Nominations for this year’s Environmental Leadership Awards are now open! If you know of a person or a group of people who have gone above and beyond to demonstrate environmental leadership on UT’s campus, nominate them online at tiny.utk.edu/ELANoms until 2 PM on Monday, April 17th. The awards will be presented at the Environmental Leadership Awards Banquet (Thursday, April 27th from 6 to 8 PM).
The Office of Sustainability is looking to hire one student for the Spring Semester to serve as the Communications Assistant. This intern will assist the Sustainability Manager and Outreach Coordinator with the planning, implementation, and promotion of efforts to reduce the social, economic, and environmental impact of UT Knoxville operations. Support for the position is provided by Facilities Services and the Student Environmental Initiatives Fee.
For more information, check out the full announcement here. To apply, email your cover letter and resume to email@example.com. Questions? Contact Sarah Cherry, Outreach Coordinator, via phone at 865 974 7386 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Tennessee has something special to celebrate as the Princeton Review released its latest guide to the Top Green Schools in the country. The Guide to 361 Green Colleges: 2016 Edition featured the nations top Green Schools, which included the University of Tennessee. A comprehensive assessment of more than 2,000 schools lead to this years results. The Princeton Review commends UT’s “overall commitment to sustainability”. When looking at the data, UT shows 19 percent of its graduates as taking a course related to sustainability while 42 percent of UT’s energy is from renewable resources. Among other acknowledgments, UT has a waste diversion of 25 percent. UT continues to push for a greener and more sustainbale campus. To see how you can get involved and make a difference check out our website!
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s very own Erica Davis was awarded the Student Sustainability Leadership Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) at their national conference this year on October 9, 2016, in Baltimore, MD. The award honors students from higher education who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting sustainability on campus. Erica was recognized for her work in getting Smokey’s Pantry off of the ground – the first food pantry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The pantry is a collaboration between student government (namely the Environment & Sustainability Committee), the Tyson House, Office of Student Life, and the Office of Sustainability, and works to provide groceries and hygiene products to students, faculty, and staff here at UT Knoxville. For more information, you can find them at their website or on Facebook.
The UT Smart Communities Initiative has been honored by its partner, the Southeast Tennessee Development District. SCI began in the 2014-15 academic year, connecting faculty and students with Tennessee cities, counties, special districts, and other governmental organizations to engage in real-world problem solving aimed at improving the region’s economy, environment, and social fabric. The SCI program was chosen to receive the Flame Award – an award given to outstanding local projects that inspire bigger things.
Chuck Hammonds, assistant executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, explained their reasoning: “We are recognizing the SCI program because of the university’s commitment to engage the community to solve real-world problems and to ignite the imagination of our future leaders.”
The award was presented at the annual district board of directors meeting, and accepted by Kelly Ellenburg, director of UT’s Office of Service-Learning (which oversees SCI). She was joined by Brad Collett, Jennifer Rutherford, and Deb Schmerler.
This past Friday (April 22nd) was Earth Day! To celebrate, we hosted our yearly Environmental Leadership Luncheon at the UT Gardens. We presented our Environmental Impact Report, which can be found online here. We also unveiled the winners of this year’s Environmental Leadership Awards.
We recognized faculty member, Dr. Jiangang Chen; community member, Patience Melnik; staff member, Holly Jones; and student, Andrew Frantz. (Pictured above, left to right).
Dr. Chen is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health here at UT Knoxville, and in addition to that, he serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and a faculty member in the interdisciplinary program of Comparative and Experimental Medicine. In the past, Dr. Chen worked with Facilities Services to help move the campus away from animal-based hand soaps to a synthetic and more sustainable option. More recently, he works closely with UT Recycling to incorporate Zero Waste ideals into his teachings.
Patience Melnik serves as the executive director of Keep Knoxville Beautiful, whose mission is to promote litter eradication, recycling, and beautification in Knox County communities – which obviously encompasses UT. She has worked with numerous UT organizations to promote these things and engage the UT Knoxville community in volunteer opportunities like litter pick-ups, trash runs, and beautification mobs. Patience truly demonstrates environmental stewardship and leads UT Knoxville toward better, more sustainable practices.
Holly Jones is the UT Gardens Kitchen Manager. She oversees the sustainable production, maintenance, and display of perennial fruit, begetable, herb, and cut flower crops. She works closely with faculty at UT to involve students in hands on experiential learning to inspire, educate, and cultivate an appreciation of plants through educational programs and research.
Andrew Frantz is a senior, expected to graduate this coming May. During his time here at UT Knoxville, he has gone above and beyond to promote sustainability on campus. As Co-Director of the SGA Environment & Sustainability Committee, he provides ideas, optimism, and energy. He is reliable, always accomplishing what he says he’s going to do. He also serves on the SGA’s Communications Committee, and used that position to raise awareness about UT environmental initiatives. He is a wonderful asset to campus, and we will be sad to see him move on!
