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What You Can Do

The FutureVU Sustainability Leaders Program, launched in 2020, uses community engagement and peer mentoring to foster a sustainable campus culture, improve sustainability literacy, improve interaction with sustainability initiatives such as Net Zero Energy and Zero Waste, and encourage and enable positive behavior change within campus, student, departmental, administrative, professional, residential, and other VU communities. Sustainability Leaders support Vanderbilt’s carbon neutrality goal through culture change, education, peer mentoring, and facilitation of actionable goals.

Volunteer membership in the Sustainability Leaders program includes:

  • Monthly meeting throughout the academic year
  • Leaders will also facilitate sustainable office/department/residence certifications in their areas, provide education and guidance at departmental and organizational meetings and events, plan outreach events and competitions, and lead by personal example


Below are some resources for making your home and garden more sustainable, and for supporting efforts to make Nashville more sustainable.

Nashville Civic Design Center

The Nashville Civic Design Center is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to elevate the quality of Nashville’s built environment and to promote public participation in the creation of a more beautiful and functional city.

Gardens of Babylon

Gardens of Babylon is a mission-focused company eager to be the eco-conscious garden market and landscape company whose passion is to inspire our community to create and enjoy a healthier environment and greener lifestyle.

Cumberland Region Tomorrow

Cumberland Region Tomorrow is a private, non-profit, citizen-based regional organization working with public and private partners, dedicated to planning for the future livability and economic vitality of our ten-county region. In our work we support and encourage growth planning, with emphasis on land use, transportation, and preservation of the rural landscape and character of the region’s communities.

Urban Land Institute Nashville

ULI Nashville provides leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. ULI focuses its work around several priority areas including sustainability and climate change, housing, infrastructure, public realm, places of commerce, capital markets and finance, and development at the edge.

Food choices can have a substantial impact on the environment. We have several tips for a more sustainable diet:

  • Reduce meat consumption where possible, especially beef.
  • Try to find food labeled by an independent third party, such as USDA organic or MSC seafood.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets and buy local to reduce your carbon footprint from food transportation (and get fresher foods!).

Here are some examples of sustainable food vendors:

Produce Place

The Produce Place provides fresh produce, organic products, fair-trade coffee, fresh eggs, seafood, meat, and much more.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market is the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods. Items are available in various departments including bakery, beer, bulk, cheese, coffee and tea, floral, grocery, meat and poultry, prepared foods, produce, seafood, body, and more. Three stores are located in the Greater Nashville Area and catering is available at select locations.

The Turnip Truck

The Turnip Truck specializes in selling organic, natural, and local food products and natural medicinal remedies. The Gulch store offers a selection of hot, prepared food.

Local CSAs

As part of a Community Supported Agriculture program, a consumer purchases a share from a local farmer and receives a box of fresh produce weekly throughout the growing season. See a list of CSAs in the Nashville area.

Local Farmers’ Markets

A farmers’ market allows for the purchase of locally grown or produced products in an open-air environment. See a list of farmers’ markets in the Nashville area.

Local Table

Local Table Magazine highlights local farmers and food from Middle Tennessee.

Slow Food Middle Tennessee

Slow Food Middle Tennessee helps you to eat good, clean, and fair food. They advocate for local and sustainable food in the Middle Tennessee community.

Wondering how you can save energy in your dorm, office, on campus, or in your home? Check out these energy conservation tips!


Lighting accounted for approximately 17.1% of electricity use in commercial buildings in 2012, according to the Department of Energy.

  • Make use of natural lighting as much as possible.  Adjustable blinds can let in light while reducing glare.
  • Change to light emitting diodes (LEDs) in lamps and equipment when possible. According to Arcadia, LEDs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 100,000 hours. Switching to LEDs can save you 50-70% on your lighting energy bill.
  • Turn off lights when areas are unoccupied, especially in common spaces like kitchens and bathrooms.  Assign someone in your office to perform a lighting sweep to turn off all the lights at the end of the day!

Heating, cooling, and ventilating buildings accounted for 32.7% of electricity use in commercial buildings in 2012.

