Advancing sustainability on campus
The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) has been actively involved in sustainable practices on campus for many years and is earning a strong reputation nationally for its emerging culture of sustainability.
In recent years, the University published its inaugural Report on Sustainability to highlight sustainability efforts and achievements on campus (2013), launched the Student Office of Sustainability to be an active voice in fostering awareness throughout the Pitt community (2014), and declared 2014-2015 the Year of Sustainability, inspiring and providing matching funds for activities throughout the campus, from courses to forums.
From these initiatives, the University Chancellor recognized that a more coordinated approach to sustainability initiatives could achieve a greater scale of impact. The University Sustainability Committee was assembled in 2016 to establish cross-functional representation among faculty, staff, and students to synchronize and align the efforts of the many sustainability groups and stakeholders across campus. They set out to think boldly, develop goals and aspirations, and recommend actions to promote dramatic improvements in sustainability across the University – and quickly realized that they needed a strategic framework.
The University Sustainability Committee was charged with developing the long-term vision for deep and lasting changes that would enable future generations to thrive in a world that is socially equitable, economically robust, and environmentally responsible. The committee knew that it wanted to develop an ambitious plan with widespread participation, a plan that captured the unique spirit of Pitt and its core values, and one that was both data-driven and people-oriented. It proved to be a tall order, however, for committee members who each had their “day job” within the university.
We could not have produced anything near the quality of the Pitt Sustainability Plan without BuroHappold’s assistance, nor could we have met our required deadline. The team did an exceptional job of developing a sustainability plan that is people centered, data driven, and actionable. They captured the essence of the University of Pittsburgh – and our students, faculty, and staff are thrilled with the outcome.
Scott Bernotas, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Management
The University Sustainability Committee enlisted the help of BuroHappold to manage the planning process as well as provide strategic guidance on how to create a living plan that would meet the committee’s ambitions and endure far beyond the initial planning process.
One of the initial challenges was the question of how to organize the plan to encompass the full breadth of goals and ambitions across Pitt’s facilities, infrastructure, operations, curriculum, research, and community. Our consultants worked through many iterations to arrive at three themes, which drew close connections to the centers of sustainability activity on campus as well as connecting to the goals set forth in the Plan for Pitt, the university’s strategic plan.
The Stewardship theme sought to care for both the built and natural environment to ensure responsible and efficient resource management, striving to minimize the environmental impact of Pitt’s operations. The committee recognized the primary role played by Pitt’s buildings, infrastructure, and operations given the multifaceted impacts they have on resource conservation.
The Exploration theme sought to integrate a creative, multidisciplinary curriculum, ground breaking research, and social engagement. The University committed to educating every member of its faculty, staff, and student communities on sustainability, to foster and support its environmental leaders, and to promote innovation to contribute to a more sustainable world.
Finally, the Community and Culture theme sought to strengthen Pitt’s campuses and communities by creating a culture of shared responsibility for the University’s impact on surrounding communities, the region, and the world. The University seeks to achieve this by supporting and facilitating opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to be active participants in advancing the University’s social, economic, and environmental sustainability goals.
Within each theme were five in-depth impact areas, which helped to focus goals, key performance indicators, and individuals responsible for providing leadership and monitoring progress.
BuroHappold identified the cross-cutting enabling actions that were essential to the success of the plan. In 2018, the University plans to implement the first enabling action – establishing an Office of Sustainability to coordinate efforts, foster collaboration, and monitor progress toward the Plan’s goals and aspirations.
Chris Rhie, Associate
BuroHappold’s consultants also kept a strong focus on engagement throughout the plan, developing a University-wide only survey which received over 1,050 responses; conducting intercept surveys throughout the Pittsburgh campus; continuously consulting with student, faculty, staff, and community stakeholders; launching a website and social media campaign, and; setting up a booth at the Pitt Farmers’ Market. This resulted in an exceptional depth and breadth of understanding Pitt’s sustainability issues, high brand recognition for the Plan, and ultimately the widespread buy-in that was necessary to take bold action.
Universities across the world are taking action on sustainability because investing in sustainable practices is investing in the future. It makes good business sense, as sustainability initiatives lead to utility cost savings, increased productivity, and enhanced organizational resilience. But it also touches upon universities’ core missions – such as Pitt’s goals to engage in research of impact, advance educational excellence, and strengthen communities. In order to maximize impact and ensure an inclusive process, a strategic framework like the Pitt Sustainability Plan is needed to acknowledge and incorporate the thoughts and ambitions of a diverse cross section of student, faculty, and staff communities. Enduring beyond the initial planning process, a successful plan sets the foundation for achieving ambitious and measurable progress in a cohesive and collaborative manner.
Services and approach
When we integrate our specialist teams around an approach, the benefits to the client multiply