As a group of colleges and universities dedicated to reducing their individual and collective climate impacts, Pittsburgh’s Higher Education Climate Consortium (HECC) has been convening for 15 years.
In 2022, the group underwent an intentional process of developing a strategic plan to develop clear objectives and strategies for accelerating progress. This plan also outlines the group’s values and a pathway for equitable carbon reductions, ensuring that all institutions and their surrounding communities experience benefits.
Recently, the HECC Steering Committee – University of Pittsburgh’s Aurora Sharrard, Carnegie Mellon University’s Deborah Steinberg, and Robert Morris University’s Marcel Minutolo – spoke with me for an episode of Green Building Bites in which they described the history of the group, what makes it special, and its next steps. Below are some major highlights from the interview, which you can view in full on our YouTube channel.
“ Pittsburgh’s HECC is unique in the way that we’re doing it and in terms of how engaged we are with stakeholders. The City of Pittsburgh is involved, our students are involved, our faculty and our facilities are involved...and it’s also inclusive of the communities we’re living within. ”
Dr. Aurora Sharrard on the History of the Higher Education Climate Consortium
HECC formed out of the original green government task force for the City of Pittsburgh as they were developing the first climate action plan for the city. A number of higher education representatives were part of that process and they started collaborating with each other around climate action. They realized there were a lot of benefits to Pittsburgh’s higher education institutions sitting at the same table talking about climate action on a regular basis, and so the consortium was formed and is still very active today. Our mission is to actively collaborate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Pittsburgh’s higher education institutions.
Dr. Marcel Minutolo on Why HECC is Important to Individual Institutions
As a group, we learn a lot from each other. When HECC gets together for a presentation or to share information, I think “oh we could try something like that too” or “we tried that and it didn’t work for us, how did you make it work?” Collaboratively, we’re learning a lot together and this is helping us all reduce our region’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Deborah Steinberg on the Group’s First Strategic Plan and Its Outcomes
This is the first strategic plan for HECC and we’re really excited. Through the strategic planning process, we were able to collect and cultivate what the group’s values are and what qualities are important to us, so it provided us with this consensus of what really makes HECC HECC. The process also helped us put together a list of common challenges that we’re all facing across institutions, and what is currently working for us. Ultimately, we came up with 7 objectives and corresponding strategies that go along with them. The objectives are:
Help all universities meet minimum targets
Facilitate accessible knowledge transfer between universities in both operations and research
Build more intentionality on equity and environmental justice
Strengthen city connections
Enhance student connections and experiences
Elevate the power of the collaborative to leverage HECC positioning and influence
Celebrate innovation and wins
Dr. Marcel Minutolo on What Makes HECC Unique
While there are other similar collaboratives across the U.S. where multiple higher education institutions are working together to reduce environmental impacts, Pittsburgh’s HECC is unique in the way that we’re doing it and in terms of how engaged we are with stakeholders. The City of Pittsburgh is involved, our students are involved, our faculty and our facilities are involved – we’re really engaging stakeholders broadly – and it’s also inclusive of the communities we’re living within.
Dr. Aurora Sharrard on HECC’s Values
We’re a Shared collaborative: we share honestly and non-judgmentally. We create the spaces for sometimes difficult conversations and the solutions that come next… We are Inclusive: HECC is 10 colleges & universities strong and we know that not every one of us has the same internal and external opportunities so we try to be very consciously equitable and inclusive in that work… We are Dedicated: the requirements of climate neutrality and environmental justice drive us... Most of all, we’re Impatient: we all understand we’re running out of time. We will all celebrate our progress both individual and collective – and acknowledge that there is incrementalism required in this work – but that is a tension with the work that we have to do in global climate change.
Deborah Steinberg on HECC’s Next Steps
Each objective we outlined also has a number of strategies that could be undertaken to reach them as a collective and at an institutional level. We have already begun reviewing these strategies to highlight which ones are a priority and which can be done in the short term or medium term. Then we’ll determine the actions we need to take to implement the strategies. Our full group has already started working on this brainstorming and prioritization so we can get moving with our action items.
Aurora, Deborah, and Marcel go into much more detail on these topics and more in our Green Building Bites interview, so check out the episode on YouTube and read the full strategic plan on GBA's website.
To find out how you can get involved in HECC, visit the group’s website!