  • Keep thermostats set to reasonable temperatures. Suggested temperatures are 75°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter. When you leave for the day, weekend, or an extended period, consider moderating your thermostat more radically.
  • Dress for the season and in layers so you can moderate your own temperature.
  • Close shades and blinds during the hottest period of the day in the summer to keep heat out and cool air in. Open shades during the winter to take advantage of natural heating.
  • If the indoor temperature in your area seems extremely cold or hot, call Plant Operations (4-9675) or VUMC Plant Services (2-2041) to inform them of the temperature extremes. A simple repair can save a lot of energy and improve comfort.
  • Don’t block air vents with bookcases, large plants, or other items.

Computers, equipment, and other “plug-in” devices consumed approximately 13.6% of the electricity in commercial buildings in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Activate sleep or hibernate modes on computers, printers, copiers, and fax machines in your office and at home. Better yet – turn them off when not in use!  Today’s devices are designed for sleep mode settings and frequent shut-downs. Here are instructions for adjusting power settings on your computer.
  • Turn computers, printers, copiers, and other machinery off overnight and on weekends. If you must leave a CPU on, turn off the monitor.
  • Unplug electronics from the wall when they are not in use, especially those that are rarely used. Many appliances continue to draw power even when they are turned off.  You can also try plugging them into a power strip.
  • When replacing old computers, printers, TVs, freezers, stoves, or refrigerators, purchase EnergyStar-rated models.
  • Instead of using the elevator, take the stairs. You’ll save energy and get some exercise. (The average office elevator consumes 350 watts of electricity to travel from one floor to the next, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. That’s enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 3.5 hours!)

Energy Conservation in Laboratories

  • The typical lab consumes four to five times more energy than the same-sized office or classroom.
  • Chemical fume hoods (of which Vanderbilt has more than 800) are the biggest energy consumer in research settings. While it is important to have the sashes open to the proper location to protect lab personnel when using fume hoods, 20% (or more) energy reductions can be achieved by closing the sashes when not in use.
  • Unplug battery chargers and equipment when not in use.
  • Turn off equipment when it is not in use and encourage others to do the same. For sophisticated equipment, make it simple for co-workers to turn off equipment by posting procedures for proper start-up and shutdown on or near equipment.
  • Turn off centrifuges overnight and over the weekend.
  • Provide freezers/refrigerators with proper spacing (2-3 inches minimum clearance from walls or obstructions).
  • Eliminate unnecessary freezers/refrigerators by getting rid of items that are no longer needed and combining contents into fewer freezers/refrigerators. (Please contact Plant Services or Plant Operations if your department needs to get rid of an appliance.)
  • Instead of buying a freezer/refrigerator for additional space, eliminate old samples and solutions from existing freezers/refrigerators.
  • Keep refrigerators and freezers organized (give each person a section) so that cleanup and removal of old samples is easier. Before a group moves out of your area, ask them to get rid of unnecessary samples and condense their items into the smallest space possible.
  • When purchasing a new refrigerator, invest in an EnergyStar-rated replacement.

SEMO has developed a number of Greening Guides to help you make your department, event, holiday gathering, or furniture purchase more sustainable.

Vanderbilt has a variety of resources for people looking to get involved in climate change research. Internally, projects and institutes span several undergraduate and graduate schools. There are also opportunities in Nashville outside of the Vanderbilt network to get involved in research and learn more about sustainability.

Climate Change Research Network

The Climate Change Research Network at Vanderbilt includes a team of faculty and graduate students who are conducting theoretical and applied research on one of the most important and most widely overlooked sources of greenhouse gases: individual and household behavior. The Climate Change Research Network is affiliated with the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment.

Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and the Environment

The Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and the Environment (VIEE) engages in research and education that directly links the social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences, engineering, law, and policy that bear on energy and environmental decision making by individuals and by public and private institutions. Specifically, VIEE research elucidates the relationships among individual, institutional, and societal choices for energy production and use, and the impacts and benefits of these choices on the environment and health through links with climate, water quality, economics, social psychology, and natural resources.


