It’s no wonder Dr. Allison Robinson became System Program Director for Environmental Sustainability and Health at UPMC, one of the largest employers in Pittsburgh, PA, and world-renowned integrated health care provider. Her passion and curiosity for the balance of human life and the environment began at an early age.
Dr. Robinson’s earliest childhood memories recall mixed feelings about her mom’s passion for gardening. She loved how mom gardened all year long across all seasons – not just for beautification, but for sustenance and for sharing with neighbors and extended family. She never minded the work, but she can still recall the smell of the chemicals that were used and how, even as a young child, she was bothered by their use.
When Dr. Robinson was in grade school, “ecology” was incorporated into the science curriculum. A third-grade project was assigned for students to create a diorama reflecting one’s understanding and interest in ecology. Allison’s diorama was “over the top!” She tried to cram everything she knew about ecology into a small shoebox. Her young knowledge was scrambled, but it was also full of hope and excitement.
In 2014 and again in 2017, when the Society for Science’s International Science and Engineering Fair came to Pittsburgh (an event that circulates annually to various cities throughout the U.S.), Dr. Robinson served as a public judge for the environmental science category. She was in awe of the quality of the projects conducted by middle and high school students, and it genuinely inspired her about the potential impact that could be achieved. When Dr. Robinson now considers the vast awareness and resources, creative thinking and knowledge possessed by today’s young people, she feels naïve compared to these “students!” It heartens her to know they are our future.
Today, as Program Director of the UPMC Environmental Initiatives Program, Dr. Robinson leverages incorporating environmental sustainability practices and procedures into system operations and services across the entire UPMC network. She developed this program to affect change that aligned with both the organization’s mission and vision. In this role, she serves on community and regional committees addressing the incorporation of sustainability. For example, Dr. Robinson served as a board member for Sustainable Pittsburgh and serves on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board. She is a member of the Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA), American Public Health Association (APHA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The goals of UPMC’s Environmental Initiatives Program include resource conservation, demand reduction, waste minimization, employee health and safety, education, sustained or improved quality of service, industry performance alignment, regulatory compliance, research collaboration, and communication collaboration for extended impact. The program also includes environmentally preferred purchasing and material diversion initiatives as well.
Magee Garden Photo Credit UPMC
Challenges and Accomplishments
The greatest challenge Dr. Robinson has experienced in her role as Director of Environmental Sustainability and Health at UPMC is adapting to systemic change. UPMC is a dynamic organization that is always in motion both spatially and organizationally. It creates a challenge that also reaps great rewards when accomplished. And accomplish she does! Dr. Robinson considers her greatest achievement the endurance and system integration of the UPMC Environmental Initiatives and the UPMC Energy Initiatives. “None of it could be done without the commitment of UPMC’s administration,” states Robinson, which she graciously credits.
When asked what she feels is the greatest opportunity for UPMC in environmental sustainability and health, Dr. Robinson emphatically believes it is alignment with mission. “UPMC has an opportunity to use its size and reach to demonstrate environmental accountability reflective of the healthcare industry across all operations and people – not just buildings,” states Robinson. “We need to adapt and change the behavior of people inside buildings,” continues Robinson. “If you can’t do that, you just have another building.”
Success, for Dr. Robinson, is measured by the extent of standardization across the system and is reflected in UPMC’s administrative support and commitment to integrate sustainability practices into the organizational culture. “Performance can be measured – greenhouse gas emissions, water conserved, etc.,” says Robinson, “but if you don’t standardize across the entire system, you are only talking about intermittent projects with limited scope and impact.”
Dr. Robinson works diligently to assure every appropriate UPMC facility is aware of all the environmental sustainability and health programs and initiatives available, and she strives to standardize consistently – especially during mergers and acquisitions.
“ UPMC has an opportunity to use its size and reach to demonstrate environmental accountability reflective of the healthcare industry across all operations and people – not just buildings. ”
Green Building Alliance & Pittsburgh 2030 District
As a member of Green Building Alliance (GBA) and a Pittsburgh and Erie 2030 District Partner since 2009, Dr. Robinson enjoys engaging with public performance platforms and leveraging progressive development that incorporates community accountability.
“Before becoming a part of the Pittsburgh 2030 District, we tried to organize our sustainability metrics on our own,” states Robinson, “but now we have regional-based metrics and universal tools with essential information provided for us by the Pittsburgh 2030 District. It is extremely useful!”
Per Dr. Robinson, healthcare is a more challenging industry than most to incorporate environmental sustainability. “What is easily achievable in other context is difficult when the nature of the business is to protect and preserve human life as best we can using what is most appropriate.” explains Robinson. “For births that occur within medical context, we are the very first environmental exposure, and we are often the last environmental exposure some experience as well. This awareness of responsibility drives and will continue to drive the important health and sustainability decisions we make about how and what products are used.”
Emerald Evening Luminary Award
Because of her dedicated, lifelong commitment to weaving sustainability with human health in her work at UPMC, as well as her leadership within the region, GBA is honored to award Dr. Allison Robinson with our Luminary Award. The Luminary Award recognizes those who display courage of leadership and vision in our industry. Over the years, Dr. Robinson has leveraged her role at UPMC to become a regional beacon of not just our current human health, but also the protection of future generations’ health with sustainable practices.
Join us on September 9, 2021, at GBA’s Annual Emerald Evening to congratulate Dr. Allison Robinson.
You might also like to join us at GBA’s Health in the Built Environment series October 4-8, 2021, where Dr. Robinson is helping curate content for this educational event. UPMC has generously sponsored the Health in the Built Environment series since 2019.
UPMC Mission Statement: https://www.upmc.com/about/why-upmc/mission
Internal Impact Partners:
UPMC Environmental Initiatives Steering Committee
UPMC Energy Initiatives
UPMC Corporate Real Estate, which includes property management of leased spaces
UPMC Hospital Division Facility Engineering, which includes UPMC grounds management
UPMC LEED Space:
32 registered LEED Projects (12,451,358 total sq ft)
28 completed LEED projects (12,168,358 total sq ft)
7 Gold LEED certification
12 Silver LEED certification
UPMC property-focused performance initiatives:
US Department of Energy
Better Building Challenge 2020- Healthcare Subgroup
US Green Building Council LEED certification
(In process) WELL certification
Green Building Alliance:
Arbor Day Foundation Tree Campus Health Care Initiative
Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Community Greening Award (annual onsite gardens)
Tree Pittsburgh Urban Canopy initiative (through employee-based tree giveaways)