Sharrard says Pitt on track to meet greenhouse gas goals


The University of Pittsburgh’s energy consumption is on track to meet the sustainability goal of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Pitt’s Director of Sustainability Aurora Sharrard revealed the fiscal year 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory to Faculty Assembly members on Jan. 19.

The inventory shows, she said, that the University is on track to reaching its goal of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2037.

During the Jan. 24 Plant Utilization and Planning committee meeting, Scott Bernotas, vice chancellor for Facilities Management, told members that Pitt’s renewable energy consumption has been trending positively for the past five to six years thanks to Pitts various sustainability projects and a decrease in emissions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharrard also attributed the decrease in energy consumption to Pitt closely monitoring its building emissions. The fiscal year 2020 showed the lowest energy use per square foot in a decade, she added.

Sustainability is one of Pitt’s six core values outlined in the Plan for Pitt. The University has collected data on its greenhouse gas emissions since 2008. The data is the baseline for Pitt’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

The greenhouse gas emissions inform the University’s first Climate Action Plan, which has been in the works for a few years but not been finalized yet, Sharrard said. The plan explains the strategies behind the University’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

These strategies are necessary for enhancing Pitt’s academic mission, advancing equitable action and ensuring economic resilience.

“At the end of the day, we still exist as an institution and we’ll have a carbon footprint,” Sharrard said. “So we need to lead the way to carbon neutrality through carbon offsets and behavior changes.”

Additional strategies to increase Pitt’s renewable energy are in the works.

  • The hydro plant near the Highland Park bridge will start construction next year. It will provide 25 percent of Pitt’s energy consumption

  • The University is planning to increase its use of solar energy with Gaucho Solar, produced by Vesper Energy.  Construction on the 20-megawatt array began this month near the Pittsburgh Airport. It will provide 13 percent of Pitt’s energy usage

Sharrard said there’s room for improvement in Pitt’s estimated land and air travel emissions. Her office plans to run a new commuter survey in fall 2022. The last was conducted in 2018.

She said she also expects the data to be “interesting” since it will more accurately reflect the effects of Pitts flex work arrangements for employees.

Sharrard described sustainability as a “journey.”

“It’s not necessarily something that we ever achieve, but it’s a vision that we aspire to with all that we do,” Sharrard said.

Bernotas and Sharrard also are working to release Pitt Sustainability Dashboards that show Pitt’s progress in meeting its sustainability goals. The dashboards are available to members of the Pitt community, but the plan is for them to go public sometime next year, Bernotas said.

Sharrard also encouraged members of the Pitt community to examine the data to potentially create courses, projects and help make recommendations on how the University can achieve its sustainability goals faster.

Another part of the sustainability plan outlines Pitt’s sustainability investment goals. The plan will go before the Board of Trustees at it’s Feb. 28 meeting for endorsement.

In 2020, the board adopted a Socially Responsible Investing Screening Process, which would consider societal concerns in the investing process.

That year, the Office of Finance also established an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policy that would allow for Pitt’s endowment managers to consider a broader range of factors in investment decisions, including business ethics, energy efficiency and hazardous waste management.

Pitt’s Office of Finance will unveil its first ESG report on the University’s endowments during the trustees’ meeting.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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