.

Ninos also explained the ecological benefits of some small steps staff can take, such as:

  • Posting reminders to turn out lights when not in use (for those fixtures without a timer)
  • Purchasing paper with the highest post-consumer content — ideally 100 percent, but at least 30 percent — instead of merely the cheapest paper for your office printers
  • Employing reusable filters and fair trade, organic coffee instead of coffee pods, “which I feel are a menace to society in general,” she said.

Her office has a compost bin for the filters, coffee grounds and other compostable materials.

“Pitt is currently recycling 35 percent of our waste stream,” Sharrard noted. However, “we are composting a very small percentage.”

Undergraduate Sarah Grguras, a student office of sustainability program assistant, also appeared to urge staff to green-certify any event that is being planned. Filling out the form will prompt the sustainability office to call with suggested green options for your specific event, including compostable serving ware products, electronic marketing and use of the University’s 125-gallon water buffalo instead of individual water bottles.

Sharrard expects her office to produce another University-wide sustainability status report in early 2019 , as a follow up to the 2013 Report on Sustainability.

“We’re doing a lot better than we think, but we have to begin talking about it, and we have to get a lot more sustainability champions (on campus),” she concluded. When it comes to joining Pitt’s sustainability effort, “there’s something for everyone here. Where do you see yourself?”

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.