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November 11, 2010

Pitt earns B- on green report card

Pitt earned a B- on its green report card — improving on its C grade last year — according to an independent evaluation of sustainability activities at more than 300 colleges and universities with the largest endowments in the United States and Canada.

Now in its fifth year, the College Sustainability Report Card, compiled by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

The report card focuses on sustainability in research and teaching as measured by publicly available information and survey results on policies and practices in nine equally weighted categories: administration; climate change and energy; food and recycling; green building; student involvement; transportation; endowment transparency; investment policies, and shareholder engagement.

A total of 52 indicators were used to evaluate performance within the nine categories.

According to press materials accompanying the Oct. 27 report card release, “Sustainability signifies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Are these considerations guiding how resources are managed in campus operations and endowment practices? The report card is designed to identify colleges and universities that are leading by example on sustainability. The aim is to provide accessible information for schools to learn from each other’s experiences and establish more effective sustainability policies.”

The authors noted that the report card’s grading methodology has changed over the five years as sustainability in higher education has evolved. Thus, the authors said, a comparison of grades over the five editions of the College Sustainability Report Card “can provide only a general way to track progress among schools, recognizing that the basis for evaluation included some changes each year. … We have continually updated the specific sustainability initiatives assessed, making the report card most suitable as a tool for cross-school comparisons within any given year.”

The profiled schools, the 300 with the largest endowments and 22 additional schools that asked to participate, have combined holdings of more than $325 billion — more than 95 percent of all higher education endowment assets, the report card stated.

Participating institutions were asked to fill out four surveys: campus operations; dining services; student activities, and investment practices.

Pitt’s grades were:

• A for administration. A’s were given to 49 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B+.

The report card highlighted Pitt’s efforts: “The University of Pittsburgh has incorporated sustainability into the campus master plan and strategic plan. The Blue, Gold and Green advisory committee and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation advisory board are focused on implementing sustainability initiatives. Since 1997, more than $33 million has been donated by alumni to more than 60 funds held by the University that focus on environmental or sustainable efforts.”

• C for climate change and energy. C’s were given to 19 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B.

According to the report card, “Pitt completed its first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2010. To conserve energy, the University uses an energy management system in 87 percent of buildings and has installed energy-efficient lighting in 96 percent of buildings. In the winter of 2009, the University opened the new Carrillo Street Steam Plant, which is expected to reduce steam-related carbon emissions by 47 percent.”

• A for food and recycling. A’s were given to 43 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B+.

According to the report card, “The University spends 10 percent of its annual food budget on local products. … Excess food is donated to local food banks, and two of the University’s dining halls are trayless. Pitt offers eight to 13 vegan options between all of the dining halls each day. Used fryer oil is recycled for biodiesel production, and the University recycles traditional materials and electronics.”

• B for green building. B’s were given to 34 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B.

According to the report card, “Major projects are evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the University for LEED certification. Pitt currently has one LEED gold-certified building on campus and is awaiting certification of a second. Since 2000, the University has repurposed more than 900,000 square feet of building space for alternative use. To manage storm water, the University has installed living roofs and porous pavement.”

P.J. Dick engineer Jeremy Fusaro checks on the progress of Benedum's green roof.

P.J. Dick engineer Jeremy Fusaro checks on the progress of Benedum's green roof.

• B for student involvement. B’s were given to 49 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B.

According to the report card, “Pitt employs 30 student researchers each summer, as well as four student sustainability coordinators during the school year, who promote environmental initiatives in various departments on campus. Free the Planet, one of four environmentally focused student groups, successfully petitioned for a student fee-based green fund for the implementation of sustainability projects.”

• A for transportation. A’s were given to 37 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B.

According to the report card, “More than half of Pitt employees commute via environmentally preferable methods, and the University offers discounted and [preferential] parking to those who carpool. Students, faculty and staff are provided free access to public transportation as well as an on-campus bus system.”

• D for endowment transparency (which evaluates the extent to which schools release information about their endowment investment holdings and shareholder proxy voting records). D’s were given to 22 percent of the participating schools; the average score was C.

According to the report card, “The University makes a list of all holdings available to trustees and senior administrators, and only a list of asset allocation available to the general public. The University does not make its shareholder voting record public.”

• A for investment priorities. A’s were given to 57 percent of the participating schools; the average score was B+. The report card noted that no school received a D or F in this category because all schools were awarded a minimum grade of C for aiming to optimize investment returns.

According to the report card, “The University aims to optimize investment returns, and the endowment is currently invested in renewable energy funds. The University also uses investment managers who consider environmental and sustainability factors.”

• F for shareholder engagement. F’s were given to 35 percent of the participating schools; the average score was D.

According to the report card, “The University asks that its investment managers handle the details of proxy voting.”


Attilio Favorini, chair of the sustainability subcommittee of the University Senate plant utilization and planning committee, told the University Times, “More important than the rise in the University’s grade on the green report card are the very substantial advancements made not only in all of the areas graded on the report card, but advancement in campus awareness of sustainability issues; in student participation in recycling drives and promotion of a green fund, and in the institution of practices — from setting printer defaults at two-sided printing to trayless dining facilities — that make good sustainable choices almost automatic. The ‘choice architecture’ around sustainability is beginning to change, and I am seeing at almost every level of the administration the attitude that of course sustainability issues need to be constantly considered.”

Favorini acknowledged that Pitt still has a way to go “in terms of goal-setting, coordination, communication and policy-making — efforts that are hampered by the lack of a [University-wide] sustainability coordinator. The Mascaro Center, Facilities Management, the sustainability subcommittee, the environmental studies program, Purchasing and Food Services and student groups such as Free the Planet — to mention just a few — are all doing wonderful things, but the parts would add up to a much bigger whole with someone charged to monitor progress, communicate successes and play a role in policy and planning.”

The Office of Public Affairs did not respond to requests for comment on the report card.

The full College Sustainability Report Card, including Pitt’s completed surveys, is available at

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 6

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