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.
Figure 18. University of Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan Waterfall Pathway to Carbon Neutrality
(Projected Numeric GHG Reductions in metric tons CO2e Annually)
All actions delineated in this Pitt Climate Action Plan will cascade over time. These projections for our Pitt 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 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50% below 2008 levels by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2037.
Figure 28. PittCAP Wedge Diagram – Pathway to Neutrality by 2037
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 greenhouse (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.
PittCAP Frequently Asked Questions
- What is carbon neutrality? (See PittCAP page 6)
- “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.
- How is the Pitt Climate Action Plan different from the Pitt Sustainability Plan? (See PittCAP page 40)
- 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.
- 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 2020 indicates GHG emissions for the Pittsburgh campus were 31.9% less than FY08, with GHG emissions also down 13.7% from FY19.
- 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? (See PittCAP page 12)
- 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.
- What is a carbon offset? (See PittCAP page 40)
- 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.
- How is the Pitt Climate Action Plan different from fossil fuel divestment and SRI / ESG investments? (See PittCAP page 12)
- 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)
- February 28, 2020
- University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees pass resolution committing to carbon neutrality for the Pittsburgh campus by 2037
- Chancellor Gallagher signs Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment, joining 400+ other higher education institutions in recognizing our climate emergency and pledging action in line with global goals
- March 18, 2020 – Carbon Commitment Committee of Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Sustainability formed to develop roadmap to attain carbon neutrality
- 2020 forward – Pitt’s climate action implementation ramping up:
- In fiscal year 2020, Pitt’s reached its lowest total energy use per square foot since data tracking began in 2008, keeping it on track to reach its goal to reduce energy intensity 50% by 2030.
- For calendar year 2021, ~16.8% of the University’s electricity originated from renewable energy sources.
- The University of Pittsburgh is committed to two long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) for local, renewable electricity that will combine to supply 36.5% of the Pittsburgh campus’s electricity by 2024, keeping the University on track to reach its strategic renewables goal. These PPAs include local:
- Solar – Pitt will purchase all of the renewable electricity produced by a planned 20-megawatt solar power facility just 25 miles from the Pittsburgh campus (on the border of Allegheny and Beaver Counties); it will come online in Fall 2022.
- Hydropower – Pitt is committed to acquiring 25% of its electrical needs from local, run-of-the-river hydropower less than 5 miles from campus on the Allegheny River, starting in 2024 — the equivalent of 50,000 MWh annually (8.4 MW nameplate).Closing this gap requires a combination of solutions, including on-site renewables, directly purchased renewables, long-term power purchase agreements, and renewable energy certificates.
- Six GHG Inventories for the University of Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh campus have now been completed (for fiscal years 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2019, & 2020), with the most recent celebrating 31.9% reduction in GHGs below our 2008 baseline.
- Pitt achieved 2021 Silver Bike Friendly University status, on track to reach towards Pitt Sustainability Plan goal of achieving Gold by 2025.
- March 2022 – University of Pittsburgh Pitt Climate Action Plan publicly released.
- Annual updates planned, reporting on progress and impact. Learn how you can help!
We look forward to hearing your Pitt climate action feedback and ideas; please provide your contact information so we can send you a response!
Carbon Commitment Committee: As part of our commitment to achieve carbon neutrality on our Pittsburgh campus by 2037, the Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Sustainability created a Carbon Commitment Committee to hone, design, and manage the University’s plan to achieve its carbon neutrality goal by 2037, while annually evaluating progress. Upon the PittCAP’s release the Committee members include:
- CHAIR: Dr. Aurora Sharrard, Director of Sustainability, Office of Sustainability
- Jennifer Barnes, Supplier Diversity and Sustainability Coordinator, Purchasing Services
- Scott Bernotas, Vice Chancellor, Office of Facilities Management
- Dr. Melissa Bilec, Deputy Director, Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation; Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Dustin Gray, Executive Associate Athletic Director for Administration, Athletics
- Dr. Michael Holland, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Research Strategies, Office the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research
- Mary Beth McGrew, Associate Vice Chancellor, Planning, Design, and Real Estate
- Ellen Oordt, Undergraduate Student, Ecology and Evolution, ‘22
- Rebecca Roadman, Chief of Staff, Business and Operations
- Past Members (2020-21)
- Dr. Max Harleman, Alum, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA ‘21 )
- Dr. Katrina Kelly-Pitou, Former Assistant Research Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Senior Leadership: This group would like to recognize the regular contributions and direction provided by the Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Sustainability. , along with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; Dr. David N. DeJong, Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Operations; and Hari Sastry, Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer, for their guidance and support.
Campus Engagement: The PittCAP planning team was honored to and invigorated by engaging with various groups of students, faculty, and staff throughout the planning effort, including:
- Student Groups: Student Office of Sustainability and its affiliated student groups
- Faculty Groups: Council of Deans and the University Senate’s Campus Utilization, Planning, & Safety Committee (formerly PUP)
- Staff Groups: Offices of Business and Auxiliary Services and Facilities Management, HR Partners, Staff Council, Operations Council, and University Communications
- Greenhouse Gas Inventory Team: Special thanks are due to the individuals who have overseen, created, and reviewed Pitt’s five GHG inventories, along with a much larger set of individuals across University departments who have and continue to supply information to the GHG Inventory process.
- ADVISOR: Dr. Melissa Bilec, Deputy Director, Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation; Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- FY19 & FY20: Jessica Vaden, Graduate Student Researcher, Civil and Environmental Engineering
- FY17: Haley Gardner (’17, ‘19 SSOE)
- FY14: Vaclav Hasik (‘19 SSOE)
- FY11: Kevin J. Ketchman (‘17 SSOE)
- FY08: Can B. Aktas (‘10 SSOE)
- REVIEWERS: Laura Zullo, Director of Administration, Business and Operations; Rich Heller, Retired, Office of Facilities Management (FY17); Dr. Aurora Sharrard, Director of
Sustainability, Office of Sustainability (FY19 and FY20)
- Individuals: We’d also like to thank all individuals who helped create, mold, and advance this plan from concept into being, especially Nalyn Siripong (Pitt IT), along with John Sebastian and students in Civil and Environmental Engineering ‘s Fall 2020 Professional Development class for their contributions in advancing ideas and future opportunities for Pitt related to campus insets and offsets.
- Planning Consultant: Baumgartner Urban Systems Strategy (BUSS).