Julie Hornsby was a 2017 summer intern through Opportunity Now with the Department of General Services, Division of Sustainability. She shares her personal story about her interest in sustainability.
I have spent most of my summer working as an intern with Socket, which has been an amazing learning experience. I am a rising senior at Vanderbilt University, where I am majoring in Civil Engineering, with a focus on environmental issues. After I graduate, I hope to work with sustainable urban planning here in the rapidly-growing Music City. With this blog post, I hope to shine light on the journey I have had so far and how my experiences have led me to where I am sitting today, in the Division of Sustainability of Metro Government’s Department of General Services. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see up-close the steps Nashville is taking to become a more environmentally-sound city. I would like to thank the Opportunity Now program for providing me with the financial resources that allowed me to stay here this summer to work with something about which I am very passionate.
At the age of 13, I watched a documentary that changed my life forever. As someone who spent the first few years of her life on a farm, living among cows, horses, and dogs, I always felt that my connection with nature ran deep in my veins. But by the age of 4, I was living in a big city, and the animals and trees that once surrounded me quickly turned into cars and concrete buildings. Life went on and although one might think I was becoming one of those “city kids,” I continued to call myself a nature-lover while having weekly debates with my mom about how caring for animals was more important than caring for people, an idea she could never understand.
In 7th grade, my school decided to take a field trip to the movie theater so we could all watch “An Inconvenient Truth”. I could never have guessed that the 1 hour and 36 minutes I spent looking at that big screen would define me for the rest of my journey on earth.
While growing up, my mom would always tell me that God puts each one of us on this planet for a reason and that every single individual has a mission they need to accomplish before they pass away. At 13 I got a glimpse of what my mission was. My eyes were finally open. Climate change was an issue that could lead to the end of nature as I knew and adored, and I was not about to let that happen.
Fast forward 5 years and I was a senior in high school sitting in one of my favorite classes ever: “Sustainable Economy and Living”. My teacher decided to bring a guest speaker to tell us some stories about his experience with tree-spiking. He talked for about 45 minutes and said many interesting things, but it was the very last part of his presentation that had the most impact on me. In an attempt to appease a group of high-schoolers who were about to embark on their college journeys in just a few months, he said we didn’t have to go around spiking trees to make an environmental statement. To make a positive difference in the world, we could start by changing just a few things in our daily lives. Specifically, he wrote 3 things on the board:
1.) Become a vegetarian
2.) Take 5-min showers
3.) Never buy new clothes again
My eyes were fixated on that board. I had been doing research on how to “go green” since watching that documentary in 7th grade and I considered myself an eco-master. I had become a vegan on my 17th birthday. I was addicted to recycling. I always brought my own reusable bags to the market. I begged my mom to buy only organic produce. My showers lasted no more than 3 minutes. I always chose to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I ensured that all of our paper products at home, including paper towels, toilet paper, printer paper, etc., were all made of 100% recycled materials. And last but not least, I had given up my allowance in exchange for my dad agreeing to switch our energy provider to Green Mountain Energy so that our home could be powered by renewables, which added an extra cost to our monthly utilities bill.
With this in mind, I could put a check next to the first two items of my speaker’s list. But never again buying new clothes?? I absolutely adored shopping for new outfits with my mom and for some reason, I had never once stopped to think about how purchasing a new t-shirt could have a negative impact on the planet of which I took such good care… or at least I thought I did.
So, after all, what was so wrong with new clothes? Well, just like everything else, manufacturing a piece of clothing requires energy, water, and other raw materials needed, such as cotton, in addition to all of the resources and pesticides that go into growing such crops. Thus, when choosing to buy clothes that are second-hand, no virgin materials have to be extracted from nature and used to produce whatever you are purchasing. Also, most of clothes today are produced abroad, in countries that tend to have poorly enforced environmental laws. In China, for example, about 18% of the country’s industrial water pollution can be traced back to textile dyeing and treatment.
