Climate Action Plan will help achieve carbon neutral goal


In February, Pitt made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2037 — the University’s 250th anniversary.

Since then, the Office of Sustainability and others have been working on ways to achieve and track progress toward this goal through a Pitt Climate Action Plan, which they hope to finalize by February.

Aurora Sharrard, Pitt’s director of Sustainability, was at the Oct. 26 Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting to present an outline of the plan and get feedback. Sharrard emphasized that the Climate Action Plan and carbon neutrality pledge are separate from efforts on campus to get Pitt to divest its fossil fuel investments.

“We commit to doing all sorts of strategies to mitigate our carbon emissions, to celebrating when we do well and to really visiting this over time,” Sharrard said. “This is a journey; it’s not a single point in time. And it’s something that we’re going to have to be very considerate about as an institution moving forward.”

She said there are three questions they are seeking feedback on from various units at the University.

  • What must the Pitt Climate Action Plan do in order for it to be successful?

  • What existing assets and future opportunities do you all see in your areas that are specifically related to climate change, greenhouse gas mitigation or resiliency. These could be through academic approaches, research, operations or through community or external partner engagement?

  • How do we elevate equity in the Climate Action Plan process and outcomes?

Right now, she said, Pitt expends the largest amount of carbon on energizing the campus for work, learning and research. “But a growing percentage of our greenhouse gas burden is in how we connect physically, through commuting but also through air travel and our directly owned fleets. We need to focus on all of this to really reduce our greenhouse gas emissions at the University.”

Chart on Pitt emissions in 2019

To guide the process of meeting the carbon neutrality goal, Pitt has created a Carbon Commitment Committee and hired a consultant, Steve Baumgartner, of Baumgartner Urban Systems Strategy, who also was the lead facilitator of the Pitt Sustainability Plan when it was being developed in 2016-17.

Right now, they are compiling data on past usage and future projections for growth on campus. Through November, December and January, the committee will be seeking input from various groups, including the Sustainability Council, the Student Office of Sustainability and Staff Council, on what the action plan should include. A final draft should be ready for approval in February 2021.

“This is Pitt’s basically first forward-looking, action-oriented plan,” Baumgartner said. “How do we actually start to carve away at those emissions? …

“We want this to be a very concise and grounded document focused on greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, with clear responsibility and accountability.”

From the feedback that’s already been received, they’ve developed three key themes that the plan will address:

  • Ensure that the plan advances and drives the academic mission.

  • Make sure that the plan has equitable investment. “How do we ensure this plan is for everyone?” Baumgartner said, and “thinks about Pitt within the community and builds on a lot of great work by Pittsburgh and Pitt.”

  • Ensure economic resilience. “How do we build a Climate Action Plan that also takes into account the very changing and dynamic world that we live in?” he said.

To meet the carbon neutral goal, Baumgartner said there are three major areas to look at:

  • Reduce demand by making buildings more efficient and high performing, but less carbon intensive.

  • Clean Pitt’s energy supply with more renewable and clean energy investment both on campus and through external investments.

  • Create active, shared and low-carbon mobility for commuting, air travel and fleet usage.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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