University aims to “make orange green”

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE - From light bulbs to cafeteria food, the University of Tennessee is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and paint the Big Orange green.

"Make Orange Green" actually is the theme behind a marketing campaign, launched last year, aimed at encouraging sustainable practices on campus such as turning off lights at the end of the day, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, taking shorter showers and using the bus.

The university also is taking a more in-depth approach, analyzing carbon dioxide emissions and creating a comprehensive plan for reducing its carbon footprint.

"The president's climate commitment says that eventually we want to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions," said Gordie Bennett, sustainability manager for UT's Knoxville campus. There's no time line for that reduction, as yet, but the university is working to develop plans for cutting down energy usage from heating and cooling campus buildings to reducing the number of single occupant cars driving to and from class or work.

The biggest energy hogs, an on-campus steam plant, TVA-generated electricity - much of it from coal - and emissions from transportation, are tough to tackle and represent categories over which UT has the least control, Bennett said.

"We're exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of our steam plant," which is powered with a mixture of coal and natural gas, he said.

"The biggest component comes from purchased electricity, and that's a real tough one because the university does not produce its own electricity."

Here's a rundown of some university initiatives currently in place aimed at curbing energy use and establishing more environmentally friendly practices:

• Environmental fees: Since 2004, students have paid a fee - $10 per semester as of this fall for in-state students - used to help the university pay for blocks of power generated by renewable technologies like TVA's Green Power Switch program and pay for other sustainability projects. One such project was replacing lighting fixtures in the business school's Stokely Management Center with more efficient models at a cost of $600,000. The savings will have paid for the investment within three to five years, said UT spokesman Jay Mayfield.

• Transportation: Free rides on Knoxville Area Transit trolleys snaking their way through campus have been available for a while, and students and faculty also can get systemwide semester bus passes at discounted rates. UT also is working to create a more bike-friendly campus, offering free basic bike repair three days a week at the on-campus bike shop and renting out road or mountain bikes, a program Bennett said he's hoping to expand. The university also offers low-cost van pool accommodations for groups of employees, Mayfield said.

• Recycling: Since 2001, UT has increased the amount of recycled trash from just more than 300 tons annually to about 1,000 tons in 2007 - amounting to about 13 percent of the institution's waste, said Mayfield. A good chunk of that waste can be found outside the stadium on football game days, he said, with 20 tons of collected trash being recycled last year. The university is working to make recycling easier for students and faculty, recently putting out 6,000 new office recycling bins to encourage the practice, Mayfield said.

• Food services: The university has ramped up efforts to use more local and organic foods, featuring these products on special days or weeks at cafeteria sites on campus. And the food services company that services UT, Aramark, recently switched to trayless dining, which "reduces a lot of water waste," Mayfield said.


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