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February 5, 2015

The Year of Sustainability

sustainabilityPitt’s Year of Sustainability has inspired and provided matching funds for activities throughout the campus, everything from courses to forums.

A unit that has emphasized the Year of Sustainability is the Office of Freshman Programs in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. One of its freshman studies courses introduces students to Pitt’s Year of Sustainability as well as the environmental studies major, says assistant director Russell Maiers. (See related story, this issue.) And the office provides all freshmen with an academic planner that includes information on environmental issues.

“Students need to become aware of the whole problem of waste and the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ idea,” says Laura Dice, director of the Office of Freshman Programs.

Adds Maiers: “The students seem receptive… There seems to be more of an interest in environmental studies issues and the major than there was in the past.”

The office also offers Freshman Fridays at Five lectures, which feature biological sciences faculty member Walter Carson talking about environmental issues in western Pennsylvania.

For the Year of Sustainability, the freshman programs office also has added a new academic community — a group of students who agree to focus on a certain area of academic study that year — called The Climate of Change, whose faculty supervisor, Nick Coles from the Department of English, took students to the People’s Climate March in New York City last fall.


Pitt’s sustainability website allows any member of the University community to suggest new activities and environmental ideas for the Year of Sustainability. According to Laura W. Zullo, senior manager of energy initiatives in Facilities Management, about 30 suggestions have been submitted; they have been reviewed and forwarded to the departments that may be able to implement them. Through the “One Pitt One Planet Sustainable Ideas” link, suggestions have covered energy savings, renewable energy, water conservation, improved recycling methods, composting and the use of native plants and trees, among others. Ideas selected for implementation will be recognized at a campus lunch this spring.

Notes Gena M. Kovalcik, co-director of administration and external relations for the Swanson School of Engineering’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation: “Ninety percent of the ideas have been student-driven: how they want their university to be more sustainable.”

Among the environmental initiatives Pitt will be participating in during 2015: the region’s Green Workplace Challenge for the second year; the initial year of the Oakland District of Pittsburgh 2030, a commitment to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent, and the long-running Recyclemania competition.

Last September, Pitt performed a new audit of its buildings to evaluate the waste and recycling process and recommend improvements. And in April, Provost Patricia E. Beeson will recognize faculty and staff contributing to sustainability during Pitt’s first awards luncheon. Nominations may be submitted via the sustainability website by March 6.

Zullo, sustainability coordinator Dan Marcinko and their team have just begun the next Pitt sustainability report that will highlight Pitt’s green activities across campuses, including an updated greenhouse gas inventory and the newest LEED facilities: Mark A. Nordenberg Hall, the mid-campus research complex renovation and Greensburg’s Frank A. Cassell Hall, along with Pitt’s pursuit of certification on eight additional projects.


A survey of Pitt schools found many more courses and activities already scheduled for the second half of the Year of Sustainability.

Arts & sciences

• “Sustainability” or Survival? Popular Responses to Global Climate Change

This is a five-part video dialogue series with international and local leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) highlighting effective mobilization efforts to protect ourselves from the effects of global warming and to promote climate justice.

The series, which began Jan. 22, highlights how climate change and environmental problems disproportionately affect already vulnerable communities; the limitations of government, UN-based “free-market” or technological attempts to address climate change, and the resulting rise of popular movements that promote more sustainable futures and all forms of climate and environmental justice.

• Part 2: Grassroots Global Justice: Connecting Local Movements & Global Climate Politics

Feb. 5, 4-5:30 p.m., 4130 Posvar Hall

• Part 3: Putting Climate Justice into Action Lecture

Feb. 12, 4-5:30 p.m., 4130 Posvar Hall

• Part 4: Local Initiatives for Climate Survival and Environmental Justice

Feb. 26, 4-5:30 p.m., 4130 Posvar Hall

• “International Climate Fiction and Strategies of Sustainability in the Anthropocene” Lecture

Feb. 12, 5 p.m., 602 Cathedral of Learning (Humanities Center)

Lecturer Heather I. Sullivan, a faculty member at Trinity University, will address the relatively recent emergence and widespread appearance of the category “cli-fi,” or “climate-change fiction.” Such literature from around the world explores humanity’s circumstances and options for defining and achieving long-term “sustainability,” or even survivability, in the so-called Anthropocene, when human industrial practices and particulates have permeated the surface of Earth. As representative examples of very different sustainable strategies, the 2011 German novel from Ilija Trojanow, “Melting Ice,” and the 2009 American novel by Paolo Bacigalupi, “The Windup Girl,” each document individual and collective choices in response to energy and economic crises, weather and climate changes and a paradigm shift in thinking about human-environmental relationships.

• Philosophy of Climate Science Workshop and Lecture

Feb. 27, 9:15 a.m.-5:30 p.m., location TBD

Ana Lopez, of Oxford, will present “Uncertainties in Climate Models’ Projections: Sources and Their Impact in the Use of Information for Decision Support.” Erik Winsberg of the University of South Florida will speak on “The Adventures of Climate Science in the Sweet Land of Idle Arguments.”

