Top Ten Sustainable Initiatives for Carnegie Mellon University


Located in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the popular Carnegie Mellon University. The university has long been in line with the sustainable activities undertaken by the entire state of Pennsylvania. Carnegie Mellon University realizes that in order for students to live sustainable lives outside of the university, they need to learn all they can about sustainability while in the university. Therefore, Carnegie Mellon University has set up a number of sustainability initiatives to not only make the university a much more sustainable place for the environment and future students, but also teach current students on what they can do to live a more environmentally sustainable life.

1) Carnegie Mellon University Office of Sustainability. The Carnegie Mellon Office of Sustainability, also known as the Green Practices Committee, is part of the strategic initiative to enhance the impact and the scope of education and research programs that are related to the environment. The objective of the Green Practices Committee is to “strive to develop university practices that improve environmental quality, decrease waste, and conserve natural resources and energy, thereby establishing Carnegie Mellon as a practical model for other universities and companies.” Through the increase of sustainability on campus, it is the hope of the university to enhance campus life as well as the infrastructure of the university.

2) Administration. At Carnegie Mellon University, the administration is working alongside the Green Practices Committee diligently to create a number of initiatives. The administration has also recently expanded the student-led eco-reps program and established a number of Green Teams throughout all the departments in an effort to encourage faculty and staff to reduce their total environmental impact. The university remains committed to increasing sustainable efforts for formal mission statements and a master plan for the campus


3) Climate Change and Energy. Carnegie Mellon University has established a number of ways to reduce energy and thereby reduce carbon dioxide emissions. For instance, the university uses a series of digital controls for all HVAC systems throughout the buildings, and they have also installed lighting retrofits and steam line insulation in almost 100 percent of buildings. As well, all vending machines located in 80 percent of all buildings have sensors so they do not waste electricity when not in use. Approximately 75 percent of the power used at the university is purchased through wind power.

4) Food and Recycling. At Carnegie Mellon University, 32 percent of the Dining Service’s annual food budget is put toward the purchase of local products. 65 percent of all pre-consumer and post consumer food scraps are composted, and approximately 90 percent of all meals served in the dining facilities on campus are trayless. Two of the dormitories on the university have compost bins located outside. All printers on campus are set at default to print on both sides in order to reduce waste. All cardboard during the move in period is collected and then recycled. All unwanted items at the conclusion of the academic year are donated.

5) Green Building. The objective of Carnegie Mellon University is to have all new buildings constructed to meet the LEED Silver Certification standards as listed by the United States Green Building Council. Currently, there are ten LEED buildings throughout the campus, and there are two buildings that are expected to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. To reduce water use throughout the dormitories, all washing machines are energy and water efficient. 80 percent of all showerheads in all dormitories are low-flow, and approximately 50 percent of all buildings have water metering systems. There is also a student garden that is irrigated using rainwater.

6) Student Involvement. There are a number of groups on campus that work on various sustainability initiatives. For example, there are groups to get rid of bottled water from the university campus, create a garden on campus, organize a zero-waste luncheon, and develop a course for credit known as “Environment Today.” Those students that are interested in maintaining sustainability can opt to live in the Green Connections hallways or the Neville Co-op.

7) Transportation. The students, faculty, administration, and staff are given free passes to use the public transportation system in the area. They also get free shuttle services to all off-campus destinations from the university. All carpoolers receive decreased parking rates for on-campus parking rates and they get pre-validated parking tickets for the days when people need to bring in their own vehicles. Carnegie Mellon University also partners with a prominent car-sharing program.

8 ) Solar Panels on South Craig Street. Just recently, a solar panel roof installation was placed on South Craig Street at the university. It was done part of a $88,000 Energy Harvest grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The solar panels will feed directly into the power supply of the buildings as a large part of looking to reduce fossil fuels used by the Carnegie Mellon building. This building is right now home to the university’s SCS Interactive Systems Lab as well as the Institute for Software Research International.

9) Green Teams at Carnegie Mellon. The Green Teams at Carnegie Mellon is a volunteer group made up of students, faculty, administration and staff within a specific department of the university, so there are a number of green teams that all work together in helping the university become much more sustainable. Every team does an environmental sustainable assessment to locate all the areas in need of improvement, including indoor air quality, energy, waste management, lights, green purchasing, commuting, as well as general workplace practices.

10) Green Roofs. Carnegie Mellon University has a number of green roofs throughout the campus, including at Doherty Hall, Gates Center, Posner Center, Porter Hall, Mellon Institute, and Hamerschlag Hall. The green roofs on these buildings aid in reducing heating and cooling energy consumption, protecting the roof’s structural elements from ultraviolet rays, extending the overall lifespan of the roof, and lowering stormwater waste streams. The eventual goal is to have every roof of every building on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus become a green roof and add to the sustainability of the university.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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