Pitt–Johnstown Recognized for Its Commitment to Environmental Initiatives

Five years ago, Dave Finney, supervisor of campus grounds at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, came to the University from a different industry: golf course management and development.

During early projects maintaining Johnstown’s 665-acre campus, some of his ideas prompted colleagues to remind him they weren’t building a golf course.

“Of course we weren’t,” Finney agreed. “Higher grass and undergraduates might not have the same standards as turf grass and avid golfers, but I thought some of the ideas from courses might translate to campus.”

Audubon International is an environmental education not-for-profit that works with public municipalities, golf courses and hotels. It provides guidance to help organizations implement plans that improve the environments where we live, work and play.

(Audubon International should not be confused with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting birds and their habitats.)

One of those ideas was a certification Finney had become familiar with as superintendent of several courses: Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

The submission process for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program certification measures environmental quality in areas including environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management and outreach and education. Finney was confident Pitt–Johnstown could meet those standards.

“Our campus had been doing the right things all along. The efforts just all needed to be tied together,” he said. He cited features like low-flush toilets, LED lights and temperature stabilization in new campus buildings, including the John P. Murtha Center for Public Service and National Competitiveness, as examples of campus-wide sustainability efforts.

‘Something special is growing’

Sustainability isn’t limited to Pitt–Johnstown’s buildings’ interiors; later this fall, landscaping of the Murtha Center will be completed and favors two types of native grass to resemble a meadow. “It should look awesome in the fall when the grasses blow in the wind. People will know something special is growing there,” Finney said.

Throughout the process, Finney worked closely with Christine Dahlin, associate professor, and Bruce Robart, associate professor, both in the Natural Sciences Division. “They’re very focused on being green and environmentally conscious,” Finney said.

Together, they surveyed the campus’ Rocky Run Nature trail and organized a spring cleanup with students; since then, they’ve maintained the trail, including installing stone steps on some of the inclines.

Next, the campus will consider proposals for sustainable forestry, exploring options to create a management plan. “What can we do besides just watch it grow?” he asked.

Getting involved in sustainability

Pitt–Johnstown is the first Pennsylvania university to earn the Certified Audubon Sanctuary Program certification, and only the eighth overall. It joins such organizations as Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano, Texas; Kishwaukee College in Malta, Illinois; and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

“It’s great to see a regional campus show such leadership in this space,” said Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainability in the Office of Sustainability.

Pitt–Johnstown’s recognition joins a number of other certifications demonstrating the University’s sustainability achievements, including earning a STARS silver rating for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, becoming a US Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partner and receiving a Bike Friendly University designation. 

Sharrard encouraged employees who want to learn more about the University’s sustainability efforts and become involved themselves to contact the Office of Sustainability.