Furthermore, I soon realized that purchasing second-hand clothing meant giving new life to something that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, making thrift-store shopping the ultimate form of recycling. When I became a vegan over 5 years ago, I felt like I had taken up a full-time job as an activist, which was a wonderful feeling that made me feel like a powerful teenager at the time. Whenever I chose to replace my hamburger for a local, organic veggie burger, I was standing up for what I believed in. Adding the challenge to never again buy a new piece of clothing to my list of tasks as a self-proclaimed full-time activist made me feel that same sense of power that veganism had brought about, so soon after I got home from school the day the tree-spiker had visited my class, I announced to my family that the gifts under our Christmas trees would never again look the same as they had for 18 years – and indeed they haven’t.
The End, At Least For Now
Throughout my life, teachers always called me a perfectionist, which I soon learned was more of a warning than a compliment. Before I knew it, the “never buy new clothes again” rule grew a little out of proportion in my hands. For me, those words soon became “never buy anything new again”. And that’s just what I did! From my room furniture, to my shower-caddy, to my kitchen appliances, down to the socks on my feet, everything I purchased since that one class almost 5 years ago belonged to someone else before belonging to me.
The funny part is to see my friends and my entire family stressing over what to get me for Christmas or other special occasions. While my friend Jacquie so generously hands me down outfits she no longer uses, my aunt always writes me a letter trying to explain whatever gift she is sending me in the mail is sustainable: “Hey darling, this pair of earrings was made from wood scraps from a barn in …..”. It’s hilarious and it makes me feel very blessed to have such wonderful and supportive people around me. Although moments like this lead to a lot of laughter, they can also make me feel bad for causing so much inconvenience, but then I remind myself of what my momma taught me.
We all have a mission. If my life choices can, in the very least, influence my friends and family to think about the environmental impacts of their actions and the power we all hold as consumers, then I can believe that, at least for now, I seem to be walking the path that was drawn for me. Join me, as I try my best to replace the carbon footprint humans are known for… leaving behind only the footprints of my own bare feet walking across our natural lands.
July 5, 2017 -- Nashville, TN
Like the country music that made it famous, the city of Nashville, Tenn., has been through some changes in recent years.
Just as the “Nashville sound” of Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline gradually gave way to the more raucous and glitzy contemporary country music of Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, so has the city itself gone from a quiet little town of less than 180,000 in 1960 to one of the fastest growing urban centers in the South, now with more than 650,000 people and an estimated 85 to 100 more arriving every day.
May 18, 2017
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced the winners of the 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards. Winners will be recognized for their achievements and positive impact on the state’s natural resources in an awards ceremony to be held in Nashville on June 16.
“These organizations represent the spirit and drive that make the Volunteer State great,” Haslam said. “I thank all of the winners for their individual contributions to the environment and for keeping Tennessee a beautiful state in which to live and work and to visit.”
Read more via TDEC's press release.
June 22, 2017
In 2016, Nashville’s Fire Station 19 received LEED Platinum certification. Then, in June 2017, it was awarded the 2017 Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award (GESA) in the “Building Green” category. This facility that houses the city’s first responders 24/7 has several innovative features and has set the bar for future Nashville city buildings.
Read the whole article from USGBC.
June 16, 2017
Mayor Megan Barry has issued the following statement on the selection of Metro General Services Department Fire Station #19 as winner of the 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in the Building Green category:
“Congratulations to the team responsible for designing, constructing and managing Metro General Services’ Fire Station #19 for earning the Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award as a LEED Platinum facility built to the highest sustainability standards,” said Mayor Barry. “Constructing high-quality, sustainable facilities like this helps move Nashville toward our goal of being the greenest city in the Southeast, while reducing energy costs and saving taxpayer dollars.”
No holiday says “America” more than our beloved 4th of July and nothing is more associated with 4th of July than grilling and fireworks. With these essentials in mind, the Socket team would like to share a few thoughts on how to make your 4th of July not only red, white, and blue, but green as well.
Although the idea of grilling makes one feel more connected to nature, this outdoorsy activity raises a few environmental and health concerns. In the U.S., most outdoor grillers use either gas or charcoal. You might be wondering which option is better for both you and our planet. Answer: it depends on how one defines sustainability.
