Sep 242013

The University of Pittsburgh Honors College in conjunction with Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and The National Aviary presents:

“The Science and Politics of Global Warming”

A lecture by:
Raymond S. Bradley
University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences
Director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

2:00 PM

This lecture is FREE but reservations are required. Please click the link below to request your spot!

Almost every national science academy and scientific organization has accepted the evidence for human-induced global warming, yet many influential politicians dismiss the scientific reality and so political action to reduce carbon emissions has stalled in Congress. While politicians sit on their hands and do little to help control CO2 emissions, greenhouse gases accumulate, glaciers and ice caps melt, and sea-levels continue to rise. Join us for a lecture by Raymond S. Bradley, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences and Director of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, as he addresses the perils and politics of climate change inaction.

Immediately following Professor Bradley’s lecture and adjacent to it, we are hosting an informational fair of local non-profit and student organizations working on issues pertaining to climate change. Our hope is that lecture attendees can connect with groups working on these very important activities and engage in the work going on in our region.

Please feel free to share this announcement & the attached flyer widely with others. ALL ARE WELCOME!

Apr 122013

Well folks, we’ve hit 6 (and PittEnvironmental has blogged about 4 of them). This morning, we’ll hear from the founding dean of Chatham’s School of Sustainability, and a Pitt panel on green initiatives around the university. Throughout this article, the term ‘susty’ is used in place of ‘sustainability’.

9:15 In opening remarks, Ward highlighted the lack of comprehensive education around climate change, but also mentioned the UHC’s new program to bring more climate change speakers to the campus in an effort to give all students such a background. The first of those events is next week’s Joe Romm lecture on the 17th.

Keynote: David Hassenzahl

Wants to talk about sustainability in the two places that he’s worked – UNLV and Chatham. Emphasized that it’s easy to get discouraged, but that as long as day-to-day actions are moving us forward, we should not do that.

Susty as an organizing principle:

  • Chicago School: ‘Everything is by definition sustainable, because of resource replacement and economics’
  • ‘An awkward and ugly word’, ‘Susty is a technical requirement, not an aspiration’ 
  • Standard triple bottom line variants.
  • Not impeding future generation (Brundtland, seven generations out)
  • Different aspects: facilities, academics, campus life, community. All require focus at a university.
  • Four principles:
    • Process, not endpoints (‘Don’t get caught up in goals or measurements’)
    • Needs to be preferred to status quo for success (‘How does what you’re doing make lives better?’)
    • Systems perspective
    • Appropriate knowledge (rather than multi- or trans- disciplinary)

9:32 Assessment:

  • Without measurement, importance and quality and progress are lost
  • Assessment systems (STARS) can push us to do specific things that may or may not move us towards sustainability
  • In contrast, systems like the Living Building Challenge emphasize endpoints rather than specific methods
  • Certifications are nice, but tradeoffs require analysis and thought
  • Mention of SWPA Susty Business Compact


9:36 Las Vegas as a Susty Everytown (argument that LV faces the same issues as many other places)

It will take a long time to cycle through infrastructure – 10 years for cars, longer for buildings. We don’t often think about suburban LV, but it is often full of cinder block walls. Like other places, developments are built not for walking between houses, but for driving, and with houses facing away from the street and towards the backyard. How do we plan communities that inhibit or encourage interactions?

9:40 Exponential population growth, but we’re building infrastructure designed to discourage people from forming actual communities, or doing anything but drive. (IMO, Phoenix is still more ridiculous). Terrain is flat in the valley, but surrounded by mountains. Back in the 1970’s, started having runoff from higher residential exterior water use, creating wetlands in the desert. By 2008, the LV Wash runs 365 days a year with heavy flow. He uses the phrase ‘Suburban Drool’, which is not his, but is excellent. Year round wetlands in the desert (in neighborhoods as well as the wash) is a wacky concept.

9:49 With all that standing water, mosquitoes are now endemic to LV – new ecosystems, and new diseases. Swimming pools are a problem as well, particularly with the housing downturn. This comes back to the idea of systems thinking and unintended consequences.

Lawns are decreasing, but those that remain still use a lot of fertilizers and herbicides. There is also lots of dog waste. Because rainfall is short and intense, all of that washes into Lake Mead right above where freshwater intakes are. This all requires more energy to clean up drinking water for consumption (Systems again).

