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Sustainability Initiatives

The University of Pittsburgh is committed to environmental stewardship through sustainable purchasing, conservation, and construction designed to conserve natural resources and preserve the environment. In February, 2018 Pitt received a Silver STARS designation from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Learn more about Pitt's Sustainability Plan here.

By increasing the purchase of products with a reduced or minimal environmental impact, we help reduce the quantity and environmental impact of materials entering and exiting the University. The following guidance and resources can assist you in making sustainable purchases.

How Does Purchasing Services Facilitate Sustainable Purchasing?

  • Provides environmentally preferable supply sources through active research and solicitation of bids on environmentally preferable goods and services.
  • Works with suppliers to ensure that environmentally preferable products are easy to locate through clear product labeling and use of the PantherExpress System. Our list of University-wide Contracted Suppliers can be sorted by the "Green Program" column to learn more about their programs.
  • Asks suppliers to provide clear environmental impact information for the entire life cycle of products.
  • Educates University departments about sustainable purchasing practices.
  • Provides management services to University departments with product inventories to reduce the excess or obsolete inventories that lead to waste or potential environmental and safety issues.
  • Provides a paperless purchase-to-pay process via the PantherExpress System.

Purchasing Services also works closely with the Office of Sustainability to develop programs, provide outreach, or further support University sustainability initiatives.

What can Department Purchasers Do?

  • Utilize the PantherExpress System for paperless purchasing of environmentally preferable products from our University-wide contracted suppliers. Many suppliers have a punchout or hosted catalog with a means for sorting by sustainable, “green,” or eco-friendly products. We encourage departments to compare not only product cost, but other factors such as quality or sustainability. 
  • Ask suppliers about their sustainable practices.
  • Prioritize local procurement to reduce GHG emissions from air travel or shipping.
  • Consider getting a Pitt Green designation for your office or lab by contacting the Office of Sustainability.
  • Contact Jennifer Barnes, Diversity & Sustainability Coordinator in Purchasing Services, to request a sustainable purchasing presentation or for suggestions regarding suppliers.
  • Review the following resources for steps you can take when purchasing for your department.

General Guidelines for Sustainable Purchasing

In order to conserve natural resources and to protect the environment, keep the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse & recycle – in mind as well as looking for products that have the following qualities when making purchases:

  • Quality, function and product life-cycle costs are equal or superior to traditional products.
  • Durable (long lasting, reusable, refillable, rechargeable), as opposed to single use or disposable items.
  • Consider purchasing furniture and equipment from Pitt Surplus.
Manufacturing considerations
  • Made of recycled materials, maximizing post-consumer content.
  • Remanufactured products such as laser toner cartridges, tires, furniture, equipment and automotive parts when practical and cost-effective, without reducing safety or quality.
  • Made from raw materials obtained in an environmentally sound sustainable manner.
  • Non-toxic or minimally toxic, preferably biodegradable.
  • Manufactured in an environmentally sound, sustainable manner.
Operational considerations
  • Minimizes water and energy use in operation.
  • Causes minimal or no environmental damage during normal use or maintenance.
  • Use of re-refined lubricating and industrial oil for equipment, if the product is certified by the American Petroleum Institute (API) as appropriate for use in such equipment.
Packaging and shipping considerations
  • Shipped with minimal packaging, consistent with care of the product.
  • Shipping and packaging materials should be made of recycled, reused, and recyclable materials.
  • Produced locally or regionally to minimize the environmental costs associated with shipping.
  • Available for purchase in multi-packs versus singles.
  • Avoid air shipments.
  • Consolidate several small orders into one larger order.
Product end-of-life management considerations
  • Can it be recycled? Recyclable products can be demonstrably diverted from the University’s solid waste stream for use as a raw material in the manufacture of another product, preferably higher value uses.
  • Can recycling occur in the immediate area?
  • Can the product be reused? Reusable products can be used several times for an intended use before being discarded. For example, washable food/beverage containers or refillable ballpoint pens.
  • If it cannot be recycled or reused, can it be disposed of safely?
  • Product disposition should minimize materials that are sent to landfills.

Commodity Specific Guidelines for Sustainability

The following commodity specific guidelines provide information on sustainable products available for your lab or office. Our contracted suppliers offer products that are green and sustainable.


Carpeting Tools

Discover the importance of FloorScore certification and other tools by viewing the flooring Knowledge Center developed by Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI).

Carpeting Tips

Discover ways to improve air quality and combat allergins on the Fact Sheet page developed by The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) on air quality, asthma and allergy management, cleaning products and environmental sustainability.