Let’s start with charcoal. When burning this material, a significant amount of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, especially when compared to the burning of gas. Research conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that “gas grills generate 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, while charcoal grills produce 11 pounds per hour” (Slate). However, when you look at the components of charcoal, it is only the remains of natural hardwoods when burnt in the absence of oxygen. So when grilling with charcoal, you are essentially burning wood, which is considered a renewable resource if the trees hewed for the production of charcoal are replanted at a rate equivalent to how often they get cut down.
Gas, however, is not a renewable resource. Once it burns, you are unable to sequester the released carbon dioxide and place it back underground in its original form as petroleum, or at least not for millions of years.
A comprehensive study was conducted in the UK to compare the carbon footprint from gas versus charcoal grills, taking into account their entire life cycle, including production, combustion, packaging and transport, and disposal. The study’s conclusion was that gas grills are more environmentally-sound, as their carbon footprint was approximately one-third of the charcoal grills.
If upon considering both of these options, you decide to use charcoal, make sure to buy lump charcoal, as opposed to briquettes. Briquettes are made with additives including nitrate and coal dust that emit Volatile Organic Compounds and contribute to environmental and health problems. Also, less residue ash will be left behind after your grilling session with lump charcoal. Lastly, make sure your charcoal is Forest Stewardship Council-certified so that a new tree is planted whenever another one is cut down.
Finally, when meat is charred at high temperatures (as with grilling), two chemicals are produced: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these compounds have been classified as mutagenic, which means they have the ability to alter a person’s DNA. Extended exposure to HCAs and PAHs is associated with higher a risk of cancer development. Consider avoiding these chemicals altogether by trying some meatless recipes this year. Here are some tasty recipes to get you started!
Fireworks can create unforgettable experiences and excite everyone in a crowd - except for most dogs and a few people who aren’t quite fond of the loud noises they make. Socket the Dog is not a fan of the noisy light show … he much prefers eating leftover hamburgers (or veggie burgers) from the grill! However, this unique Fourth of July tradition is here to stay, so let’s take a look at it through a sustainability lens. Hint: although fireworks look beautiful while brightening up a dark sky, their sustainability record is not as bright.
What gives color to fireworks are different kinds of metal, including copper and strontium. When fireworks burst up into the sky, the air surrounding them becomes contaminated with airborne metallic particles. The particles can remain in higher-than-usual concentrations for a few days in the air and many eventually dissolve in nearby waterways. Also, most fireworks used across the nation contain a chemical called perchlorate. In the environment, perchlorate can exist either in its solid form; or, when water is present, it will quickly dissolve in it. From a health perspective, this chemical is known for preventing the human thyroid from taking up iodine. Extended exposure to perchlorate can lead to hypothyroidism, which is a disorder characterized by an individual’s thyroid gland’s inability to produce thyroid hormone in sufficient amounts. A study published by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2007 shows that the perchlorate used in the firework displays near the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth ends up contaminating the waterways and soil of nearby areas.
With this in mind, don’t try to have a private firework display in your own backyard. Besides this being illegal in Nashville, it is also polluting and dangerous. So leave it to the experts, and join your fellow Tennesseans as thousands of people convene in downtown Nashville to see the Music City’s famous 4th of July fireworks show. If you are able, consider walking, carpooling, or biking to the show. Remember to bring your own water bottle so you won’t have to spend money and create waste by buying bottled water. Then, settle in, look up, and enjoy the magnificent display we are lucky to enjoy once per year!
Greetings, Socket fans! My name is Michelle Hamman, and I am the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Specialist in the Department of General Services’ Sustainability Division. Last month, I traveled with my daughters to New York City. While there, I saw many interesting examples of urban sustainability, which I’d like to share with you.
The most dramatic change since my last visit about five years ago was the public space reclaimed from the streets. In several places in the city, such as Times Square, sections of road have been blocked off from traffic and transformed into pedestrian-friendly spaces with seating and walking paths. Previously unusable pieces of land, like the medians of roads and old, out of use railroad tracks, have found new life in the form of bike lanes, sidewalks, and green spaces. I also noticed that all of these public spaces have recycling with good signage. Elsewhere in the city, I saw solar trash compactors.
