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April 15, 2010

Going green: Panel proposes high-level sustainability official

Pitt holds 2nd sustainability festival

With campus efforts to “go green” ranging from student-driven endeavors, to decisions on which vendors to hire, to multi-million-dollar capital projects, Pitt should consider establishing a high-level administrative position  to coordinate its sustainability initiatives.

That was one recommendation from an April 8 panel convened by the University Senate’s sustainability subcommittee, part  of  Pitt’s two-day Blue, Gold and Green Sustainability Festival.

Panel moderator Attilio “Buck” Favorini, who chairs the sustainability subcommittee.

Panel moderator Attilio “Buck” Favorini, who chairs the sustainability subcommittee.

Pitt panelists Bernard Goldstein, professor of environmental and occupational health; Ward Allebach, adjunct professor in the Department of Geology and Planetary Sciences and lecturer in the environmental studies program, and Laura Zullo, Facilities Management’s senior manager of capital and special projects, were joined by Jodi Ludovici, general manager of Sodexo, and Allison Robinson, director of environmental initiatives at UPMC, to discuss green initiatives.

The panel was moderated by theatre arts professor Attilio “Buck” Favorini, who chairs the sustainability subcommittee.

Favorini noted that Robinson holds just such a position at UPMC, which decided its sustainability efforts needed to be coordinated with health care delivery system-wide.

“On an issue as broad as sustainability that, on the one hand governing the size and style of the font you choose for default email printouts, and on the other hand looking at issues related to the University’s environmental responsibility in terms of its endowment policy investments, when you have that broad a range, it’s certainly worth thinking about using a coordinator to facilitate the essential pursuit of these important issues,” Favorini said.

“That’s the choice UPMC has made and it’s also the choice that virtually every school to which we at Pitt compare ourselves has made.”

Following are summaries of the panelists’ presentations.

Bernard Goldstein

Panelist Bernard Goldstein, former dean of the Graduate School of Public Health and an expert in environmental sciences.

Panelist Bernard Goldstein, former dean of the Graduate School of Public Health and an expert in environmental sciences.

Goldstein, former dean of the Graduate School of Public Health and an expert in environmental sciences, provided a brief historical perspective and maintained that while large-scale efforts are in place in the big “go green” picture, personal responsibility also factors into today’s successful sustainability efforts.

“I was involved 40 years ago in the first teach-in on the first Earth Day at a student center in New York City. Here we are 40 years later at the University of Pittsburgh student center discussing the same subject, but actually it is really different,” Goldstein said.

For one thing, identifying environmental problems used to be easier, he said, “because it was dirty out there. The sky was dirty. The water was dirty.”

Pittsburghers who are old enough will remember images from the Smoky City, the moniker Pittsburgh deserved, due to the industrial dust and pollution that often blacked out sunlight. “You know the story of Pittsburghers who worked Downtown in their white shirts having to bring a change of shirt if they planned to go out to lunch, because otherwise you’d end up with a dirty white shirt,” Goldstein said.

“The Cuyahoga River was on fire. Growing up, I used to hear stories  of all the great fish older people used to catch in the Hudson. I’d think: not a chance.” Ironically, for a time in Philadelphia water-treatment plants were the largest source of the city’s pollution, he added.

“So we had an environment with easily identifiable problems. We approached that through what we call command and control: ‘You will stop polluting. If not, we’ll put you in jail, we’ll fine you, we’ll do something to you.’ And that’s a very effective way of dealing with pollution,” threatening consequences to get industry to stop polluting, he said.

“The most important thing that came out of that is industry recognizing — after first fighting the laws, the fines, the regulations — they realized in most cases they could not only save money, they could make money by not polluting. By not, for example, dumping mercury in the water, they could sell it for other uses. Over and over again you find stories of that nature.”

But with the subtleties of today’s environmental problems, new methods to support sustainability are needed, Goldstein said. “We’ve got a lot of laws that come to the end of a reasonable approach because they’re going after the low-hanging fruit, the obvious polluter. We need approaches that think through what we have been doing that we can be doing differently. That in a sense is the concept behind sustainability.”

Goldstein said that the shift in society’s mindset, mostly spawned by science and younger people’s awareness of environmental concerns, has led to an outburst of proactive sustainability efforts. He recounted the story of his 10-year-old granddaughter chastising him on their trip to the zoo for using too much ice in his soda, something he said increased his own environmental awareness.