This year we featured an all vegetarian meal. We didn’t choose to do this because a lot of our friends and sustainability champions who were in attendance are vegetarian and vegan – rather we did it for one of the many reasons environmentally conscious individuals often move to a plant-based diet: it’s one of the best ways to reduce our impact on our environment.
You can and should take shorter showers – but you should also be aware that it takes approximately 660 gallons of water to produce one quarter-pound hamburger (which equates to two months of showers). You can and should use more sustainable forms of transportation, but you should also be aware that raising livestock creates more greenhouse emissions than cars, boats, planes, and trains combined. You can and should donate and volunteer with awesome programs like the Food Recovery Network or Second Harvest, but you should also know that we could easily feed the billion of people on the planet who go hungry by collectively changing up our diets to one based more on plant-based proteins. For more information on the impact of animal agriculture, check out Cowspiracy, a documentary we screened earlier this month (currently streaming on Netflix). You can also browse their website for statistics and sources.
Two doctoral candidates at The Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, run jointly by UT and ORNL are working towards a zero-waste manufacturing process by using byproducts for good. Specifically, Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle are working to utilize lignin, the pulpy fibrous mass remaining after plants are processed in biofuel production. The pair have developed a process to turn lignin into a product that would aid both the earth and the people who work it, quite literally turning one person’s trash into another one’s treasure.
“Lignin is a naturally occurring product found in all trees and grasses that results in 50 million tons of waste a year in the paper industry alone,” said Bova. “We have developed a process that allows us to make that lignin biodegradable and turn it into the large rolls of mulch film that farmers used to block weeds, retain moisture and soil temperature, and improve crop yield.”
Currently, lignin is severely underutilized – only 2 percent of it ends up in commercial use, whereas the rest ends up in landfills or being burned as a low value fuel. Compare this to the fact that farmers spend as much as $300 per acre to dispose of the current plastic they use on their crops, as well as the additional benefit that Bova and Beegle’s product is biodegradable and would be able to be plowed right back into the soil after harvest. This saves the farmers time and money, as well as keeps both wasted lignin and the plastic out of our landfills.
They call their company Grow Bioplastics, and have been seeing success in various entrepreneurial contests. Locally, they won first place in the Boyd Venture Challenge and won $1,500 in the Vol Court Pitch Competition. Additionally, they are finalists in Rice University’s Business Plan Competition (where they stand to win a $450,000 grand prize in addition to a $5,000 people’s choice prize determined by online voting), and are participating in the Charlotte Venture Challenge, the Megawatt Ventures Challenge in Florida, and a number of other clean-tech competitions around the country.
UT’s Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with the Student Government Association’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee, is raising awareness about consumption habits by hosting its first Campus Bagless Day on Earth Day, Friday, April 22.
VolShop and UT Dining locations across campus will not offer plastic bags all day. In 2013, plastics accounted for nearly 13 percent of trash before recycling, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“Plastic bags may be small in size, but they have a big impact in our wallets, our atmosphere, our oceans, and our landscapes,” said Don Black, a sophomore in civil engineering and co-director of the SGA Environmental and Sustainability Committee. “If we try going without them for a day, I think pretty soon we will realize that we never really needed them at all.”
Additionally, VolShop will offer 20 percent off tumblers, mugs, and water bottles in the Student Union, University Commons, and 17th and Cumberland store locations and online to promote the Mug Project. This campus-wide initiative to eliminate single-use containers and bottles allows reusable mug users to get ninety-nine-cent coffees and fountain beverages and 15 percent off specialty coffee beverages at campus dining locations.
UT Recycling and the Office of Sustainability promote waste reduction efforts throughout the year with other initiatives including campus recycling, composting, food donation, and Zero Waste Game Day, which works to eliminate at least 90 percent of waste created during athletic events through recycling and composting.
“We are thrilled to support the SGA in their initiative by hosting this new event and bringing awareness to the issue of waste reduction,” said Preston Jacobsen, campus sustainability manager. “It is exciting to see partners on campus willing to join in on the event and support sustainable issues on our campus.”
Earth Month begins Friday, April 1. Events, activities, and programs promoting the work the university does year-round to Make Orange Green will include:
Big Green Friday
Putting an environmental twist on the Big Orange Friday tradition, the second annual Big Green Friday on Friday, April 1, will kick off Earth Month. Members of the campus community are encouraged to wear green and stop by the Johnson-Ward Pedestrian Walkway from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for food, games, and giveaways.
Earth Month Celebration
The Earth Month celebration will offer food, live music, environmentally focused organizations from the UT and Knoxville communities, and the annual Recyclimpics games. The event will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Thursday, April 7, on the Humanities and Social Sciences Amphitheater lawn.
Earth Month Scavenger Hunt
The Office of Sustainability will host the first Earth Month Scavenger Hunt from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Thursday, April 14. Teams of three will compete by looking for points on campus that represent environmental projects and programs, including UT’s Stormwater Management, Arboriculture, and Recycling. Teams can register online.
Sustainability Day of Service
Students can volunteer with agencies that promote environmental awareness, sustainability, conservation, and recycling during the third annual Sustainability Day of Service. The event will be held from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Friday, April 15.
