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Learn more about sustainability terms and definitions.

2030 Districts

Private / public / nonprofit partnerships in urban areas committed to reducing energy, water, and transportation emissions in line with international 2030 Challenge goals (50% reductions below baselines).


The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) hosts a program the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), which is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure and report sustainability performance. Learn more!


A green infrastructure strategy for collecting stormwater runoff and allowing it to naturally infiltrate into the ground over a period of time.

British Thermal Unit (BTU)

A unit of energy defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. BTUs are commonly accounted for as kiloBTUs (kBTU) — or 1,000 BTUs of energy consumption.

Building Management / Automation System (BMS or BAS)

A computer-based control system installed in buildings that controls and monitors the building’s mechanical and electrical equipment (including boilers, ventilation, and lighting).

Carbon Dioxide Equivalents (CO2e)

A standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. CO2e represents the impact of various greenhouse gases in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that would create the same global warming potential over a specific time period.

Carbon Footprint

A measure of the carbon equivalent impact of activities on the environment. Often defined as the total impact of equivalent carbon dioxide emissions over the lifetime of a product, event, or sustained activity.

Carbon Offset

A reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for (offset) equivalent emissions made elsewhere.

Climate Change

A change in global or regional climate patterns due to the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.

Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO)

Combined sewers are infrastructure systems wherein stormwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater combines in the same pipe as it travels to a wastewater treatment facility.  In Southwestern Pennsylvania during heavy rainfall events, the combined sewer system is forced to utilized its overflow release pipes, which overflow into the rivers, causing sewage and other water pollution to end up in local waterways, including Pittsburgh’s rivers.

Community Engagement Centers (CEC)

Pitt is working to build stronger communities and a stronger University via a number of long-term, place-based partnerships, starting with the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Homewood and the Hill District. These Community Engagement Centers (CECs) combine the communities’ agendas and wisdom with the University’s assets and resources to strengthen Pittsburgh and enhance Pitts core mission of teaching, research, and service.


The act of collecting organic waste and allowing it to aerobically decompose into a nutrient-rich fertilizer to be used in local green spaces.  Learn more.

Daylight Harvesting

An energy management technique that reduces overhead lighting use by utilizing ambient light present in a space and dimming or switching off artificial lighting.

Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S)

A discipline for studying and implementing environmental protection, safety at work, occupational health and safety, compliance, and best practices. Visit Pitt EH&S.

Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

A metric used for comparing buildings energy use. A building’s total on-site building energy use per square foot per year (kBTU/square foot/year).

Energy Star

A U.S. EPA program providing certification to buildings and consumer products that meet certain standards of energy efficiency. Learn more.

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)

A ranking system that helps purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. Learn more.


The natural process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere as the sum of the evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants.

WPU Panther

Facilities Management (FM)

Pitt Facilities Management is responsible for maintaining, preserving and enhancing the University’s physical assets. Core services include building and ground maintenance and custodial services to assure a safe, functional, attractive, and sustainable campus environment.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.


Graywater includes all waste water streams without sewage contamination, including from baths, sinks, washing machines, and other kitchen appliances.

Greenhouse Gas Effect

A phenomenon in which the atmosphere of a planet traps radiation emitted by the sum, caused by gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane that allow incoming sunlight to pass through but retain heat radiated back from the planet’s surface.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. These main greenhouse gases are: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), and Fluorinated gases.

Green Roof

A roof that is completely, or partially, covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. The roof may also include layers such as a root barrier and drainage systems. Green roofs are often installed to reduce the heat island effect, as additional roof insulation, and to mitigate stormwater runoff.

Heat Island Effect

The heat island effect is the phenomenon of ambient temperatures being a few degrees higher in and around dense urban areas due to human activities and developments.

Indigenous (or Native) Plants

Plants that are native to a given area including plants that have developed, occur naturally, or have existed for many years in a specific area.