The Vanderbilt Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency (VECTOR), established in 1988, has a solid record of achievement and is committed to continued excellence in all three of its mission components—research, education, and outreach. Recognizing the complexity of transportation issues in the private sector and at every level of government, VECTOR emphasizes the integration of transportation engineering, planning, and management. Other distinguishing characteristics of VECTOR’s work include ground-breaking applications of information technology and risk management, systems thinking, and adherence to our statement of shared values.

The Cumberland Project

The Cumberland Project is a combined effort between the American Studies program and the Center for Teaching which seeks to help educators design courses that include significant environmental and sustainability components.

Contact Info:
Joe Bandy, Assistant Director, Center for Teaching

Tennessee Environmental Council

The Tennessee Environmental Council seeks to educate and advocate for the improvement of Tennessee’s environment, communities, and public health.

Cumberland River Compact

The Cumberland River Compact protects the Cumberland River by engaging businesses, government, farmers, miners, and all community members in the problem-solving process.

Tennessee Conservation Voters

Tennessee Conservation Voters is a coalition of state conservation groups dedicated to raising voter awareness, advocating for stronger laws, and holding elected leaders accountable for safeguarding the environment of Tennessee.

Tips for Reducing Paper Use

Paper is the largest component of the solid waste stream in the United States by weight, comprising about 40% of total waste, or 81.3 million tons a year.

The amount of paper used in office settings can be reduced by printing less, reusing where appropriate, and recycling. Specific steps you can take to reduce paper usage include:

  • Communicate electronically and create hard copies only when needed. Edit documents on screen using the “track changes” function and bookmark websites instead of printing.
  • Change all printers, copiers, and faxes to double-sided printing settings.
  • Consider electronic magazine subscriptions and electronic books whenever possible or purchasing an Amazon Kindle or similar eReader. Books, PDFs, and Word documents can be sent to eReaders for reading on the go.
  • Use electronic file storage instead of printed files. There are many tools available for you to organize, share, and edit documents electronically to reduce your paper use.

Metro Public Works’ Recycling Programs

The Metro Public Works Division of Waste Management in Nashville and Davidson Country encourages residents and businesses to reduce waste. Curbside recycling collection is provided to single-family homes in the Urban Services District of Nashville and is collected once a month. Residents must place recyclables in their green roll-out cart. Residents and businesses located outside of the Urban Services District may use any of the Metro Public Works recycling drop-off and convenience centers located through Davidson County.


Earth911 aims to provide consumers with recycling information across the country via a comprehensive recycling directory of locations for numerous types of materials and items.

Click here for more information about on-campus recycling


Energy and Environmental Law Society

The Energy and Environmental Law Society is an organization for students interested in learning more about environmental law and environmental legal careers. This group has sponsored numerous speakers, panels, and activities since its inception and aims to strengthen relationships between Vanderbilt Law students and local environmental groups.

Owen Graduate School of Management Net Impact

Owen Net Impact is a member of the larger Net Impact community with over 150 student and professional chapters worldwide. Net Impact aims to positively contribute to a community of new leaders in fields such as corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, international development, and environmental sustainability who will use business to improve the world.  Net Impact has in the past hosted events such as a Green Career Symposium, “Green Week” and the Net Impact National Conference.  This group has also partnered with the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office to devise business plans and programming for various environmental projects and efforts on campus. Read more about it here.

Vanderbilt Green Fund

The Vanderbilt Green Fund is a fund of $150,000 set aside for sustainability projects proposed by students. Members of SPEAR and VSG worked with the Division of Administration and OHARE to establish the Green Fund in the spring of 2011. The VGF looks for innovative and educational ideas that improve sustainability on campus. Learn more here.

Vanderbilt Initiative for Vegetarian Awareness (VIVA)

Vanderbilt Initiative for Vegetarian Awareness (VIVA) exists for the promotion and dissemination of information relating to a vegetarian/vegan diet, its ethics, and related issues. VIVA advocates a vegetarian lifestyle and the benefits derived thereof which include the positive effect on human health, avoidance of animal suffering, and an improvement of our planetary environment. Join them on Anchorlink here.

