Tennessee's Environmental Agency Wants To Make Universities More Sustainable, Starting With Fisk

From Nashville Public Radio, By Shalina Chatlani

Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation is now focusing its efforts on colleges and universities. Fisk University in Nashville is the first to participate in the department's new Higher Education Institution Campus Sustainability Improvement pilot program.

Fisk put together its own Sustainability Action Plan last year. Under this comprehensive document are the institution's Carbon Footprint Reduction Plan, the Campus Climate Action Plan, and the Recycling/Repurpose Action Plan — all of which aim to enhance the institution's energy effiency, reduce food waste and increase the school's environmental stewardship.

David Cobb, the school's director of purchasing, sustainability and facilities development, has been a key leader in these efforts. He says another key component of this plan is social justice.

"The strategies included in Fisk’s Climate Action Plan must not only seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also meet the needs of low-income communities," he wrote in an email. "Historically, we have seen poor people throughout the world and in our community, suffer the most from both the impacts and the suggested mitigations of environmental threats and catastrophes."

These efforts made Fisk a good first partner for TDEC's pilot, says Kendra Abkowitz, assistant commisioner for the office of policy and sustainable practices.

"Fisk had the desire to pursue waste reduction measures and we were also looking to expand our efforts in the higher education space, so it was a perfect confluence of factors," she said, adding that working with an historically black college and university also allows the department to focus in on underserved communities.

"This is an HBCU and that allows us to target sustainability efforts, specifically within a predominately minority population. Making sure we are equitably serving all Tennesseans is important to TDEC," said Abkowitz.

TDEC plans to monitor the pilot's success at Fisk in the first 6 months, which the department called phase one. In these first steps, TDEC gave the institution 47 recycling bins and worked with Metro Public Works to help the school secure a $6,000 grant to start a composting program. It also partnered with groups like Compost Nashville and the Turnip Green Creative Reuse to expand compost and recyling education to faculty, staff and students.

Cobb says if phase one works, the institution will reach out to the department again to implement phase two, which is a focus on energy efficiency plans. Cobb says the institution will seek help on making campus buildings more sustainable. In phase three, he explains Fisk will become a leader in this model for other schools throughout the state as the department tries to expand the pilot.

When that expansion happens depends on future partnerships and resources, says Abkowitz.

"We would try to make sure we have adequate resources to expand the program. Whether that's through the state to offer financial assistance to schools, or seeking private sector help," she said.

But, she confirms the department is planning on extend the program to other schools, mostly likely outside the Nashville area.

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Jay Sheridan