UT Recycling’s SUSTAINABILITY Spring Art Show
UT Recycling will host a spring art show featuring an array of artists and media, all with an environmental or waste theme. The event is from 6:00 to 10:00 pm. Friday, April 15, at Fluorescent Gallery, 627 N. Central Street, and will include live music and refreshments.
Environmental Leadership Luncheon
The annual Environmental Leadership Award Luncheon will take place at the UT Gardens brick patio from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Earth Day, Friday, April 22. The free lunch will offer networking opportunities with other environmentally friendly students, faculty, and staff, in addition to the award ceremony for environmental leaders on campus and within the community. A reservation is required.
Katherine Saxon (email@example.com, 865-974-8365)
A team of UT Professors is researching how climate affects people on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Kelsey Ellis, assistant professor of geography, teamed up with Jon Hathaway, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Lisa Reyes Mason, assistant professor of social work, to collect weather data from urban Knoxville neighborhoods in order to create a more informed public and to improve future city planning. They placed ten weather sensors to power poles in July 2014 in Lonsdale, Burlington, West Hills, Vestal, downtown Gay Street, and Ijams Nature Center, that capture temperature, humidity, air pollution, and wind data. Over the past year, students took care of the sensors and collected data using thumb drives. The team is currently analyzing the data.
Trees are a large focus of the project, as they are known to boost air quality, provide shade, and keep neighborhoods cool. Poorer neighborhoods usually have less vegetation so residents are exposed to more extreme heat compared to other, more affluent, areas. Accessing and assessing data on a smaller scale will enable residents to have more accurate information as well as enable city planners to see what works and what doesn’t, and where changes need to be made. “Often data access only happens at the city level, so all residents would typically use information coming from the airport,” Ellis said. “Neighborhood-specific information will highlight the differences within the city, identify potential vulnerability issues, and provide city leaders a mechanism for improving these conditions.”
The information is useful on more than just a city planning level. They hope to create an app or website for residents to share this data with the public as well. Residents will be able to check heat indexes, air pollution, and temperature information specific to their neighborhoods. They’ll be able to make better informed decisions on when it’s safe for their children to play outside, when they should cut the grass, how to manage their gardens, etc.
Preliminary data shows that downtown Knoxville and neighborhoods with less tree cover were warmer than any other part of town. It also reveals that while trees kept neighborhoods cooler during the day, they didn’t cool neighborhoods at night as expected because of black ground surfaces that absorbed heat. Students also conducted interviews with residents of some of these neighborhoods to explore perceptions of neighborhood environmental conditions and how they are experienced or impact people’s everyday lives. Mason said that in the neighborhoods they interviewed “green space was valued and connected to different aspects of well-being.”
The first two years of the project have been funded by UT Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment (ISSE). The team has applied for a National Science Foundation grant to expand their work – potentially nationwide. They are working on the app and website, and building a second generation of sensors that hopes to collect noise pollution data as well. They aim to do more than other microclimate studies that came before them by applying their results. Ellis emphasizes, “We want to help improve conditions in more vulnerable neighborhoods and inform residents of their potential risk and what they should do about it.”
This past Friday, March 4th, was Arbor Day Tree Planting! We worked with UT Knoxville’s Facilities Services Stormwater Management, Landscape Services Arboriculture, and Recycling to gather over 70 volunteers and plant approximately 1000 trees along the Second Creek Greenway.
But wait – isn’t Arbor Day in April? Or wasn’t there something we did in November? Well, you’re right. Here in Knoxville, TN, USA – we celebrate three: city, state, and national. The City of Knoxville’s Arbor Day falls on the first Friday in November (you can see how we celebrated it this past year here). The State of Tennessee’s Arbor Day falls on the first Friday of March (which we rang in with our Tree Planting!). The one you might be more familiar with is National Arbor Day, which falls on the last Friday of April (this year’s will fall on April 29th).
Arbor Day in the US dates back to 1872 when the first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10th in Nebraska, which had been treeless before the efforts of J. Sterling Morton. The dates might seem arbitrary as they are so widespread through the calendar year, but they reflect the best planting times for the region. Spring may be a popular planting season (March works well for planting saplings in our region, for example), but fall is the best time to plant here in Knoxville. Regardless, the more trees, the merrier. We like to remember this Chinese Proverb when prepping for tree plantings: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
The trees we planted this past weekend are an integral part of the greater Second Creek Riparian Restoration Project that is ongoing. The project aims to clear out invasive species along the banks of the creek and replace them with native species that will thrive in the area. The banks of Second Creek have seen a lot of damage thanks to invasive species, whose shallow root systems simply can’t keep up with stormwater erosion. The native species, with their deeper roots, will be more efficient in stabilizing banks and improving water quality in this creek as well as the other streams and rivers in the area. Not to mention the other benefits that these trees will provide by way of air quality, shade, and carbon sequestration.
For more information on Arbor Day Tree Planting, check out TN Today’s article.