Carpeting Resources

Browse further resources developed by CRI "Committed to Sustainable Best Practices"

Cleaning Products

Cleaning Product Tools

  • TURI (Toxics Use Reduction Institute) Cleaner Solution Database: This database can be searched to locate alternative cleaning products based on specific needs. RPN (Responsible Purchasing Network):
  • RPN is an international network of buyers dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable purchasing. This guide provides information and recommendations on responsible use and purchasing of office cleaning products.
  • Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator: This calculator quantifies the projected environmental benefits of purchasing and using "green" janitorial services and products. It is designed to forecast the environmental benefits of reducing chemical use. This tool also enables users to identify which green cleaning measures will have the greatest impact in reducing their use of hazardous chemicals and in preventing pollution.
  • EPA (Environmental Protection Agency): The EPA has developed an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to help the federal government “green” their cleaning products. Though EPP was developed to aid federal purchasers, the site can help green vendors, businesses large and small -- and consumers. Review information about “greening” your cleaning purchases.
  • EPA's Healthy School Environments - This site provides a list of tools and resources for protecting students and staff in school environments. 
  • The Pennsylvania Green Building Operations and Maintenance Manual: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of General Services joined with Green Seal to develop the Pennsylvania Green Building Operations and Maintenance Manual. This manual was prepared with the expertise of General Services’ employees for the maintenance of state government buildings and grounds with a section dedicated to cleaning procedures.
  • Healthy Schools Network, Inc.: Healthy Schools Network, Inc. is a 501-c3 national environmental health organization that does research, information, education, coalition building, and advocacy to ensure that every child has a healthy learning environment that is clean and in good repair. Learn more about healthier cleaning practices and products in their Guide to Green Cleaning.

Cleaning Product Tips

  • Before selecting a product make sure it is green certified by third party agencies like Greenguard and Green Seal.
  • Consider selecting products that use recycled packaging made from "postconsume" materials.
  • Look for "concentrated" products that use less packaging and water than those labeled "ready-to-use," which are composed of 90% water. Concentrated products also reduce carbon footprints by reducing the cost for transportation of chemicals.
  • Avoid using aerosol products.
  • Products that are environmentally preferable have the following qualities
    • Non-toxic (no EDTA, NTA, phenol, biocides, butyls, harsh acids, bleach, petroleum distillates)
    • Low VOC levels (improve indoor air quality, reduce allergy and asthma triggers)
    • Readily biodegradable
    • Neutral pH
  • Do not mix chemicals by hand.  Use metered dilution equipment to prevent misuse of products and reduce exposure to concentrates.
  • Make sure to properly train staff on usage of chemicals and equipment. Approximately 90% of cleaning costs are labor related and driven up by misuse.

Cleaning Product Resources

University resources

Other Resources


Computer Product Tools

  • EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool): EPEAT was launched in July 2006 by the EPA and helps institutional purchasers evaluate and select laptops, desktop computers, and monitors according to a list of preferred environmental attributes. Visit this page for a calculator.
  • CoSN's web-based Energy Usage Calculator: This calculator provides a quick approach for estimating annual kilowatt hours and related cost for computer use by K-12 users (by group) and the related datacenter infrastructure.
  • ENERGY STAR: Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, has published guides and calculators to help determine equipment life cycle and savings including carbon IT savings. Click here for Energy Star’s Computer guide.
  • ETBC (Electronics TakeBack Coalition): ETBC promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry. ETBC's goal is to protect the health and well being of electronics users, workers, and the communities where electronics are produced and discarded by requiring consumer electronics manufacturers and brand owners to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products. 
  • RPN (The Responsible Purchasing Network): RPN is an international network of buyers dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable purchasing. RPN has published several useful calculators to determine environmental benefits, life cycle estimates, and carbon reduction. Access all three calculators.

Computer Product Tips

If possible, use a laptop instead of a desktop computer.  On average, with each computer being used for the same task and duration, desktop computers use about 150 watts of power compared to a mere 25 watts that laptops consume.

  • Laptops have fewer add-on peripherals, (display screens &  keyboards) and components, making them easier to recycle and contributing fewer chemicals such as PVC’s and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) to post consumer waste landfills.
  • When possible, power down your computer at night or when not in use.
  • Use ‘green’ power strips to power your computer, peripherals and printers.
  • When purchasing a new computer, evaluate the manufacturer as to its efforts in regards to sustainability and social responsibility.  Use resources such as the Basel Action Network to investigate a manufacturer’s track record as to its recycling efforts.

Computer Product Resources

University resources

Other Resources


K-Cup Recycling Program

Departments using Keurig machines are encouraged to sign up for the Keurig "Grounds to Grow On" recycling program. This program allows you to collect your used k-cup pods and ship them to Keurig's sustainability partner, g2revolution, for recycling and composting of materials at no cost.

To sign up for the program, simply contact Greg Babbs or Imani Boyd to order small (10”x10”x10”) or large (10”x10”x24”) k-pod collection box for your office, enjoy your coffee, and collect k-pods until your box is full. Then, send the prepaid full box back to Keurig for free.

If you haven't yet participated, be sure to also ask Greg or Imani about the SUPRA $1 Keurig program.

For more information about sustainable coffee choices, please visit the Pitt Office of Sustainability website.

