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September 26, 2013

Senate Matters:

Sustainability – What now?

As one who has monitored for the past 10 years the University’s policies, practices and performance on issues of sustainability, I am happy to report a paradigm shift toward ever more responsible decision-making, ever more visionary policymaking and ever more active engagement by students, faculty and staff.

While serving as chair of the Senate’s plant utilization and planning committee (PUP) in 2002-03, I introduced a two-page agenda dense with questions about low-flush toilets and wind power. There didn’t seem to be anyone at Facilities Management whose job it was to think about such things. Three years later, when an ad hoc recycling committee morphed into a PUP subcommittee, the sustainability subcommittee (SusC), the situation had hardly improved. The discussion of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards at meetings seemed to provoke some administrators to take the acronym as just another four-letter word. Most of the faculty, students and staff who regularly attended the open SusC meetings sensed that a profound change in institutional attitudes was necessary. Heartened by the prescient decision of Facilities Management to build the natural gas-powered Carrillo Street steam plant (a decision made before SusC existed), we forged ahead.

Only in retrospect does it seem like we were proceeding rapidly toward our goals, which we painstakingly circulated in various meetings as a “Statement on Sustainability,” “100 Good Ideas on Sustainability,” “10 Sustainability Strategies for Consideration,” “Practical Suggestions for Faculty Sustainability Activities” and a job description for a sustainability coordinator. (We had researched Pitt’s aspiration schools and discovered that in 2008 we were the only one among our intended peers without a sustainability office and coordinator.)

Attitudes changed. The University Senate adopted our “Statement on Sustainability.” Purchasing, Food Services and Parking and Transportation enthusiastically reported on green practices, from organizing a “green vendors” expo to installation of plug-in stations for electric vehicles. Food waste was reduced, dinnerware became biodegradable, compost was being made. Facilities Management turned recycling into a contest among the students. By 2012 there was a whole team of LEED specialists installed within Facilities Management and a part-time sustainability coordinator was assigned from within its ranks. The appropriate four-letter word was “Yeah!”

As chair of SusC, I was convinced that it was not just the growth of the larger culture of climate-change awareness that converted Pitt from an also-ran in the sustainability race to a leader, it was a change in the structure of how the sustainability conversation was conducted on campus — a new structure that gave students, staff and faculty a say.

I readily admit to sacrificing some orderliness at meetings to a free exchange among all interested parties. I wanted students to hear of the sterling accomplishments of Facilities Management, Food Services, Purchasing, CSSD, etc., just as I wanted the administration and faculty to hear how active, dedicated, innovative and determined students were on matters of sustainability. In my judgment, there was no downside to such a free exchange — one that led (e.g.) to the hiring of two activist students by University Housing and Food Services; to the introduction of sustainability highlights on the Pathfinders’ tours of the campus; to the establishment of a first-class web site (, and to sustainable changes in how students manage their printing allotment (yes, paper has two sides!). We all have a lot to celebrate!

But there is much more to do. I hope the University will think of the above as Phase 1 of a long, arduous, but fulfilling and essential enterprise. Among the ideas floated at SusC meetings that have yet to be acted:

• A full-time sustainability coordinator “to identify, implement, communicate and coordinate practices that preserve and promote efficient use and conservation of energy, water and other resources and increase promotion of conservation efforts to the University community,” as the University Senate’s 2008 resolution puts it.

• The compilation of a directory of sustainability-interested parties (faculty, staff, students) who could answer questions or hear suggestions, and be convened to recommend policy and to research best practices.

• Regular, coordinated consultations between faculty experts in sustainable engineering/design and Facilities Management personnel.

• Making sustainability a discrete and identifiable issue in long-term planning documents.

• Creating a set of prioritized goals/actions to translate policy into practice and/or a manual of sustainability policies and procedures.

• Introducing a sustainability component into orientation of new students, faculty and staff.

GreenFavorini• Continually surveying, reporting and adopting best practices from campuses acknowledged as leaders in sustainability.

• Developing and disseminating appropriate benchmarks for success in attaining sustainability goals.

As this academic year begins, the administration and PUP will be considering how sustainability discussions and activities can be conducted without the sustainability subcommittee, which was deemed no longer necessary. To quote Shakespeare: “I wish your enterprise to-day may thrive.”

Attilio Favorini is emeritus chair and professor of theatre arts. He chaired the sustainability subcommittee over the entire term of its existence. He can be reached at

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