Kilowatt Hour (kWh)

A unit of energy equal to 3.6 megajoules. If the energy being transmitted or used at a constant rate (power) over a period of time, the total energy in kWh is the power in kilowatts (kW) multiplied by the time in hours. Electricity consumption is over measured in kWhs.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

A semiconductor device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it. LED technology provides a more efficient lighting source than previous technologies like fluorescent, halogen, or incandescent.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

An international third-party green building rating and certification system recognizing buildings that designed, constructed, operated, and maintained in a manner that improves performance in energy, water, GHG emissions, indoor air quality, and more.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

The quantitative assessment of economic and environmental impact over the lifetime of a product, building, or process (from raw material extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use, and end of life). Learn more.

Living Laboratory

A living lab is a user-centered, open-innovation environment created to combine research spaces with innovation and collaboration.

Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI)

Pitt’s leading academic sustainability center, catalyzing sustainability research, teaching, and outreach. Learn more.

Pitt bus shuttle

Net Zero Energy

A building that produces enough renewable energy to offset the amount of energy it consumes on an annual basis.

Office of Sustainability

Pitt’s Office of Sustainability leads University-wide sustainability strategy, activities, policies, collaborations, & partnerships to advance the Pitt Sustainability Plan, which includes 61 measurable goals across stewardship, exploration, community, and culture.  Meet the Pitt Sustainability team.


Natural matter or compounds with a carbon base; also refers to food or meat grown or raised without chemicals or pesticides.

Occupancy and Vacancy Sensors

Indoor motion detecting devices used to detect occupancy in a space often used to automatically control lighting, temperature, or ventilation systems.

Phantom Load (Vampire Load)

The electricity consumed by an electronic device plugged into an outlet while it is turned off or in standby mode.

Soloar Photovoltaics (PV)

The direct conversion of sunlight (electromagnetic radiation) into electricity using semiconducting materials. Learn more about solar at Pitt.

Portfolio Manager

An online Energy Star tool for measuring and tracking energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. It is often used to benchmark the performance of one building or a portfolio of buildings.

Potable Water

Water that is safe enough to drink, having met established drinking water standards.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA)

PWSA is the municipal authority responsible for water treatment and delivery systems in the City of Pittsburgh. PWSA also manages the City’s sewage conveyance system, which is treated by ALCOSAN.

Rain Garden

A shallow depression that allows rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas, like roofs, driveways, walkways, and parking lots, the opportunity to be absorbed.

"Real Food"

Food that nourishes the consumer along with its producers, our communities, and the Earth.  Learn more.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The three basic essential components of environmentally-responsible consumer behavior. Reduce is cutting back on consumption, reuse is to repurpose a used item for another use, and recycle is to collect materials to be remade into new goods.

Renewable Energy

Energy from a source that can be quickly replenished by a natural process. Renewable energy consists of solar, wind, geothermal, 
and others.

Renewable Energy Credit (REC)

Tradable, non-tangible energy commodities that represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from a renewable source.

Site/Source Energy

Site energy is the energy consumed within the property boundary while source energy is the energy required to produce and deliver the fuel consumed.


Surface water resulting from heavy falls of rain or snow.

Student Office of Sustainability (SOOS)

A student office at Pitt that fosters environmental awareness throughout the Pitt community. The goal of the office is to infuse sustainability into the culture, values, and decision-making process at Pitt.

Sustainable Landscape

Landscapes that are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value.

Tree Campus USA

A National Arbor Day Foundation program which provides recognition for colleges and universities, at the state and national levels, that make a commitment to trees on their campus and to their surrounding community.

Waste Heat Recovery System

The collection of heat created as an undesired by-product of another operation. Waste heat is often recovered from condensate return in steam heating systems and can even be captured from sewage lines.

WELL certification

A building standard focused on the built environment’s impact on human health and wellbeing through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Learn more.

Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV)

A vehicle that emits no exhaust gas from its onboard source of power.

Zero Waste

The conservation of resources via responsible production, consumption, reuse, and materials recovery without sending any waste to landfill; zero waste is generally considered to have been achieved with 90% diversion from landfill. Learn more.