Schools generally have kids driven to school, then playing ‘on a blacktop, with still air, surrounded by 10 ft walls, with lots of vans idling’ (the respiratory emissions are awful). Emphasized difference between driving and walking to school – totally different interactions with built environment, but the environment isn’t the final determining factor. He came back to health and the environment, and noting obesity, diabetes, and pollution as well as disconnection, and that quality of life is higher (though how do we measure that?).

9:53 Shift towards the ‘we can do things better’ part of the presentation (which I’m not going to write about as much). Notes the ‘green line’ for wine that loosely follows the Mississippi.

9:59 On to Chatham: have a master plan for the Eden Hall Campus for 1200 students with net-zero all sorts of things (we could question net-zero, but it’s a reasonable goal). The campus is at the top of two watersheds, and so has impacts on everyone below them (though is eventually diluted, and with negligible impacts the next town down will be a bigger impact. Susty on rivers is a problem of agriculture and towns, not net-zero campuses.)

First phase will focus on food and energy, aiming for initial set of buildings by October. Aiming for 70% lower energy use, to enable 100% renewable energy. Putting heat pumps in everything (expensive but good – is it maintainable?). All buildings will be LEED Platinum, with full time monitoring (maintenance?). Questioning whether to grow all the food or trade with local farmers.

10:02 Overall Chatham susty efforts – STARS Gold, all the rest of the standard awards, USNWR set of 4 schools going beyond normal efforts.

Conclusions – susty is a process, and needs to be where you are. Campuses need to be living labs to try things out. Think about appropriate knowledge to collect, and how to influence peers, and what behaviors to adopt now (those will be around in 20-30 years). Finally, town-gown relations can help impact susty.



Panel Discussion


  • Susanna Leers, Head of the PUPC of the University Senate. 
  • Dan Marcinko, Univ. Susty Coordinator (head of FM’s team)
  • Kit Ayars, CSSD
  • Pat Heffley, Upper-campus housing building manager
  • Susan Fukushima, Sodexho manager on campus

Head of PUPC discussed the dissolution of the SuSC, and the [slow] work on a replacement – and that many susty-oriented practices are now common place.

10:15 Mr. Marcinko notes that many things are happening, highlighting building efforts. Five LEED certification projects ongoing, with Chevron and BST3 12th floor recently finished. Looking at the branch campuses as well – Greensberg and Johnstown. Nordenberg Hall (the new dorm) is currently tracking Silver. Looking at other points, but thinking about whether those points are sensible places to spend money (not necessarily cost-wise, it seems). Emphasis on water efficiency (silly for this region, but w/e). New website section for FM with more usability and weekly updates. New carbon emissions inventory coming out soon, shout-out to MCSI. Sustainability report in progress, release in fall.

10:21 Ms. Ayars emphasized that people really do care. CSSD focuses on power, paper waste, and partnerships with others (they are limited in direct impacts). Working on virtualization of servers to reduce power usage in network ops center – significant reductions. Lab computers power down after 30 mins. A lot of efforts around paper weren’t possible 3 years ago – self service, software distribution, etc. Much of this has been student-pushed, and several million sheets have been saved this school year. 30000 discs saved from downloading software rather than getting disc. Sidenote: The plastic bags for printing pickup are 100% recyclable, and purchased from a manufacturer that uses renewable energy. Overall printing is down. Reasons here would be interesting – I’d guess that tablets and phones are related. Lots of work with the GFAB. The Susty Handbook was part of the orientation USB key.  Welcomes new partnerships – call the helpdesk.

10:28 Mr. Heffley discussed his history with HM as the lead person for susty efforts in housing. Started with trashroom bins, then worked on motion sensors throughout dorms. Hydration station in Sutherland, working on Panther and PA, already in Nordenberg (though not accessible yet). Did lighting retrofits in Sutherland and Forbes, saving $40,000 per year (40-50% more efficient). Next big project is the entrance area for Sutherland Hall (with a mention of permanent exterior recycling bins!).

