Pitt campus biker near flag and Cathedral of Learning

Pitt Climate
Action Plan

The first ever Pitt Climate Action Plan (PittCAP) for the University of Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh campus presents our strategy, approach, and details to achieve carbon neutrality by 2037, the 250th anniversary of our founding. We have worked to ensure that our carbon neutrality strategy fulfills our full sustainability aspirations of reaching toward environmental solutions while balancing and addressing our academic mission, pursuing equitable outcomes, and helping create economic resilience for our University and communities.

Developed under the direction of the Carbon Commitment Committee of the Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Sustainability, this PittCAP builds on the goals of our existing Pitt Sustainability Plan, while setting both an insistent and realistic approach on the carbon opportunities and challenges in front of our campus, community, and world.

All actions delineated in this Pitt Climate Action Plan will cascade over time. These projections for our Pitt greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation activities show how each strategy contributes to our carbon reduction journey between 2019 and 2037, helping us meet our incremental target to reduce GHG emissions 50% below 2008 levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2037.

Pitt campus biker Cathedral of Learning

Figure 18: University of Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan Waterfall Pathway to Carbon Neutrality

(Projected Numeric GHG Reductions in metric tons CO2e Annually)

Beyond the PittCAP document, the University is already operationalizing a roadmap of climate action and investments that include prioritized strategies and timelines with clear actions, leaders, stakeholders, and success measurements. Pitt’s Carbon Commitment Committee is responsible for ensuring both this PittCAP and its roadmap are followed, as led by the University’s Office of Sustainability. As we advance through our GHG)reduction strategies, we’ll be integrating the crosscutting themes of academic mission, equitable outcomes, and economic resilience. Each is fundamental to every climate action decision we make and are included in our roadmap to ensure we’re addressing each intentionally as we advance toward carbon neutrality.

Figure 28: PittCAP Wedge Diagram – Pathway to Neutrality by 2037

Learn how you can impact
Pitt’s journey to carbon neutrality

The Pitt Climate Action Plan is the result of many dedicated individuals’ hard work and Pitt’s unwavering commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2037. See full acknowledgements.

Key Milestones

PittCAP Frequently Asked Questions

What is carbon neutrality?

“Carbon neutrality” refers to balancing all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions put into the atmosphere by removing or capturing and storing (i.e., sequestering) an equivalent quantity of GHG emissions. To achieve that goal, we have three

GHG mitigation priorities: reducing our energy demand, cleaning our energy supply, and shifting to low-carbon connections.  Other strategies we’ll depend on to get to carbon neutrality include campus education and behavior shifts, as well as eventual carbon insets and offsets.

See PittCAP page 6.

How is the Pitt Climate Action Plan different from the Pitt Sustainability Plan?

The Pitt Climate Action Plan (PittCAP) builds on the goals of our existing Pitt Sustainability Plan, while setting both an insistent and realistic approach on the carbon opportunities and challenges in front of our campus, community, and world. The University is committed to updating the PittCAP every five years moving forward, until our carbon emissions exist in balance with the natural world.

See PittCAP page 40.

How can I get involved? / What can I do to help?

We have the tools at hand to combat the climate emergency – and it will take every one of us to do so.  Your decisions at Pitt, at home, and around the world make a difference, representing everyday opportunity to positively impact our lives here in Pittsburgh, as well as those of other communities around the world.  Together, we are part of the solution and can build a brighter equitable future for all. 

Every person, every action, every purchase, and every voice can bring us one step closer to keeping climate change in check. 

Learn how you can help on campus, at home, and every day. 

If you’re interested in having someone come talk to your campus group or class, please contact us.

How are we doing? / When will updates be shared?

Starting in fiscal year 2019, the University began updating its GHG inventory annually (though previous inventories date back to fiscal year 2008).

The most recent GHG inventory for fiscal year 2021 indicates GHG emissions for the Pittsburgh campus were 39.2% below our 2008 baseline (down 11% from FY20); however, much of this large FY21 decrease is attributable to Pitt’s FY21 response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and not expected to be durable.  In FY20, GHG emissions were 31.9% below FY08.

Alongside posting contextualized results on the Pitt Sustainability Dashboard, annual GHG inventory reports and updates are also planned.  The University will also be updating about specific projects and milestones as they are achieved.

Why 2037?

The University of Pittsburgh has been inventorying its greenhouse gas emissions since fiscal year 2008. Our initial 2018 campus-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal was a 50% reduction in GHGs below 2008 levels by 2030 (as set in the Pitt Sustainability Plan) — and it remains an important milestone in our larger journey toward carbon neutrality by 2037.

In making the decision to pursue carbon neutrality for the Pittsburgh campus by 2037, existing goals and strategies were considered, along with projections of what would be achievable relating to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and on what timeline.  2037 was selected with science-based criteria, considering Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions alongside feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and community engagement and benefits.

The year 2037 is the 250th anniversary of the founding of the University of Pittsburgh.  As a result, it will be a monumental celebration for the University.

See PittCAP page 12.

What is a carbon offset?

A greenhouse gas (GHG) or “carbon” offset is a unit of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) that is reduced, avoided, or sequestered to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere (WRI report).

Though the carbon offset market is voluntary, offsets are a globally traded commodity.

Carbon offsets can be generated via several strategies, including tree planting, efficiency efforts, renewable energy, methane capture, regenerative agriculture, and other approaches. Traditionally, carbon offsets are procured from external entities, are independently verified, and externally achieved.

Carbon offsets are a required piece to reach carbon neutrality by 2037 – and we can use that opportunity to reflect our values and create a cascade of mission-related, environmental, equitable, and economically resilient solutions.  Depending on outcomes, the University can choose to focus on projects that offer benefits beyond carbon (i.e., community, educational, health, equity, resilience, and environmental); the Carbon Commitment Committee is already investigating opportunities of this type.  An increasing number of companies in Pitt’s existing and future supply chain already purchase carbon offsets of their own.

See PittCAP page 40.

How is the Pitt Climate Action Plan different from fossil fuel divestment and SRI / ESG investments?

Due to the nature of higher education GHG accounting, University investments are not included in Pitt’s GHG inventory or carbon neutrality goal, nor is it common practice for universities to account for the GHG emissions of their endowments in campus inventories.

With this in mind, the Office of Finance is released the University’s first annual Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) report in Spring 2022, which highlights the application of ESG factors in ensuring the CEF provides strong financial returns in perpetuity and to fossil fuel investments specifically. (2021 Board Ad Hoc Committee on Fossil Fuels’ Report)

See PittCAP page 12.

View the Full Pitt Climate Action Plan

Download the full Pitt Climate Action Plan

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Feedback Form

We look forward to hearing your Pitt climate action feedback and ideas!