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April 19, 2007

Group to tackle sustainability issues

A new University Senate subcommittee convened to address sustainability issues — recycling, “green” building practices, energy efficiency and others — at Pitt got off to a roaring start last week.

Building on suggestions by subcommittee chair Attilio “Buck” Favorini (see University Times April 5 Senate Matters column), the group, which was formed by the Senate plant utilization and planning committee, decided on four courses of action:

• Launch a web site that would serve as a communication tool for the University community as well as a repository for informational links from web sites of organizations that study and evaluate sustainability issues;

• Create a Pitt-specific definition of sustainability that would avoid the pitfalls of miscommunication about the subcommittee’s mission;

• Focus efforts over the next year on surveying best practices at universities deemed to be highly rated by the Sustainable Endowments Institute and similar organizations, as well as other institutions that would match Pitt’s urban environment, weather patterns and other energy-related factors, and

• Inventory Pitt’s current practices and measure them against the benchmarking survey data.

Pitt student Adam Nelson, an economics and environmental studies double major who said sustainability was his main interest, accepted the charge of developing the definition. “Our first objective should be to define sustainability, to develop a working, logical and consensual definition of what sustainability means and is going to mean for the University of Pittsburgh,” Nelson said. “It’s an unfortunate fact that so many environmental terms are tossed around, in government and in all aspects of society. There is a lot of leeway, and the overall effectiveness of this committee’s work is at issue.”

Subcommittee member Irene Frieze suggested the web site be launched forthwith and said she’d work with member Susan Neuman, who is an experienced web master, on developing the new site. The site would be accessed on the Pitt homepage, pending permission, or on the University Senate homepage.

The site should include a list of Pitt contacts who could address specific concerns or take suggestions regarding sustainability issues, members agreed. “We need to find out not only who’s in charge, but who ought to be in charge,” Nelson said.

Frieze said that, based on her experiences, Pitt’s administration “has made it clear it doesn’t want to hire a sustainability officer. They don’t like the ‘czar’ model.”

The web site also should link to related reference material, members agreed.

Favorini will act as the point person for the benchmarking of best practices, and he will contact Joe Fink, director of Facilities Management, for more information on the University’s current “green” efforts.

Other issues on the subcommittee’s short-term agenda include:

• Should the University pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its most energy-efficient buildings? The LEED green building rating system — developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders — is designed to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being.

• To what extent do high school seniors weigh the University’s green efforts in their decision to apply to or attend Pitt?

• With whom should Pitt partner in seeking advice on sustainability?

• How can the subcommittee best demonstrate that a particular project is cost-effective — which could be a make or break factor in garnering administration support?

The subcommittee plans to meet again in May, on a date to be determined.

For more information on the subcommittee, contact Favorini at

—Peter Hart

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