University of Tennessee, Knoxville

University of Tennessee, Knoxville strives to achieve sustainability goals through research, data collection, and collaborations with a variety of on-campus and community stakeholders. The Smart Communities Initiative educates tomorrow’s leaders to tackle climate issues; the Appalachian Community Health program encourages nursing students to assist local communities. Programs such as Student Environmental Initiatives Fee and the Green Revolving Fund generate revenue for students and faculty to conduct research, initiate sustainable projects, and retrofit energy-saving programs. University of Tennessee, Knoxville has made great progress at reducing the environmental impact of campus operations.

Student Preparedness

The University of Tennessee (UT) has made amazing progress over the past 5 years in regards to student preparedness, emerging as a leader in the SEC and Southeast region when comparing other institutions of similar size and population. From the formation of Smart Communities Initiative (SCI) to the Sustainability Major, UT is now graduating experienced students who are ready to tackle climate change issues, both in the technical and narrative avenues.

The most innovative program to date has been the SCI, which is designed to match over 40 faculty and 450 students across disciplines to one city, or other municipal group each year to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at increasing the level of economic viability, environmental sustainability, and social integrity of the area. Another excellent and somewhat similar program is Appalachian Community Health, in which UT nursing students assist nearby communities in Kentucky to improve their disaster preparedness, clean water access, and health.

Over 200 courses have been identified across the curriculum to be sustainability focused courses and along these lines, UT also has over five centers and institutes dedicated to sustainability research. All students now have the option to work with Career Services to inquire about emerging sustainable and environmental fields and/or pursue jobs through the school’s growing network of local and regional employers.

All in all, UT is investing not only resources but also its brand into offering more sustainable programs, with an emphasis on experiential learning to better prepare our students for future environmental careers.

Climate Innovation

In order to create a more sustainable campus and community, UT has been introducing many projects to make environmentally focused initiatives an accessible reality. Of the many avenues, two come to forefront as they engage all facets of campus, from student research to facilities operations. These two programs are the Student Environmental Initiatives Fee and the Green Revolving Fund. The former accrues over $750,000 per FY, which is used to create an overarching avenue for students, faculty and staff to conduct sustainable projects, ranging from feasibility studies on energy management to research surrounding climate change here in Knoxville. The latter is a separate fund dedicated to energy retrofit projects, with a return of the savings from the project for a period of 5 years, allowing the program to continue and grow over time.

The above avenues have led to impactful operational work as well as educational outreach programs. One major highlight is their #2 national ranking in Zero Waste Athletic events, which is outstanding considering their football stadium can hold over 102,000 people in the stadium and roughly another 100,000 throughout campus. Other notable outcomes include a stormwater management hire, three electric vehicle charging stations, fleet buses ran on biodiesel and our commitment to being a top ten leader in the EPA Green Power Partnership program.

The above is without a doubt highly dependent upon the Climate Action Plan adopted in 2010 and more so affirmed by the university’s dedication to the ACUPCC in being a signatory institution in 2007.

Creating Opportunity

The University of Tennessee (UT) has made tremendous efforts in reducing GHG emissions pertaining to energy use, production and support of the renewable energy sector. For the past several years we have been the leader in the SEC, purchasing 91,000,000 kWh’s worth of REC’s per FY and with recent approval, are poised to be in the top three nationally (currently a top ten ranking). The Green Revolving Fund was implemented back in 2014 and is projected to take $350,000 and increase the available funding amount to $876,000 in less than 5 years. This enables the UT campus to reduce energy as well as acting as a hedge against future deferred maintenance cost, all during a time in which state capital project funding is being reduced.

We have partnered with the City of Knoxville to implement a weatherization retrofit for local homes, using 7.2 million dollars to support approximately 615 homes. Another partnership includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is entrenched into the Engineering College, working to better understand renewable energy distribution, among other research avenues.

In regards to UT’s social and political influence being used to reduce emissions elsewhere, its students have formed many organizations to conduct divestment workshops with local towns and organizations that would like to understand how to better use their buying power to support more environmental friendly practices.

All of the above is only a small portion of the university’s efforts and UT Knoxville highly encourages a one on one conversation to discuss its other innovative practices and campaigns.