“I propose a different ranking system for colleges based on whether the institution and its graduates move the world in more sustainable directions or not. Do four years at a particular institution instill knowledge, love, and competence toward the natural world, or indifference and ignorance? Are the graduates of this or that college suited for a responsible life on a planet with a biosphere?”
—David Orr, “Earth in Mind”
In the summer of 2006, on the initiative of Irene Frieze, the University Senate established an ad hoc recycling committee. Early on, the ad hoc committee decided that “recycling” needed to be considered as part of the larger question of how the University was managing the complex of issues now commonly grouped under the heading of “sustainability.” Accordingly, the ad hoc committee began to gather information, raise questions and look into topics that might be brought to the attention of the administration, with an eye toward encouraging the adoption of a sustainability policy.
The ad hoc committee also looked to its own future. Because some of its mission and membership overlapped with the Senate’s plant utilization and planning committee (PUPC) — and since incoming PUPC chair Rob Ries was a member of the ad hoc committee — affiliation with PUPC seemed like a natural development, particularly after a couple of joint meetings. At a joint meeting on Feb. 6, the ad hoc committee voted to integrate itself into PUPC as the sustainability subcommittee.
Though a significant component of sustainability — chiefly “green” building practices and energy consumption — falls under the authority of Facilities Management, environmental stewardship also factors into curriculum, community relations, food service, endowment management, housing, transportation (including motor pool), procurement, waste management, student recruitment, public relations and public perception, and government relations. Consequently, part of the subcommittee’s mission is to recommend whether a new and separate Senate sustainability committee should be established.
Developing a sustainability agenda might entail any or all of the following:
• Collecting data on the University’s current sustainability policies and activities and identifying individuals responsible for sustainability, in the areas mentioned above;
• Benchmarking Pitt’s efforts against other institutions of higher learning;
• Surveying best practices at universities highly rated by the Sustainable Endowments Institute;
• Raising awareness on and off campus on sustainability issues as they impact University life, and publicizing successful Pitt practices;
• Setting goals or establishing standards in such areas as resource conservation, purchasing of recycled/recyclable materials, a food service policy supporting local agriculture, control of herbicides and pesticides, etc.;
• Developing a sustainability web site for the University;
• Establishing standards of “environmental literacy” for students, staff and faculty;
• Linking sustainability research and instruction to University policy and practice;
• Other topics as determined by the subcommittee.
The subcommittee believes that sound sustainable initiatives have the potential of realizing significant cost savings, improving campus life, enhancing Pitt’s image as a good neighbor and recruiting high-caliber students, faculty and staff to whom sustainability has become an increasingly important issue.
The subcommittee will hold an organizational meeting at 2:45 p.m. April 10 in 4127 Sennott Square, immediately after the PUPC meeting. Faculty, staff and students interested in working with the subcommittee, irrespective of whether they can attend the meeting, should contact me at email@example.com.
Attilio “Buck” Favorini is chair of the Senate plant utilization and planning committee’s sustainability subcommittee.