10:34 Ms. Fukushima emphasized Sodexho’s overarching plan. Wants to work on reducing water use, local/seasonal products, and social responsibility (fair trade and sensibly grown products). Follow Monterrey Bay Aquarium seafood system. Use energy-efficient equipment. Participates in Global Susty Supply Chain Code of Conduct – a nice thing to see for its long-ranging impacts. Recently signed agreement with Real Food Challenge, which is a goal of 20% from locally grown sustainable food. Here at Pitt, partnerships have worked well. Cardboard is recycled, grease is used for biodiesel. Trayless dining has reduced a lot of impacts.

Question: Biggest accomplishment and biggest challenge

Mr. Marcinko: Building Automation System, for both control and metering. Challenge is in utilizing the dollars that we have wisely.

Ms. Ayars: Dislikes picking favorites, but notes that cleaning chemicals for labs are now green (she has chemical sensitivities, so this matters a lot). Challenge is in balancing needs and wants.

Mr. Heffley: Agrees with Mr. Marcinko on the Automated Building System. More for HM, recycling mattresses is a big deal. Company can teardown and recycle/reuse mattresses, or Sutherland’s were taken to Jamaica (was this a useful point of aid?). Challenges focus around the demand from students and the time it takes to actually install things.

Question: What is top-down support for susty like?

Ms. Leers: Admin is supportive, but cites the traditional need for a ‘loyal opposition’ from faculty and staff.

Question: How do you communicate with students about efforts?

Mr. Marcinko: Increased website use for documentation, and the idea of producing a susty report.

In conclusion, Mr. Marcinko also presented initial results from REcyclemania, 33rd in Grand Challenge, 11/357 in Gorilla, 64/355 per-capita (3rd BE), 50% waste utilization 18/158 paper, 27/165 cardboard (both 1st BE). Notes that hydration stations were a student effort that are now part of building standards.


Break for booths and snacks – thanks for reading through all of this discussion!


Apr 032013

T/H, 9:30am-10:45am

One key course missing from the recent Fall 2013 sustainability course list was ENGR 1060, Engineering for Humanity, which was developed by Dr. Bhavna Sharma and piloted in the Fall of 2012. This course, I am pleased to announce, will be continuing this Fall and taught by [Dr.-to-be] Alexander Dale.

The course will retain its format of discussing engineering as one part of a broader set of sustainability issues, and its multidisciplinary projects. The central focus will, however, shift from social entrepreneurship and product design to complex and wicked problems, with social entrepreneurship as a key model. It will be tied in with ESW-National’s Wicked Problems in Sustainable Engineering initiative – case study to be determined.

The course is still in the catalog (T/H, 9:30-10:45am), and will cover some large scale important topics, allow direct engagement with local issues, and generate some external engagement with professionals and other schools! If this sounds interesting, you should register today!

Mar 262013

The joint Pitt and CMU Engineering Sustainability conference will be here in just two weeks – and has some phenomenal speakers and material lined up. To highlight two in particular: the conference keynote is founder Alex Steffan, and the closing panel will be focusing on “The Case for a Regional Energy Strategy and Plan”. You can view the entire program here, and register here.

This post is a call, in particular, to students. Attendance is inexpensive (and there may be discounts possible for Pitt student groups!), and you can gain a huge amount of knowledge and exposure to real-world sustainability. There are events all day Monday and Tuesday (easily reached by bus), and professors are likely to be sympathetic to missing class to attend events like this. Bonus: The closing panel is free!

As with the four previous ES conferences, ES13 will bring together engineers and scientists from academia, government, industry, and nonprofits to share results of cutting-edge research and practice directed at development of environmentally sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Given the substantial problems that face 21st century infrastructure, this conference aims to highlight recent advances in technologies that can support a more sustainable future.

You can register here, and I hope to see you there!

Feb 212013

There will be no discussion group tonight because I (Alex) will be attending a seed starting event (gotta grow things!). In that vein, however, you should read Tomorrow’s Table, particularly the ‘tools’ chapters and the ‘who owns the’ chapters. For next week (Feb. 28th) come expecting to discuss some of the following questions:

1. What role do organic farming and/or genetic engineering have to play in our food future?

2. How should we change policies around either of these two technologies if we want to promote sustainability (see Box P.3 in the book)?

3. How do we talk about these subjects if people haven’t already read this or similar books?

Jan 142013

Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station - the closest to Pgh!

It’s the start of a new semester, and we’re reading some books – but we’ll be discussing those starting next week. For this week, we’re coming back to a popular discussion topic: nuclear power. If you know nothing about nuclear, don’t be afraid to show up and ask questions – it’s a great forum for that. If you have strong opinions either way, those are welcome too – just be aware that you might be wrong on something, and that irrational obstinance is frowned upon.

