Friday, August 7, 2009 - 9:20 AM

SYMP 23-5: Training educators on sustainability issues in ecology

Michael McKinney, Sara Malley, and Gordie Bennett. University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Background/Question/Methods Actions that demonstrate how to reduce environmental impacts are perhaps the best way to educate people about sustainability. The problem at educational institutions, especially very large ones with commuting populations, is how to implement these reductions in the face of economic and institutional obstacles. Events at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville provide an excellent example of the complex and incremental steps that universities can take toward this goal. In 2004, a student referendum led to the creation of an “environmental initiatives fee” of $5 per student each semester. Consequently, several hundred thousand dollars have been made available since 2004 for many major sustainability initiatives on the UT campus. However, this success has led to another problem: how do we measure the impacts of our initiatives? For that, we examine various ways that the “university footprint” has been reduced.
Results/Conclusions Air pollution emissions (especially acid rain, greenhouse gas) have been reduced in two ways: energy conservation improvements and the purchase of electricity generated by non-fossil fuels. Energy conservation measures have included replacing incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lighting in many buildings. Greenhouse gas emissions have declined by 2.2% since 2004. Our preliminary analysis indicates that UT emissions are now among the lowest for the universities with comparable data. Resource consumption has been reduced by a greatly improved recycling program. In 2004, UT recycled about 578 tons of material (including paper, plastic, aluminum, compost and electronics). This has increased each year since then to 1044 tons in 2008. This represents an increase in recycling exceeding 80%. New initiatives at UT include the establishment of a green roof which will demonstrate its use for native plant education, rain water management, wildlife habitat, energy insulation and aesthetics. The ultimate value of these sustainability initiatives for training educators is difficult to measure but preliminary evidence indicates that it is very high. Classroom surveys indicate that an increasing number of UT students (including those majoring in education) are aware of these initiatives and the large majority (>78%) approve of them. Indeed, most students (>54%) favor an increase in the environmental fee to fund more initiatives. Another positive aspect of teacher training is direct faculty involvement in the initiatives. Several faculty are involved in teaching workshops and giving talks during campus campaigns (such as “Make Orange Green”) which provide training in outreach and public education about sustainability.