The following timeline shows important events in the history of environmental sustainability at UT. Please e-mail any comments on or corrections for the timeline to the Office of Sustainability.


1970 – The Faculty-led Self-­Study Committee on the University and the Environment, chaired by W. L. Shouse, issues a report recommending a number of actions to reduce the campus’s environmental impact.


1991 – UT begins a cardboard and office paper recycling program to comply with waste reduction requirements outlined in the State of Tennessee’s Solid Waste Management Act.

1993 – Students Mary Anne Peine, Michele Case, and Steve Hixson, with the help of Professor Mike McKinney, establish Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville (SPEAK).

1994 – SPEAK organizes a peaceful demonstration to draw attention to alleged safety violations at the Watts Bar nuclear plant. The event receives national media attention.

1995 – The Student Government Association (SGA) requests recycling bins for campus residence halls. SPEAK hosts a solar-powered rock concert with the environmental organization Greenpeace as part of UT’s Earth Week celebration.

1998 – The Greening of Big Orange report written by students Mary Anne Peine and Jamie Pizzirusso, with advising from Professor John Nolt, compares UT’s environmental progress with that of other universities and offers recommendations for improvements. SPEAK spearheads a recycled paper purchasing referendum passed in the student government elections. SGA and SPEAK collaborate with Facilities Services to establish drop-off recycling locations near campus residence halls and fraternities.

1999 – The Committee on the Campus Environment (CCE) is established by Chancellor William Snyder. CCE becomes the environmental advisory committee of the Office of the Chancellor.


2002 – A recycling taskforce is formed and proposes a full-time position.

2003 – Alumna Sarah Surak is hired as UT’s first full-time recycling coordinator. UT Recycling expands to include paper, aluminum, plastic, and cardboard.

2004 – UT Recycling begins composting green waste collected from campus grounds. A SPEAK-backed clean energy referendum passes in student government elections. At the request of by CCE co-chairs Mary English and John Nolt, the administration establishes a campus environmental policy.

2005 – In response to the student clean energy referendum, the Board of Trustees increases the student facilities fee to establish funding for green power purchasing and campus sustainability initiatives. CCE publishes the first-ever UT Environmental Progress Report. UT designates spring semester 2005 as “the Environmental Semester.” Led by the University Studies Program and Environmental Semester coordinators Neil Greenberg and Mary English, the campus celebrates teaching, research, and outreach activities in which the environment, conservation, or sustainable development is a central or significant component.

2006 – The Make Orange Green campaign is launched by CCE, Facilities Services, the Office of Media and Internal Relations, and the Student Environmental Initiatives Committee. UT Facilities Services begins using green cleaning products in academic and administrative buildings.

2007 – UT becomes the first university in the United States certified for green cleaning practices. Chancellor Loren Crabtree signs the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and enacts the UT Sustainable Building Policy. CCE collaborates with researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to create a 25-Year Conceptual Energy Plan for UT. Facilities Services establishes two new positions—environmental coordinator (Jay Price) and sustainability manager (Sarah Surak). The latter coordinates the new Office of Sustainability. Honors Student Leslie Chinery completes UT’s first greenhouse gas emissions inventory, an important first step toward fulfilling the ACUPCC.

2008 – Interim Chancellor Jan Simek adopts an energy conservation policy, establishing that campus building temperatures will be maintained at 68 or 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and launches the Switch Your Thinking campaign. The National Science Foundation awards UT a $3 million dollar, five-year grant through its Sustainable Technology through Advanced Interdisciplinary Research (STAIR) program.

2009 – An environmental compliance management system is approved by Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. UT’s Team Living Light qualifies for the 2011 DOE Solar Decathlon.


2010 – UT Recycling launches a food waste composting program. The Climate Action Plan is approved by Chancellor Cheek. A graduate certificate in sustainability science is established by the STAIR program.

2011 – Chancellor Cheek launches the Chancellor’s Challenge campaign to build upon energy savings realized from Switch Your Thinking. UT achieves a  STARS Silver Rating for its efforts to integrate  sustainability into university education and research, operations, planning, administration, and engagement. UT Recycling and UT Volunteer Dining launch the Mug Project to reduce beverage container waste. The Long-Term Master Plan contains goals and strategies for promoting environmentally friendly forms of transportation, including bicycling, walking, and transit. The campus environmental policy is revised to emphasize UT’s commitment to environmental compliance and pollution prevention.

2012 – Ayres Hall becomes first LEED-certified building on campus. The College of Arts and Sciences establishes a sustainability major. The University of Tennessee System mission statement, revised as part of the 2012 UT System Strategic Plan, recognizes that UT System’s education, discovery, outreach, and public service contribute to the economic, social, and environmental well-being of Tennesseans.