Recommended Readings:

1) TED Debate – “Does the world need nuclear energy?”,

2) Barath Rhagavan’s “The Wisdom of Deathbed Conversion

3) Tom Murphy’s “Nuclear Options

4) Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor in 5 Minutes (YouTube)

4) Our Choice Chapter 8 (email me at atd8 if you want to borrow my copy)

5) Physics for Future Presidents, Richard Muller (similar on the emailing to borrow)

These are a lot of opinions, with more technical data in the latter two books. If you’re looking for something meatier on the technology itself, some googling will serve you well – the industry and Wikipedia combine to tell a perfectly reasonable story.

Nov 292012


It’s a bit of a time crunch, but if you’re an undergrad in the STEM fields, and want to help folks in k-12 learn about sustainability, you should come to the meeting this afternoon (Nov. 29th) in Sennott Sq. 5317 – free food and interesting information provided.

See attached flyer for more.

SUSTAINS Kickoff Announcement

Nov 272012

Well – it’s been a while. We’ve gone to a few events and talks, had Thanksgiving, and now we’re back for another standard discussion – this time, at Andrew’s suggestion, on transition fuels and the current state of hydrocarbons.

So – to start, here’s the Post Carbon Reader chapter on hydrocarbons in North America. If you want some more technical data, check out The Oil Drum (try searching a country or state), or the EIA’s reserves data (I’ve linked natural gas, you can easily get to anything else – it’s a well built site). If you’re not familiar with it already, read up on Peak Oil.

Now, for transition fuels, this is more of a discussion. One good and two quick articles:

  1. Fred Pearce’s piece in e360 on environmentalist irrationality around nuclear and natural gas (he’s not necessarily right, but it’s a good piece).
  2. Rocky Mountain Institute position on NG as a transition fuel.
  3. Letter in the Gainesville Sun from a group that doesn’t support any of them.

Come prepared to discuss what technologies you think qualify, how we should use them (if at all), and what policies or changes need to happen to make that use effective.

Oct 012012

(I’m going to try to post the readings for each week of our ESW discussion group here for curious souls. We meet at 6:30pm in Benedum 341 on Thursdays, and anyone is welcome to join us.)

After last week’s discussion on some responses to climate change, the summary of which was “Government response would be great, community responses is more directly feasible and possibly sufficient”, we’re going to look at costs for some of these responses, both on the macro-scale and in terms of local costs and programs.

For macroscale, check out this recently released report on global costs/benefits/deaths of climate change. Bonus: It’s broken up by region and scenario – better data!

Looking at cities, here’s a giant report from the World Bank that looks at global adaptation strategies for cities. Check out chapter 7 for cost information.

For local scale ideas, here’s an article on corporate-level solutions to the ‘split incentive’ between property ownership and renters paying the bills.

And in the interest of renewable energy, here’s a quick overview of some cost-sharing and local investment ideas for installing local renewable energy. I’ve got a copy of the book “Power from the People” that’ll bring – I doubt it’s available anywhere else since it’s too new.

Sep 272012

Pitt and CMU’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Departments are pleased to present this years KAPPE Lecturer, Dr. Vladimir Novotny, Professor Emeritus of Marquette and Northeastern, for a lecture this Friday at 3:30pm in Benedum 157.

Since the end of the last millennium, it has become evident that the current paradigm of water management in urban areas, in both developed and developing countries, is becoming exceedingly unsustainable, exerting large demands on water, energy and other resources that in the near future, cannot be met by the resources the earth possesses. This imbalance is exasperated by increasing population, people movement from rural area into cities, and contributing to the global climatic change. In the context of a city system, the flow, use and transformations of input water, energy, and materials result in polluted effluents and overflows, air pollution, excessive amounts of solid waste and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The entire flow, use and transformation of resources and energy through the city constitutes urban metabolism. Current urban metabolism is linear, characterized by long distance underground transfers of water to the communities, underground conveyance of used water and stormwater, high energy use for transport, treatment and disposal of used water and solids. The metabolism concept and its footprints will be introduced, which will document the unsustainability problems with the current linear paradigm of urban water infrastructure design and management.