In Jan. 2020, Chancellor Donde Plowman signed the Zero Waste Commitment with the goal of reducing UT’s waste by 50% by the end of 2030. A reduction of 90% is necessary to be considered a Zero Waste Institution, but this commitment put UT on track to move in that direction. As of the fiscal year (FY) 2018, the university has diverted about 33% of its waste.
UT also created its Sustainability Master Plan for 2020-2030. This master plan outlines the university’s sustainability goals and its path to carbon neutrality with focus on areas including: energy, land and water use, waste and transportation.
In fall of 2019, UT also became a signatory to the United Nations Institute for Training Research and the Association of Public and Landgrant Universities joint program the Declaration on University Global Engagement.
Moves like the ones listed above are great first steps to take as an institution to fight climate change and work to make campus more sustainable. UT’s commitments also set examples and models for other SEC schools. However, commitments and plans alone are not enough. Action is key.
Through organizations like Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville (SPEAK) and the Compost Coalition, students are doing their part to hold the university accountable and make sure change really is taking place.
Individuals can only do so much. Shorter showers, plant-based diets and carpooling are all wonderful ways to move toward a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, but this does not address the root of the problem.
According to The Carbon Majors Report in 2017, only 100 companies and corporations are responsible for 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Big businesses are at fault, yet the blame has been shifted to the individual. That is why it is so important for institutions like the University of Tennessee to take part in commitments and declarations to strive toward more sustainable means.
I do not mean for any of this to sound discouraging. It can be overwhelming to think about how much needs to be done to reverse the harmful effects of climate change. But, small, impactful changes like bringing your own bags to the store and carrying a reusable water bottle are still important and meaningful. However, reaching out to your legislators and expressing your concern can be just as powerful.
Using your voice and exercising your civic rights is another quick and easy way to be more environmentally conscious. Voicing your concern for unsustainable policies and practices to all levels of government – including local governments.
Email or call Mayor Indya Kincannon or Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ offices with suggestions and concerns. Writing to your district's senators is an option too.
Don’t worry about not sounding official or scientific enough. Your voice matters and your concern as a citizen of the world is qualification enough.