Ink & Toner

Ink & Toner Tools

Supra Office Solutions presents the following purchasing tools to help you meet your department's sustainability and budgetary goals:

Ink & Toner Tips

  • Using remanufactured ink & toner cartridges instead of new or Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Ink & toner cartridges can save you money. Assuming $75 average price for OEM toner cartridges vs. remanufactured cartridges at 10% less, the estimated average cost savings for one remanufactured toner cartridge is $7.50, and the estimated average cost savings for 1000 remanufactured toner cartridges is $7,500.
    • Supra Office Solutions is the University’s preferred provider of ink and toner for all of your department printing requirements. Clover, Supra’s source for remanufactured toner cartridges, ensures “the performance of an OEM at a fraction of the price.” View Clover’s Value and Service statements for further details about the quality of Clover’s remanufactured ink and toner.
  • On average, toner cartridges weigh 2.5 lbs., and each new toner requires half a gallon of oil to make new plastic.  The estimated benefits of one remanufactured toner cartridge is 2.5 lbs. metal and plastic saved from landfill and 0.5 gallons of oil not required for new plastic.
  • Select high capacity print cartridges to reduce print management costs and lower your total cost of ownership.  High capacity cartridges are more environmentally responsible.  They last longer so you will have fewer cartridges that need to be recycled.
  • Make sure your printing supplies considers the environment at every stage of the lifecycle – from the very first stages of product design through manufacturing, distribution, customer use and recycling.
  • University contracted supplier, Supra Office Solutions, will recycle your original ink and laser jet print cartridges for free.

Ink & Toner Resources

EcoLogo Certification: the EcoLogo program is a third-party certification of environmentally preferable products. Office Depot cartridges are EcoLogo certified.


Lighting Tools

Energy Star: Target Finder is a no-cost online tool that enables architects and building owners to set energy targets and receive an EPA energy performance score for projects during the design process. Projects that earn a score of 75 or higher are eligible for Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR certification and can be submitted for the ENERGY STAR Challenge.

Lighting Tips

  • Switching to Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL) reduces energy consumption and prevents greenhouse gas emissions. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for more information on CFLs.
  • Using CFLs diminishes the amount of mercury from entering the atmosphere while lasting at least six times longer. The EPA provides further information regarding mercury in energy efficient lighting here.

Lighting Resources

University Resources

Other Resources

Office Furniture

Steelcase, a Gold level University contracted supplier, presents the following purchasing tools, tips and resources to meet your department’s sustainability and budgetary goals:

Office Furniture Tools

Office Furniture Tips

Office Furniture Resources:


Paper Product Tools:

  • StopWaste.Org: the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board operating as one public agency. contains information on green purchasing and green paper products.
  • Green Seal Certification: ensures that a product meets rigorous, science-based leadership standards. This gives manufacturers the assurance to back up their claims and purchasers confidence that certified products are better for human health and the environment. Visit this page for the Green Seal GS-07 Printing-Writing Paper and this page for Green Seal GS-10 Coated Printing Paper.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Visit this page to review FSC’s paper products standards.
  • Conservatree: a non-profit organization that provides web tools as well as in-depth information on environmentally sound papers. Visit this page for a Paper Master List for Professional Paper Buyers, a Best Practices Manual for Single Stream Recycling as well as information to help assist in the selection of paper types.
  • Environmental Paper Network (EPN): a non-profit organization, provides specific resources for paper purchasers including the Paper Calculator and tools for purchasers.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): a governmental agency, providing procurement professionals and consumers with web tools to help evaluate paper products. Visit this page for general information about identifying greener paper products.

Paper Product Tips:

  • Before printing, consider if it is absolutely necessary to print a particular file or document.
  • For a large file, consider whether it is necessary to print the entire document.
  • Before selecting the printer, choose the most energy efficient printer available in your area.
  • Prior to printing, select the Properties tab on the Printer dialogue box and select 2-sided printing.
  • Consider whether it is absolutely necessary to have a document printed in color or will a black & white print meet your needs, especially for drafts.
  • Choose the most sustainably efficient paper to meet your printing requirements (Acid Free, FSC Certified, 10%, 30% or 100% recycled content. TreeZero paper is offered from University-wide Contracted Supplier, SUPRA, in the PantherExpress System
  • Always recycle used paper as well as spent toners and cartridges.
  • Request digital portfolios and proofs instead of print copies.
  • Ask for non-toxic or biodegradable ink choices from printers.

Paper Product Resources:

University Resources

Other Resources

Chemical Redistribution Program

University of Pittsburgh's Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) offers a program where University Faculty and staff can donate uncontaminated chemicals that are not expired or obtain these chemicals free of charge. The EH&S Chemical Redistribution Program reduces expenses for both chemical purchasing and chemical waste disposal. The program emphasizes the University's commitment to environmental protection and sustainability by reducing the overall volumes of chemical waste generated.

To learn more about the program, including how to donate, acquire, ore review their inventory, visit the EH&S website

Supplier-led Sustainability Programs 

The following are some sustainability programs led by current University-wide Contracted Suppliers: