Student government pushes for new environmental office

The Student Government Board tabled a resolution Tuesday night to urge the University to establish an office dedicated to environmental sustainability, a request that Environmental Committee Chairperson Mizane Johnson-Bowman said the University already approved last year.

Establishing an Office of Sustainability has been the joint effort of the Environmental Committee, the Green Fund Advisory Board and SGB since 2012, when a proposal was first submitted to the University.

The Board will vote next Tuesday on whether or not to approve the resolution.

Johnson-Bowman said that Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey told the Environmental Committee last year that the request was approved and that the office would be set up in the space currently occupied by the Student Organization Resource Center Annex on the fifth floor of the William Pitt Union.

But the University has taken no further action to establish the office.

But Johnston-Bowman said she remains optimistic about getting the office.

“We are excited that it was approved,” she said. “We understand that some things take time, but we are kind of lost and confused at this point. We created this resolution to get a little bit of a fire under the administration’s feet.”

The resolution that Board member Sarah Winston introduced and that SGB President Gordon Louderback and all Board members co-sponsored, excluding Thomas Jabro,  endorses the creation of a student-run office dedicated to improving sustainability at Pitt.

Green Fund Advisory Board Coordinator Isaac Freedman and Johnson-Bowman also co-sponsored the resolution and have partnered with Winston to continue to urge the University to establish such an office.

“It would be a physical place for all of the environmental and sustainability groups on campus where they can work together and build projects,” Winston said. “There has been talk about establishing an office, but nothing has really come of it and because of that, we really want to get this going.”

Winston, Johnston-Bowman and Freedman will present the resolution to Dean Humphrey and Kenyon Bonner, Pitt’s associate dean and director of student life if and when the Board approves it. 

Pitt’s Green Fund is a subcommittee of the Board’s Environmental Committee and allocates finances to different student teams and projects that work to make Pitt a more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient campus. Green Fund was created by the Board in 2010 and receives $10,000 a year through its allocations from the more than $2.3 million Student Activities Fund.

The Green Fund Advisory Board, which is staffed by nine undergraduates, decides which projects and student teams should receive funding and monitors the progress of ongoing projects. 

Part of Winston’s campaign last election was an initiative to improve the Green Fund Advisory Board. Winston originally wanted to establish an office solely for its use, but said that after speaking with Humphrey, she decided to set the goal of establishing an office for all environmental groups on campus.

Freedman said that Green Fund is limited in how it can assist student organizations because the group is only allocated $10,000 per year. If the Office of Sustainability is created as a University office, it would be able to provide more funds to other student organizations.

In order to highlight how limited Freedman believes the Green Fund to be, he compared Pitt’s Green Fund to the Green Revolving Fund at Harvard University, which has a $12 million budget.

The Office of Facilities Management is already in place at Pitt and works to make the University environmentally friendly. Its projects include sustainable design and construction, energy conservation and projects aimed at making Pitt greener.

Winston said the office that the Board is proposing differentiates from the current office because it would operate under the Office of Student Affairs and would focus on connecting student environmental groups that are currently working on projects independently of each other.

“The idea that we have is that all of these groups work really well individually and do some great things, but we think that if the University were to coordinate and allow those groups to collaborate a little bit more closely, it would help to focus on a larger scale with a greater impact,” Freedman said.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele was unable to comment at the time of publication. Members of the Office of Facilities Management were also unavailable for comment.

In 2011, Sustainable Endowments Institute, a nonprofit sustainability research group based in Cambridge, Mass., graded Pitt on its environmental sustainability, giving it an overall grade of B-.

This was an improvement from 2010, when the University received a C.  

The Sustainable Endowments Institute last rated universities in 2011.

The nonprofit also graded student involvement in environmental activities at the University in 2011, giving it a B. Green Fund was not operating at the time of the report, but was established as a pilot program, whichwas mentioned in the survey’s results.

Freedman said that 20 campus organizations have voiced their support for establishing the office, including groups that are not involved in environmental advocacy.

He said that Pitt sorely needs such an office.

“I think right now if you go to somebody on the street and you ask a student about things like fracking, climate change or what the University does about sustainability, they wouldn’t know,” Freedman said. 

In other action:

Roughly 40 people attended Tuesday night’s weekly public meeting  in Nordy’s place. 

Louderback said he had no further updates on the University adopting Google Apps for Education and that he is continuing to work with board members David Rosenthal and C.J. Bonge to develop a possible alternative to the University’s yearbook, Panther Prints.

Elections chair Aaron Gish said that applications for SGB are now available. Applications are due Oct. 23, and the election is Nov. 21. Each candidate needs 200 signatures for a Board position or 250 for a presidential position.

Rosenthal said the Board is hosting an open house Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. Any students who are interested in becoming involved with the Board are invited to attend.

Board member Thomas Jabro said he is working with Academic Affairs Chairman Nuwan Perera to establish a petition to convince the University to publish the results of the surveys conducted by the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching. 

The Board voted to table committee bylaws for the Fundraising and Advertising Committee, Government Affairs Committee, Transportation and Safety Committee, Environmental Committee and the Academic Committee.


The women’s fastpitch softball club requested $2,306.36 to attend a tournament. The request was approved in full.

Omega Chi Epsilon requested $1,472.85 for two members to attend a conference in San Francisco. The request was approved in full in line with the Allocations Committee.

Engineers Without Borders requested $816.66 for four members to attend the EWB-Northeast Region Conference. The request was approved in full in line with the Allocations Committee.

The Pittsburgh Israel Affairs Committee requested $1,429.83 to bring a speaker to campus. The request was approved in full in line with the Allocations Committee.

The Panthers handball club requested $1,092.95 to join the USATH and to obtain equipment. The request was approved in full in line with the Allocations Committee.

The ping pong club requested $4,000 to purchase equipment. The Board postponed the request to allow for further discussion with the club.

The Student Dietetic Association requested $2,827.65 for three members to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference in Houston. The Board approved $1,950.75 and denied $876.90, a portion of the costs in line with the Allocations Committee.

Collegiate DECA requested $3594.00 for 12 members to attend the Collegiate Leadership Academy in New York. The Board approved $1,198.00 and denied $2,396.00, a portion of the costs in line with the Allocations Committee.

The Pitt cross country club requested $1,000 to attend a tournament at Penn State University. The Board approved for $800 and denied $200, a portion of the costs.

The Pitt sailing club requested $26,770.10 to purchase and transport six boats. The Board approved $22,129.94 and denied $4,640.16, a portion of the costs.

The Board has allocated $64,417.50 so far this semester.