Charlotte Werndl, professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of Salzburg and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, will present the lecture, “On Defining Climate and Climate Change.”

She also is an associate editor of the European Journal for the Philosophy of Science and an editor of the Review of Symbolic Logic.

• Workshop on Climate Modeling and Public Policy

Feb. 28, 9:15 a.m.-6:15 p.m., location TBD

The workshop will feature Isabelle Drouet of Paris on “Decision-making and the IPCC”; Julie Jebeile of Paris on “Communicating About Climate Uncertainties”; Charlotte Werndl of Salzburg on “Climate Models and Model Selection Theory: The Need for a More Nuanced View on Use-Novelty,” and Mathias Frisch of Maryland on “Modeling Climate Policies: A Critical Look at Integrated Assessment Models.” It is sponsored by the Center for Philosophy of Science, the Office of the Provost and the Department of Philosophy.

• Climate Change and Public Policy Lecture

March 3, European Union Center of Excellence/European Studies Center

Speaker Wil Burns is a scholar-in-residence at the School of International Service at American University. He founded and formerly directed the MS in energy policy and climate program at Johns Hopkins University.

• “Sustainability and the Humanities” Lecture

March 19, 5-6:30 p.m., 602 Cathedral of Learning

Speaker Stephanie Foote is a faculty member in English, chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign and co-founder and co-editor of Resilience: A Journal of Environmental Humanities.

• “Repression and Resistance in the Late Age of Fossil Fuels” Lecture

March 25, 3-5 p.m., 602 Cathedral of Learning

Lecturer Phaedra Pezzullo is a faculty member in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University and author of “Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Travel, Pollution and Environmental Justice.” Her talk will focus on the rhetorical constraints — the limitations and possibilities — of this late age of fossil fuels, as well as on repressive policies in Pennsylvania and the Philippines to silence dissent or even public debate about the self-destructive impacts of under-regulated fossil fuel development. She will discuss legal and illegal acts of resistance, from the choices faced in “Gasland” to the global acts of solidarity we can perform in the name of climate justice advocacy. Her talk aims to promote a discussion about democracy, social inequities, ecological ethics and rhetorical agency in the Anthropocene.

• “Fracking Is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Emergency” Lecture

April 6, 7-8:30 p.m., William Pitt Union Assembly Room

Lecturer Sandra Steingraber is a biologist and author of the books “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment,” “Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood” and “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.”

She is a distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College.

• Environmental Literature course: Troy Boone’s English course examines the ways in which writers in English have engaged with the natural environment.

• Rain Forest Literature course: Juan Duchesne-Winter’s Hispanic languages and literatures course will engage in a cosmopolitical approach to writings linked to specific geo-cultural scenarios of Cariban and Amazonian thought as articulated in the exchange between Amerindian peoples and ethnographers.

• Climate Modeling and Public Policy course: Giovanni Valente’s history and philosophy of science course examines how climate modeling raises both epistemological and ethical issues.


• Center for Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure 2015 Transportation Forum

March 18, University Club

This event is for students, consultants, government agencies and other professionals involved in the planning, design, research, construction and operation of transportation systems.

• First-Year Engineering Conference

April 11, Benedum Hall

The first-year engineering class participates in a professional-style conference as part of a year-long writing project in conjunction with Pitt’s Writing Center, with two-student teams preparing and presenting research papers. For its 15th year, Jeff Mascaro, chief operating officer of Mascaro Construction, will be the luncheon keynote speaker.

• Senior Design Expo Spring 2015: A Focus on Sustainability

April 17, Alumni Hall

The expo provides an opportunity for student teams, many from the school’s capstone design courses, to showcase their projects. It also highlights concepts and prototypes from students in product realization courses.

• Engineering Sustainability 2015: Innovation and the Triple Bottom Line

April 19-21, David Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown

Hosted by Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and Carnegie Mellon University’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, the conference brings together engineers and scientists from academia, government, industry and nonprofits to share results of cutting-edge research and practice directed at development of environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure.


• “The Sustainable Workplace — PEARLs for Worksite Wellness”

Using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Worksite Wellness framework, part of the CDC’s Sustainable Workplace Initiative, the school is creating walking groups, the “StairWELL to Better Health” program and other efforts centered around chair aerobics, yoga, sleep, stress management, menopause and nutrition.

Social work

• “Sustainable Development and Social Justice Pillars: A Platform for Setting the Global Agenda That Links the Economy, Society and the Environment,” the Sidney A. Teller Lecture for World Social Work Day

March 18, noon-1 p.m., 2017 Cathedral of Learning (lunch provided)

Speaker DeBrenna LaFa Agbenyiga is associate dean for graduate studies and inclusion and a faculty member in human development and family studies in the College of Social Science, and a faculty member in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University.

University Center for International Studies/engineer ing/public health/GSPIA

• Managing Environmental Risks in the Shale Gas Sector: Comparison of Policies Worldwide

March 18-20, location TBD

This event will feature Bernard Goldstein, Graduate School of Public Health; Radisav Vidic, Swanson School of Engineering, Shanti Gamper-Rabindran, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs/economics, and other speakers.

—Marty Levine