Many Nashvillians recently heard about these upgrades. NYC activist and planner Janette Sadik-Khan came to Nashville and spoke about the streetscape overhaul she oversaw in New York. See video of her presentation here.
Compared to Nashville, there is a great deal of bike infrastructure in NYC. There are bike lanes throughout the city, and many of them are painted green to increase their visibility and create a visual divide between the cars and bike riders sharing the streets. Even with all of these bike lanes, I noticed that there were not a lot of people commuting by bike. This was surprising, as it was perfect weather for biking! I didn’t see a lot of bike racks - most people just lock their bikes to a tree - and I wondered if the lack of safe storage places could be one reason for low ridership.
Here in Nashville, a city ordinance prescribes that new commercial, office, and multifamily residential buildings install bike parking as a part of construction. This law aims to ensure that bicyclists can securely store their rides while out and about. Wondering where all the bike racks in Nashville are located? Find them on this bike parking map.
The bike infrastructure wasn’t the only green transportation option. My daughters and I used the extensive network of public transportation in both NYC and nearby New Jersey to get around. While in the city, we took the subway from place to place, and when we ventured out of the city, we took the train rather than using a car.
As someone whose job is all about energy efficiency and renewable energy, it was hard not to notice the many places using renewable energy sources like wind and solar. I saw solar panels on top of a FedEx building and mounted on telephone poles throughout New Jersey. One of the more creative uses of renewable energy was a parking space converted into an outdoor seating area with a wind turbine to power the lights.
Here in Nashville, eight of our Metro Nashville buildings have solar panels, which produce a total of more than 140,000 kWh of electricity annually. That’s equivalent to taking more than 20 cars off the road for an entire year. (EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator)
It is exciting to hear about and see what other cities are doing to improve resiliency, save money, and clean up the environment. We have a lot to learn from what others are doing, but thanks to strong leadership and investments in our future, Nashville is well on its way to being the greenest city in the Southeast!
Socket would like to wish all dads a Happy Father’s Day this Sunday! No matter how you choose to celebrate the day, there is no more quintessential father-child activity than fishing. What a great way to spend time with dear dad and enjoy the natural beauty of Middle Tennessee’s waterways!
Tennessee boasts 61,075 miles of rivers that contribute to the existence of many thriving diverse ecosystems. (Wild and Scenic Rivers) In fact, our state has the most diverse collection of freshwater fish species in the nation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has a "Fishing in Tennessee" guide, with information on many of our fish species.
The first step to a successful fishing adventure is to obtain a fishing license for everyone who is 13 or older, and you can do so through the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s website.
When getting your fishing gear ready, there are a few steps you can follow to ensure that your trip will be as sustainable as possible.
First, avoid tackles and fishing sinkers that are made out of lead because if waterfowl swallow them while searching for food, these animals can suffer from lead poisoning. Furthermore, if enough of these lead-containing objects remain in the river, they can dissolve and cause elevated lead levels, harmful to the many plants and animals living in that habitat. (USGS)
Second, consider purchasing biodegradable fishing lines so that if your line ever breaks or you need to cut it and let it sink into the water, it will not stay in our environment polluting the waterway for centuries to come. While a conventional petroleum-based line takes 600 years to fully break down, a biodegradable line can degrade in 2 to 5 years. (EnviroGadget)
Socket’s third and final tip is to choose a non-motorized boat if possible to reduce the carbon emissions associated with your fishing trip. Plus, rowing is a great exercise!
Now that you’ve got your license and gear, you may be wondering where the best fishing holes are. Our Tennessee State Parks have a wealth of angling opportunities, and Percy Priest Lake off of I-40 and Old Hickory Lake are also great spots!
We hope you and your family get the chance to enjoy Tennessee’s waterways. Don’t forget to contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable state by packing out trash and leaving no trace.
Happy Father’s Day, from Socket!