“She had been learning about the environment in school. She said to me, ‘Making ice takes energy. Don’t use more ice than you need,’” Goldstein said. “So a lot of these things are very personal. They’re going to relate directly to what we do. They’re going to force us to ask questions as to what’s needed. Inevitably, there are going to be biases involved. I have one: How much energy would we save if all men wore beards and didn’t have to shave every morning?” the bearded Goldstein said.

“But long term, 40 years from now, keeping us living in a way that we can continue to have a viable planet — literally — requires us to think in terms not just of water pollution and air pollution but of sustainability, which requires us to think through costs, to take into account life cycles, to be aware of our effect on the environment and to take personal responsibility for our actions.”

Laura Zullo

Zullo outlined some ways in which Pitt’s sustainable design and construction, recycling, energy conservation, pollution reduction and the greening of the campus have helped sustainability efforts here.

She said Pitt has implemented design standards that stipulate sustainable or energy-conserving measures in new construction or renovation projects. Among the standards are:

• No new incandescent lighting is installed unless required for research.

• Direct digital controls (DDC) are required for all mechanical system installations or upgrades.

• All DDC controls must be tied into the campus energy management system.

• Occupancy sensors for lights are required for all new construction and renovations.

• Standard carpet installations must include a minimum of 25 percent recycled content.

• Carpet adhesives must contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

• The majority of paints used on campus must be low-VOC paints.

In addition, Pitt is pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for several of its current capital projects, Zullo said.

LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine building on the South Side was the first Pitt building to achieve LEED status, earning gold level certification in 2005.

Among newer projects on the docket for which Pitt will seek LEED certification are:

• The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, an ongoing project that will add approximately 27,000 gross square feet to Benedum Hall and renovate approximately 17,000 square feet of existing space on the second floor, will be equipped with high performance glazing for energy efficiency. Energy-saving strategies are expected to result in a 17.5 percent reduction in energy consumption, Zullo said.


Project engineer Jeremy P. Fusaro of P.J. Dick checks the progress of Benedum’s green roof, which is planted with a variety of plants but predominantly sedum.

“Low-flow plumbing fixtures will result in 30 percent reduction in water consumption when compared with traditional fixtures” and other features will reduce the need for artificial lighting, she said.

All Benedum Hall windows are being replaced with insulated tempered glass, and a green roof,  planted with sedum, now covers the Benedum auditorium, she added.plants

Construction and demolition waste from the Benedum projects are being recycled. “To date, over 3,600 tons of construction waste — over 75 percent of the total waste — has been diverted from the landfill,” Zullo noted.

• The Chevron Science Center renovation, set to be completed next year, has similar energy-saving features, as will the planned expansion of the Graduate School of Public Health’s Parran and Crabtree halls and the addition planned for Salk Hall.

In addition, last November Pitt shifted from the Bellefield Boiler Plant as its main source to the newer Carrillo Street Steam Plant to provide heat and hot water to University buildings. The change is expected to cut carbon emissions by 47 percent, reducing emissions by 48,000 metric tons per year, Zullo said. Pitt expects to wean itself off the Bellefield plant entirely in the next few years, which will increase its energy savings, she added.

Regarding energy conservation, Zullo said, “Since 1996, an estimated cost avoidance of nearly $28 million has been achieved via energy conservation projects.”

Those efforts included:

• Improvements in campus utility infrastructure, building system upgrades and energy efficiency. “To  date, our cumulative savings from this $6 million investment are estimated at over $12 million,” Zullo said.

• Upgrading lighting in nine Pitt buildings to standard energy-efficient lighting fixtures for an annual savings of approximately $125,000.

• Replacing 770 exit signs with light-emitting diode, or LED, signs; savings: 256,000 kilowatt hours each year.

• Replacing nearly 1,000 defective steam traps in University buildings; savings: $165,000 per year.

In 2005, Facilities Management also began an aggressive initiative to expand its recycling program, Zullo said. Some of those initiatives have included:

• Implementing a recycling and trash removal training program for all custodians and supervisors.

• Expanding plastics recycling to grades 1-5 (previously Pitt recycled only grades 1 and 2).

• Expanding the battery recycling program to regular batteries as well as nicad and lead acid batteries.

• Expanding recycling of construction and demolition debris.

