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.
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.”
Sometimes it takes an outside force to make us look at things in a new light. When Nancy Whittemore became the Director of General Services in 2003, she was faced with not only changing the course of the operational side but the overall attitude of its employees.
With few procedures in place, Whittemore went on to redirect the course of General Services.
Whittemore and her team essentially changed the mantra of the department. “Our goal is to provide high performance buildings,” said Whittemore, “as well as improve job satisfaction and employee performance.”
As with most businesses, Whittemore and her team were charged with lowering operating costs. This meant creating standards for preventative maintenance, energy efficiency in the buildings, and more. “Honestly, we didn’t even call it ‘sustainability’ but that’s what we were doing. As long as you are doing the right things and put in the right business principles, it doesn’t matter whether you call it ‘going green’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Whittemore.
Incorporating sustainability within General Services came with the standardization Whittemore and her team were putting in place by addressing problem areas. At the time, there was no preventive maintenance plan in place, so the team had to figure out how to save money to replace mechanicals.
Funds were tight, but the department found areas where costs could be reduced with a better plan. “We found that where Metro was putting most of their money was around environmental issues,” said Whittemore.
Air quality, dampness and mold, low-performing mechanical equipment – these were all concerns that in the past had just been patched up. “We came up with a solution versus just a Band-aid,” said Whittemore.
These solutions included conducting a trash audit to justify a recycling program, data collection and physical inventory for each building. So when General Services was given the responsibility of building management, they were already on the right path.
But as with most solutions, it takes a group effort to make General Services run smoothly. Whittemore empowered her staff to try new things to save costs; whether they worked was secondary. “It’s OK here to say you tried this and it didn’t work,” said Whittemore.
Now with all hands on deck, General Services can continue to champion the cause of sustainability in Nashville.
Nothing empowers a team more than explaining the benefits of all their hard work. So when General Services Director Nancy Whittemore started implementing new procedures for the department – share mini-refrigerators, use the recycling bins, even eliminate unessential small appliances (e.g., coffee warmers) – she was sure to add the ever-necessary “Why?”
Part of the reason for the sustainability efforts within General Services came down from the city of Nashville.
“The [city] council passed legislation that all new buildings and rehabilitated buildings over $500,000 had to be LEED silver,” Whittemore explained.
Then, when General Services was challenged with the construction and design end of building operations, they were in the position to green the entire process.
This, plus the creation of the 2009 Green Ribbon Report at the time, made sustainability a driving force for the department. Soon after, General Services started using sustainable resources for its building construction. Bamboo, a renewable resource that regrows much faster than traditional hardwoods, was used for floors instead of tree-based wood. Recycled milk cartons were used for dividers in restrooms.
And many buildings had automatic light sensors installed so energy wouldn’t be used when no one was in the room. But when employees didn't understand why these new procedures would benefit them, Whittemore and her team had to come up with a plan.
And Socket was born.
"We believe if people understand what we’re trying to do then people will start doing the right thing," said Whittemore.
A source to disseminate the information behind these green decisions was essential. Whittemore met with Ameresco Inc., an independent provider of comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions for facilities. Their meeting led to an “A-ha” moment, according to Whittemore. “We love trying to figure out how you strategize to get people to buy in,” she said.
Their previous efforts – email correspondence, an updated website – didn’t turn on the city’s employees. With the Socket program, employees can understand why it’s important General Services continues to do what it does in the name of sustainability. “We’ve gone from being like the facility police to engaging our community of customers,” said Whittemore.
Socket is the outreach program of General Services and is now housed within the new Sustainability Division. Socket provides a platform for the department to convey its sustainability message with the use of Socket the mascot, the website, blog, newsletter, digital kiosks and other hi-tech touches.
“If people don’t know, we can’t expect them to understand it,” said Whittemore.
Through the Socket program, employees and Nashville visitors alike can learn about the city’s LEED facilities and how to live and work in more sustainable ways.
“This is an opportunity for us to tell our story,” said Whittemore. “We can showcase not only what General Services is doing but the mayor as well. There is so much going on in this city.”
Several buildings under General Services’ charge also have electric car power stations and bike racks to promote cleaner transportation options.