We’ve all heard of Earth Day, but there is another day designated to remind us that taking care of our planet and its natural resources is important. June 5th is World Environment Day (WED), an idea that started in 1974 by the United Nations and has brought attention to different environmental issues ever since. WED has been hosted by many different nations, from Bangladesh to Brazil, and from Japan to Italy. For 2017, Canada, a nation that is very proud of its natural heritage and diversity, was selected to hold WED’s main celebrations.
Each year, the UN chooses a different theme for WED, ranging from “Melting Ice - a Hot Topic?” in 2007 to “Water: Vital Resource for Life” in 1976. In 2017, the theme is: “Connecting People to Nature.” Socket the dog knows how important getting outside and moving around is. Join Socket this World Environment Day in enjoying the great outdoors!
With the accelerated advance of technology and the changes in lifestyle experienced throughout the past couple of decades, the amount of time the average American spends outdoors is on a sharp decrease. According to a study conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association, on a daily basis, approximately one-third of Americans do not spend time outdoors. Of those who do, about half of them spend less than 30 minutes outside. With this in mind, the UN hopes that this year’s WED will encourage us “to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and to think about how we are part of nature and how intimately we depend on it” (UN). You’ll find lots of tips on how to stay active and connect with nature on Socket’s website.
Due to excessive burning of fossil fuels to power our economy and other anthropogenic actions that lead to the degradation of our environment and its wildlife, the challenges Mother Nature faces are real. With individuals choosing to spend more and more time indoors, with their phones and other technological gadgets as a source of entertainment, many of us seem oblivious to nature’s call. But hopefully, this year’s WED entreating us to connect with nature will inspire more of us to take responsibility to care for the world around us and to ensure that future generations can celebrate WED for many Junes to come.
So take it from Socket: this summer, get outside and explore the natural beauty that surrounds us. Need some ideas on where to start? Here is a website with some ideas of where to go around Nashville: Tennessee Outdoor Leisure. As you plan a longer getaway, consider a visit to one of our 59 National Parks, located across the U.S.
Socket wishes all moms a happy Mother’s Day! While we celebrate our moms every day of the year, this is their special day.
Just as our own mothers nurture and nourish our bodies and minds, so does Mother Nature play a leading role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Today, as we each honor our “human moms,” take a moment to consider all that is provided by the complex planetary ecosystem all around us.
All 7.4 billion of us on the planet rely on clean water, clean air, and healthy food for our survival. The quality of what we drink, breathe, and eat is directly influenced by the environment from which it came. Pure water, clean air free from pollutants, and fresh food that is free from toxics support our physical growth and development.
Our biology dictates that we spend time outdoors. In fact, the best source of essential nutrient vitamin D is sunlight hitting our skin. Yet few foods in nature contain vitamin D, and more than 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in the nutrient.[i] As the world population migrates to cities and we spend more time indoors, this public health problem is likely to intensify. Luckily, getting your D is very doable – choose to spend 5-30 minutes in midday sun twice per week, take a supplement, and/or enjoy milk fortified with vitamin D, plus eggs and fatty fishes.[ii]
It is not just our physical health that benefits from time outdoors. City dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas.[iii] Studies show that spending time in nature benefits our mood and mental health and can even reduce symptoms of depression.
As you can see, there are many things to be thankful for from the natural world. Socket says, this Mother’s Day, honor the mother who raised you, and your Mother Nature!
And remember, if you’re thinking of buying mom flowers or chocolate for the big day, consider making the sustainable choice. It’s all explained in our Green Valentine’s Day blog.
As usual, there is no shortage of things to do in Nashville this weekend. Why not treat your mom to a special mother’s day jazz brunch at City Winery, enjoy free performances by the Blair Children’s Choruses, or relive childhood wonder with the closing performance of "Goodnight Moon" at the Nashville Children’s Theatre on Sunday? Happy Mother’s Day!
[i] Cure for Vitamin D deficiency? More sun, less block: study 5/2/17 http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/cure-vitamin-deficiency-sun-block-study-article-1.3130619
[iii] Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature 6/30/15 http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/