Ward Allebach

Allebach reviewed some of the student-driven sustainability initiatives at Pitt, many of which came from his students in the environmental studies program. That program was founded in 1996, in part with the support of the Heinz Endowments, on the premise that human interaction with the world requires an interdisciplinary approach, “because every action that we take affects something else in the world,” he said.

“Unfortunately, change happens slowly. So you have to proceed one step at a time. As time has gone by there has been more and more incremental change and people who are now coming into positions of power politically, in business and in institutions, have a different perspective.”

Among students, he said, change often is the result of asking the simple question: Why not? “If it makes sense to do it, why not do it?”

In addition to classroom work, each environmental studies course includes an emphasis on hands-on student projects outside the classroom in real-world situations, Allebach said.

“Our students work on projects ranging from simple neighborhood clean-up to large-scale projects that affect the city of Pittsburgh,” he said. “Topics they cover in and out of class include recycling, composting, biking, endangered species protection, clean water requirements, energy efficiency, plastic bag campaigns, animal rights, fair trade.”

Pitt students also partner with their counterparts at Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne to help shrink their respective campus’s environmental footprint, he noted.

Pitt students help educate arriving freshmen each year, raising awareness of recycling and other environmental issues. They sponsor events such as an eco-art show, tree plantings and other campus and community greening projects and residence hall green-living contests.

“They put together the first-ever sustainability directory for the University and the surrounding community,” Allebach said.

As part of a report to the Heinz Endowments required under terms of the grant, environmental studies students made three general recommendations to improve campus sustainability initiatives:

• The creation of a stand-alone facilitator for Pitt.

• The continuation of the student sustainability symposium.

• The attainment of membership in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an association of colleges and universities working to create a sustainable future that provides resources, training and support for sustainability efforts.

“It is difficult to quantify how student efforts affect wider sustainability efforts. So while we don’t wish to take undue credit, it’s important to acknowledge the efforts and involvement of students, even where other people in the University may have taken the lead,” Allebach said.

Jodi Ludovici

Ludovici, general manager of Sodexo, discussed sustainable policies and practices that Sodexo uses.

“Sodexo is an international company with 130,000 different sites around the world,” Ludovici said. “So we have a big impact.”

She said the company’s guiding document, “The Better Tomorrow Plan,” includes three priorities related to food service: nutrition, health and wellness, and the environment.

The company focuses on sustainable product packaging, transportation distance and local produce. “All of our produce, bread, dairy and specialty food products come from within a hundred miles. We also look at packaging. For example, we use Xpressnap napkins, the ones where the dispenser only lets you remove one napkin at a time,” reducing use up to 50 percent, she said.

Sodexo also has programs in waste management, energy conservation and recycling in place at Pitt.

“At Market Central, Pitt’s largest dining hall, serving 5,000-6,000 meals a day, Sodexo introduced trayless days, which save an estimated 136,000 gallons of water for dishwashing machines,” Ludovici said. Sodexo also weighed the amount of food that was thrown away before and after trayless days were instituted, and found significantly less food was wasted, she said.

The company conserves energy with the Lutron lighting system, where workers customize lighting levels for their workspace and have different levels for customers.

Recycling efforts include recycling cooking grease, and refill programs, where the company provides students with reusable coffee mugs and water bottles.

Allison Robinson


Panelist Allison Robinson is UPMC’s director of environmental initiatives, a position some say Pitt also should have.

As UPMC’s director of environmental initiatives, Robinson has been advancing a new model for environmentally safe practices that involves systemwide environmental policies, coordinated research initiatives, and environmentally friendly and sustainable operations.

Robinson pushes the sustainability agenda based on the five “Rs”: reduce, reuse, recycle, resources and resilience — resilience in the sense of preserving health, she said.

UPMC’s environmental initiative promotes systemic change resulting in sustained patient and community health, environmental exposure risk reduction and natural resources and energy conservation, Robinson said.

Examples of exposure reduction include smoking cessation; mercury elimination; integrated pest management; diesel emission reduction, and low- and no-VOC paints.

Environmental resource conservation examples include: paper reduction; a central print shop; a nodal network printer system, with default duplex printing; use of paper that contains greater than 25 percent post-consumer recycled content; electronic medical records; water conservation; sustainable landscaping; motion-sensored faucets; low-flow toilets, and a microfiber mop and cloth system.

Waste is minimized, Robinson said, by recycling solvents, batteries and cell phones; reusing office furniture and equipment and donating excess medical supplies.

—Peter Hart

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