The University of Tennessee: Where Efficiency Meets Environmentalism

January 05, 2017

The green cleaning program at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has been leading the way since 2006. Over the past 10 years, the school has continued to expand its square footage through a series of construction projects, but the custodial department hasn’t missed a beat in keeping up its commitment to environmentally responsible, efficient cleaning. We are delighted to congratulate this university on its Green Cleaning Award, Honorable Mention (Chemical Reduction).

One way the university is able to innovate its program is by being resourceful, says Preston Jacobsen, sustainability manager. “Universities are their own cities. We have a lot of brainpower and resources, because we’re an educational center.” Jacobsen calls his campus a living laboratory. That translates to a lot of opportunities to tap into green expertise both in-house and across campus.For example, the University of Tennessee Department of Public Health graduate program assisted Facilities Services in identifying healthier hand soaps for use across campus, which resulted in environmentally friendly hand soap, developed by students, which uses synthetic

For example, the University of Tennessee Department of Public Health graduate program assisted Facilities Services in identifying healthier hand soaps for use across campus, which resulted in environmentally friendly hand soap, developed by students, which uses synthetic lancelin soap instead of animal-based lancelin. “So why not tap into other opportunities to bring more partners in? If we can get ownership mentality established, we can grow across campus,” says Jacobsen.

The school’s sustainability office works hand in hand with the school’s facilities department. The two groups meet monthly and quarterly, where they identify new green cleaning topics. “Our office is about relationship building,” says Jacobsen. “We are here to benefit the campus economically through environmental work.”

One of the biggest ways that work comes into play is in data collection. The sustainability office collects purchasing data, vehicle and fuel expenditure data and more every year. “If there is a data set for it, we are collecting it,” says Jacobsen. They use this data for analytical insight and trends to correct or get ahead.

One example in where this data collection came in handy was a recent choice the campus made between the use of paper towels or hand driers. A data analyst coordinator hopped in trucks with people who deliver paper towels and asked questions about the process. Jacobsen and his team call that the 30,000-foot view, which he defines as an “operational perspective with combination of products and effect thereafter.”

The challenge for his department was to understand the construction costs for each location with hand dryers, taking into account the age of the building. After looking into some paper towel composting programs and then starting a pilot program, the university decided to go with hand dryers. This is a wonderful example of how the sustainability office and facilities department worked seamlessly together to analyze a process and come up with the right solution—from both an efficiency and economic standpoint. “We consider sustainability to be an efficiency gains model,” says Jacobsen. “And everything we do has an environmental benefit.”

Learn more about the Green Cleaning Award and consider applying for it next year! We will be announcing our 2017 winners soon, and featuring some new and innovative programs like the University of Tennessee in upcoming blogs.