Go Green With Us

February 23, 2023, Department, by Kelsey Davis

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Recently, Tennessee State Parks were the recipients of the National Association of State Park Directors’ 2022 President’s Award for its Go Green With Us (GGWU) initiative. GGWU began in 2015 as a recycling initiative. Today, it’s a comprehensive program that implements sustainable practices throughout park operations and provides sustainable options for park guests.

Creating the GGWU Program

Before the program launch, a GGWU Committee compiled a comprehensive guide outlining actions staff and visitors can take to effectively incorporate environmental sustainability into all aspects of park operations. During the first year of rolling out its guidelines, GGWU was a voluntary program. As of October 2018, the implementation of the guidelines became mandatory for all 56 Tennessee State Parks.

Tracking Progress Through Data

The program uses nine metrics for evaluation. Through this process, parks can earn Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum recognition levels. Parks accumulate points for completing designated tasks within the GGWU guidelines. Additionally, GGWU encourages participation in other sustainability programs, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Food Recovery Challenge, Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, Groundwater Guardian Green Program and more.

In the first year of the program, no park reached Platinum, and only three parks reached Gold. Five years later, however, continued dedication and lots of hard work led to 22 parks reaching Gold and 28 achieving Platinum recognition.

Program Impacts

The program has had a significant impact on environmental stewardship and carbon footprint reduction. A few examples include:

  • Energy efficiency upgrades — including LED lighting retrofits; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacements; building envelope improvements; low-flow water fixture installation; water heater upgrades and EPA Clean Air-certified wood burning stoves — resulted in savings of $1.8 million, 18,685,662 kilowatt hours and 14,576 tons of carbon dioxide emissions through fiscal year 2021.
  • Major recycling upgrades made in 2018 helped capture and recycle 394 tons of material in 2021 and more than 1,068 tons of recycling since installation.
  • Through food waste diversion, donation and composting, Tennessee State Parks have diverted 208 tons of food waste from landfills.
  • Four Tennessee State Parks used recycled tires to replace or renew pathways, diverting more than 50,000 tires away from landfills.
  • More than 300 cigarette butt recycling receptacles have been installed through a partnership with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful to reduce waste and keep waterways clean. This will result in an estimated 16,365 cigarette butts recycled annually.
  • More than 40 water bottle filling stations have been installed across parks, leading to a decrease of an estimated 647 million single-use bottles annually — the equivalent of 59,138 tons of carbon dioxide prevented and 66.7 million gallons of water saved in just the first year.
  • Tennessee State Parks are partnering with Rivian to install electric vehicle charging stations.  

GGWU improves the overall sustainability of Tennessee State Parks while simultaneously leading by example and encouraging others — such as park visitors, staff and surrounding states — to join the initiative. The biggest program results have come from the dedicated efforts of park staff who work every day to reduce our environmental impact and share enthusiasm and best practices with park guests, all while keeping the parks running smoothly and protecting park resources.

Kelsey Davis is Sustainability Coordinator for Tennessee State Parks at Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.