Pitt Sustains Steady Beat in Green Initiatives on Campus

Issue Date: 
June 6, 2011

For more than a decade, the University of Pittsburgh has focused on environmental sustainability, steadily building its reputation as a “green” campus. Some of these efforts—like University-wide participation in the annual RecycleMania competition or the phaseout of Styrofoam plates and cups in the cafeterias—are highly visible. Others, such as energy-saving and waste-reducing initiatives, are less obvious yet equally crucial to reducing the University’s environmental footprint. A brief look at some of Pitt’s significant—yet unheralded—sustainability initiatives follows.

Old and Sustainable

Pitt’s campus has a number of older buildings that were constructed long before energy efficiency was a consideration. But a building’s senior status doesn’t preclude it from receiving an environmentally friendly upgrade.

The University approaches all of its upgrades with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in mind. The LEED Green Building Rating Systems, which comprise Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum rankings, are nationally accepted benchmarks for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.

“We start most major projects with the attempt to get them to at least the LEED Certified level,” said University Architect Park Rankin. “Since the University has high standards for energy efficiency, certification is often achievable just by what we would normally do.”

The first phase of the Benedum Hall renovations, for example, appears to be on target for LEED Gold certification. It features the University’s first living green roof—a plant and soil expanse that reduces water runoff and heat absorption—along with heat recovery equipment to recapture the heat from exhaust air. Rankin said he is optimistic that future renovations of the Graduate School of Public Health, Salk Hall, Chevron Science Center, and other Pitt buildings will attain LEED certification.

Steaming Clean

Pitt’s steam energy has become much greener since 2009, when the Bellefield boiler plant switched from coal to natural gas, and a second plant, the Carrillo Street Steam Plant, began operation. Burning primarily natural gas, the Carrillo Street plant is equipped with state-of-the-art emissions controls allowing it to meet an ultralow nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide limit of 9 parts per million. Pitt is believed to be the nation’s only university to own a plant that meets this limit, according to Facilities Management’s Sustainability at the University of Pittsburgh report. While the Carrillo Street plant currently provides about half of the steam energy needs for Pitt and UPMC, a full transfer from the Bellefield plant is expected within the next several years. That full transfer is expected to reduce Pitt’s annual steam-related carbon dioxide emissions by 47 percent from FY 2009 levels.

Pitt’s Green Oases

Although located in a densely populated urban neighborhood, the University has labored to expand its green space. Most notable is Schenley Plaza, a five-acre oasis of green that replaced a parking lot in 2006. Although the University does not own this land, Pitt design and construction personnel were integral to the project. Just across the street from the plaza, grass and trees have been added to the gray stretch of concrete between Posvar Hall and Hillman Library. Pitt has made similar improvements to Sennott Square, Clapp Hall, Crabtree and Parran halls, the Petersen Events Center, and the Cathedral of Learning’s Hosta Garden.

Build and Reuse

Pitt undertakes many construction projects—but produces less refuse than might be expected. The University has implemented a rigorous program of reusing and recycling construction waste. “We have a whole program of salvage and reuse,” said Laura Zullo, senior manager of Energy Initiatives for Pitt’s Facilities Management Division, adding that University contractors provide reports of how much is recycled following a project’s completion. For the Benedum Hall renovation, she noted, more than 75 percent of construction debris had been recycled. The Chevron Science Center addition performed even better, recycling 97 percent of all materials reported to date.

Recycling Champs

Since 2005, the University has been expanding its recycling efforts to include cardboard, aluminum, glass, plastics (grades 1-5), paper, batteries, cellular phones, and even iPods. These materials are collected in bins, boxes, and receptacles in various residence and academic halls across campus.

In addition, Pitt students, staff, and faculty members display recycling prowess when matched against their peers at other universities, as they have shown during RecycleMania, a national competition designed to increase recycling on college and university campuses. For 2011, Pitt’s third year of participation, the University community recycled 11.92 pounds of combined materials per person. Among Big East schools, Pitt placed first in the categories of paper, corrugated cardboard, and bottle/can recycling, and recycled a total of 473,247.5 pounds of material, according to Recycle Mania figures. More information on Pitt’s sustainability efforts can be found at www.pitt.edu/green.html.