University of Pittsburgh steps up energy efficiency programs

Editor’‍s note: This is part of a series looking at participants in Sustainable Pittsburgh’‍s Green Workplace Challenge. The second annual contest had a line up of more than 100 participants during the year ended May 31. Large and small firms, nonprofits, universities and government entities competed to see who could save the most energy, waste and water.


A number of old buildings at the University of Pittsburgh saw major lighting upgrades this year that saved millions of kilowatt hours — just one of several investments the university made to green its campus. 

With 322 points earned for actions to reduce waste and energy usage, more than twice as many as neighbor and runner-up Carnegie Mellon University, Pitt won in the university category of Sustainable Pittsburgh’‍s Green Workplace Challenge by focusing on energy conservation and community outreach.

Participants compete for points through measurable actions, including establishing “Meatless Mondays” and conducting an energy audit. Some actions applied specifically to universities — including establishing a tray-free environment in campus food courts, hosting a farmer’s market and installing solar powered footpaths.

Universities differ from other businesses in their ability to mobilize students, host dorm competitions and incorporate sustainability into coursework, Matthew Mehalik, Sustainable Pittsburgh’‍s program manager, wrote in an email.  

The university uses high-efficiency fluorescent lighting and occupancy sensors to cut electricity use. The Cost Sports Center lighting system was overhauled this year, reducing its energy use intensity by almost 23 percent. The project cost $184,000 and is expected to result in annual energy savings of $45,000.

Comparing energy consumption in five buildings — Cost Sports Center, Fitzgerald Field House, Thackeray Hall, Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Union — to the prior year, Pitt saved 1.9 million kilowatt hours of energy. 

“The most sustainable energy is the energy you don’t use,” said Laura Zullo, Pitt’‍s senior manager of energy initiatives.

In April, Nordenberg Hall received LEED silver certification, one of seven projects certified at Pitt. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation is overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Pitt also has emphasized waste reduction and recycling, reporting 36 percent less waste after trays were eliminated in dining facilities. In fiscal year 2013, Pitt recycled 1,023 tons of paper and cardboard.

By installing hydration stations — water fountains that track the amount dispensed — in 28 locations, the school estimates that as of fall 2013 it had saved the equivalent of more than 484,000 water bottles.

The university’‍s Carrillo Street Steam Plant supplies about half of the campus’‍ energy at a low nitrogen oxide emission rate of nine parts per million. Previously, the university’‍s energy was provided by the Bellefield Boiler plant, which was coal-powered before 2009. Once the university completes its transition to the steam plant, Pitt estimates that it will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 48,000 metric tons. 

Upcoming initiatives include increasing community outreach and pursuing LEED certification for seven additional projects. Using rebate money from Duquesne Light, the university plans to make the pumps of a campus chilled water plant more efficient by installing air-dirt separators, a type of filter that removes micro-bubbles and small dirt particles.

Stephanie McFeeters: or 412-263-2533. On Twitter: @mcfeeters.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

<--Google analytics Ends-->