University of Pittsburgh
September 2, 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY: Pitt Named One of America's 'Coolest Schools' by Sierra Magazine

University in top half of national sustainability ranking; initiatives include LEED Gold certification, RecycleMania, and renewable energy research
Contact:  412-624-4147



In Sierra magazine's September/October issue, the University of Pittsburgh is featured as one of “America’s Coolest Schools,” coming in as one of the top universities surveyed. Open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States, the magazine's "Coolest Schools" ranking is an index that provides comparative information about campus sustainability.


In March, Sierra surveyed schools about environmental achievements in energy supply, efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, and financial investments. Where appropriate, standards such as LEED certification were referenced.

“The magazine's ranking acts as a guide for prospective students who seek a way to compare colleges based on commitment to environmentalism,” wrote Avital Binshtock of Sierra in the preface to the list. “The ranking also serves to spur competition, create aspirational standards, and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet. As educators continue to deepen their devotion to sustainability and to immersive learning, we'll keep telling their stories.”

The complete America's Coolest Schools rankings are available at

Editors: Here are several story ideas based on Pitt's extensive sustainability initiatives and research projects:

• Undergraduate Builds Electric Cycles, Finalist for 'Entrepreneur of the Year'

With a dream of revolutionizing personal urban transportation, a University of Pittsburgh undergraduate is in the running to be Entrepreneur Magazine's “College Entrepreneur of the Year.” Micah Toll, a senior mechanical engineering major in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, is one of five finalists in the contest. The mission of Toll’s company, Pulse Motors, is to build completely electric two-wheeled Personal Electronic Vehicles (PEVOs). Voting in the College Entrepreneur of the Year contest is open until Sept. 12 at A computer rendering of a 2011 PEVO and a photo of Toll are available for download at

• Blue, LEED Gold, and Green: Pitt's Construction Projects Achieve Green Building Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering is expected to achieve LEED Gold Certification (certification pending). The MCSI's energy-saving strategies will result in a 17.5 percent reduction in energy consumption when compared with traditional strategies. These include high-performance glazing and low-flow plumbing fixtures, which will result in a 30 percent reduction in water consumption when compared with traditional fixtures. Other green aspects of the MCSI's design include the incorporation of daylighting features to reduce the need for artificial lighting; low-VOC emitting paints, coatings, carpets, woods, adhesives, and sealants; and occupancy sensors in all new and renovated areas. The renovation of Pitt's Benedum Hall Core and Shell is tracking to achieve LEED Gold certification, and the Benedum Phase II Tenant project is also pursuing LEED certification. The Core and Shell project included the installation of the University’s first green roof (Benedum Auditorium).

For more on the Mascaro Center, visit

• Recycle Mania: Pitt Ranks in Top 10 percent

Pitt is participating in the national RecycleMania competition for the third time this year. The University’s Facilities Management division works with student group Free the Planet, Pitt’s Offices of Residence Life and Housing Services, and Sodexo to plan and promote the program. Materials are collected and measured and results are submitted to RecycleMania on a weekly basis. Last year, Pitt ranked in the top 10 percent of all schools participating for the highest total weight recycled. In the competition's “Big East Conference,” Pitt ranked first in Corrugated Cardboard, second in Paper, and third in Waste Minimization and Bottles & Cans.

• Unconventional Gas Resources: From Pollution to Production

The University of Pittsburgh is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop techniques for curtailing the possible environmental and health hazards associated with tapping the massive natural gas reserves lying beneath Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Researchers in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering are leading a three-year, $1.06 million project to better manage the wastewater generated by the extraction process used on the Marcellus Shale. Difficult to treat, the wastewater usually languishes in reservoirs or the environment. The Pitt approach calls for a new method that would allow the water to be safely reused in gas wells that would contain extraction costs, limit the byproducts flowing into the environment, and reduce the strain on freshwater sources currently tapped during extraction.  Radisav Vidic, chair of the Swanson School's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and William Kepler Whiteford Professor, heads the project with Eric Beckman, codirector of Pitt's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation and the George M. Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. For more information, visit

• Energy Delivery and Reliability: Flipping the Switch on Electric Current Research

In the 1880s, Pittsburgh’s George Westinghouse was establishing Alternating Current (AC) as the standard method of electricity transmission at the expense of his great rival Thomas Edison and his Direct Current (DC) technology; meanwhile, Westinghouse was recruiting faculty to join the University of Pittsburgh’s electrical
engineering department to help train his growing workforce.  Today, in an ironic flip of the switch, Pitt Professor Gregory Reed is leading the development of new technologies that will enable a DC transmission network to power the myriad of electronic devices (laptops, flat screen televisions, etc.) that must use a converter to change from AC from the outlet to the DC that the device needs.  There are enormous energy losses associated with this conversion, and the innovative solutions being developed by Reed and his colleagues are improving energy efficiency and helping to protect the environment.

• Building With Bamboo in the Himalayas

A team of students from the University of Pittsburgh and the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur (IITK) are working to popularize bamboo construction as a sustainable construction method in the Indian Himalayan regions of Darjeeling and Sikkim. Kent Harries, a Pitt civil engineering professor and William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow, serves as the project's faculty advisor and leads students to India for fieldwork. The Indian group Sustainable Hill Engineering and Design (SHED), led by one of Harries' former graduate students, seeks to repopularize the ikra, a traditional bamboo-frame structure. The Pitt students develop comprehensive material standards for bamboo construction, conduct strength and design tests for bamboo structures, and, when in India, help SHED tackle issues ranging from slope stability to clean energy. More information on the project is available at

• Renewable Energy: Making the Most of Marginal Lands

Amy Landis, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, bioengineering, and chemical and petroleum engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, is developing new biofuels that will grow on "marginal lands"—brownfields, abandoned coal mines, and other tracts of land negatively affected by our region's industrialized past. Landis aims to create a new source of renewable energy right on top of the lands that were impacted by pollution. For more information, visit

• International Clean Coal, Carbon Capture Experts to Gather at 28th Annual Pittsburgh Coal Conference Sept. 12-15

The role of fossil fuels in a sustainable energy future will be one of the topics under discussion when experts from around the world meet Sept. 12-15 at the 28th Annual International Pittsburgh Coal Conference in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering, the conference is attended by industry, government, and academia representatives from around the world. It focuses on environmental and technological issues surrounding the continued use of coal and the development of future coal-based energy plants to achieve near-zero emissions of pollutants, as well as reduced costs and increased efficiencies. For more information, visit

• Pitt Green Fund: Students Have the Power to Save Energy

The Pitt Green Fund began as an idea during the Fall Term of 2009 from a group of students belonging to Free the Planet who wanted to create a student-controlled fund for novel and creative sustainability initiatives on campus. Since that time, the Green Fund campaign team has worked with members of the Pitt Student Government Board to design the Student Sustainable Projects Committee. One of the findings thus far is that water consumption monitoring equipment could save the University up to $17,297 per month. The Student Sustainable Projects Committee is a student-driven initiative, giving students the power to allocate funds. The Green Fund aims to help to increase access to recycling, composting, renovated buildings, local and organic dining options, expanded green spaces, better water quality, less expensive energy, bike rentals, and educational opportunities. For more information, visit

For more on Pitt's sustainability initiatives, visit “Blue, Gold & Green” at