During her first week on the job, Pitt’s first-ever director of sustainability got a first-hand look at the University’s first use of goats to maintain some tricky terrain.
That’s a lot of firsts, but for Aurora Sharrard it’s just the beginning.
Sharrard, who came to Pitt after 11 years at the Green Building Alliance, started her new job July 9, and three days later she was up above Eberly Hall watching 12 goats from Collier Township-based HaveUHerd as they chomped on a hillside covered with overgrown and invasive plants.
Compared to the surrounding hillside, the fenced-in area the goats were attacking was already showing signs of their work. The overgrowth had been cleared enough to uncover a cell phone and some earbuds, found by the goats’ owner Rainy Laux as she walked the area.
Andy Moran, senior manager for grounds in Pitt’s Facilities Management Division, said the goats will be on campus for about four weeks at a cost of $4,000. Their enclosure will be moved to different areas, including a hill above the Fitzgerald Field House.
“We’re using goatscaping as a sustainable solution to maintain the difficult terrain on certain parts of the campus,” said Moran, who credited the idea for the program to Greg Scott, senior vice chancellor for business and operations.
Moran said it would take 160 man-hours and 20 gallons of fuel to tackle the same hillsides and would put crews at risk of injuries on the steep slopes.
The goatscaping is just one small step in the far-reaching "Pitt Sustainability Plan", released earlier this year. Bringing in Sharrard to oversee the University’s sustainability goals is a big step in executing on the plan.
Sharrard said that since Pitt has been working on sustainability for more than 20 years, her first priority is to “see what’s going on and who’s making strides, like Andy (Moran), and what help they need to carry forward toward the goals.”
One of the prime goals is to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.
Moran said one way the grounds crews are working to meet that goal is by converting small gas-powered equipment, like weed-eaters and small lawnmowers, from gas to electric. The department has around 100 pieces of this type of equipment, which will be replaced with electric alternatives as they wear out.
The grounds crews also are using native plants first in plantings and have established at least four pollinator gardens on campus, following a student-initiated project. Moran said a rain garden running along the stairs near where the goats were at work is in the planning stage.
But the comprehensive “Pitt Sustainability Plan” has a long way to go. For instance, one goal is to increase tree cover on campus by 50 percent by 2030. It is an issue that Sharrard and Moran both said is a bit tricky. For large trees to have any impact on the canopy by 2030, they would need to be planted now — but where would or could they go that wouldn’t be affected by future construction?
Sharrard, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Tulane University and holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees in civil and environmental engineering with an emphasis in green design from Carnegie Mellon University, is a one-person team for now. She hopes to hire interns, and she knows there are many people on campus already working toward the plan’s goals.
Right now, she’s settling into her office at another Pitt first — the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, which was one of Pitt’s first sustainability initiatives when it was established in 2003.