Vanderbilt SPEAR

Vanderbilt SPEAR‘s mission is to increase environmental awareness and promote more environmentally sustainable habits and infrastructure within the Vanderbilt and Nashville community. Various projects sponsored by this organization include cardboard crew, compost discovery area, house energy competitions, Climate Change Solutions Week, pollinator garden, and Rites of Spring recycling. Find them on Anchorlink here.

Vanderbilt Student Government Environmental Affairs Sub-committee

Housed under the Residential and Environmental Affairs Committee, the VSG environmental affairs sub-committee promotes sustainability efforts and needs on campus, including the facilitation of the Think Gold, Act Green Coalition, and other activities.


VUMC C.A.R.E.S is a medical student graduate group that promotes environmental and social responsibility among the medical community. This organization is responsible for implementing solid waste recycling within School of Medicine areas and creating an environmental/recycling lab pledge program. Over the last several years this organization has sponsored lectures that have addressed issues in the environment and how modern medicine affects or is affected by them.


Wilskills (Wilderness Skills 101) is Vanderbilt’s outdoor adventure club. The student-run course integrates classroom lectures with outdoor weekend experiences. Find them on Anchorlink here.

Wildlife Conservation Club

Vanderbilt’s Wildlife Conservation Club promotes animal welfare and conservation in the contexts of zoos, entertainment industries, research facilities, and the wild (e.g. anti-poaching, habitat preservation) via awareness campaigns, educational trips, and volunteering. Find them on Anchorlink here.

To reduce emissions stemming from transportation, follow these best practices:

  • Walk or ride a bike whenever possible
  • Use your Commodore Card to ride WeGo public transit for free
  • Take VandyRide during the evening hours
  • Carpool, vanpool, or use a ridesharing service
  • If you have an electric vehicle, charge at one of the many charging stations on campus

Pie charts illustrating the university's current mode share and future goal mode share

For more information on commuting and transportation options, visit MoveVU; Vanderbilt’s strategic transportation and mobility plan that falls under the FutureVU comprehensive campus planning efforts. MoveVU's goals align with FutureVU Guiding Principles to beautify the campus, preserve and enhance the park-like character people enjoy, create a walkable and sustainable campus, and better connect areas of campus that feel disconnected. MoveVU calls for diversification of transportation options, reduction of the drive alone rate to campus that aligns with university goals to become carbon neutral, prioritization of pedestrian and micromobility, and improvement of accessibility.

Greening your life is a good start, and the next step is getting involved to make the broader community more sustainable. The following partners offer substantial opportunities to make a difference in the Nashville community.

Community Food Advocates

Community Food Advocates has made a mission of ending hunger and creating a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. They are a diverse group who share the common idea that access to food that promotes the health of an individual and the planet is a right of all citizens. They are working to end food deserts, promote school gardens and healthy food for school children, and encourage participation in federal Food Stamp programs, among other projects.

Hands On Nashville

Hands On Nashville’s Home Energy Savings (HES) Program engages volunteers to improve the energy efficiency of homes owned by Nashvillians living on low incomes. Through HES, volunteers install improvements that increase comfort and decrease utility costs, resulting in an average savings of $390 per year* for HES residents. Since 2011, homeowners have saved more than $275,000 (based on utility bill analysis) thanks to Hands On Nashville volunteers.

Harpeth River Watershed

The Harpeth River Watershed Association works to preserve the ecological health of the Harpeth River and its watershed through advocacy and hands-on work.

Clean Air Partnership

The Clean Air Partnership of Middle Tennessee provides air quality alerts and educates citizens about air quality and small steps they can take to improve the quality of local air.

Nashville Nature Centers

There are four Nashville Nature Centers which work to educate the public about environmental concerns and provide responsible outdoor recreation. The nature centers are open year-round and offer programs, special events, field trips, natural history information and literature, maps, and naturalists to answer your questions.

Nashville Greenways

Nashville Greenways connect neighborhoods to schools, shopping areas, downtown, offices, and other important locations. Often located along natural landscape features like streams, rivers and ridges, or along built features, such as railroad corridors and scenic highways, greenways provide valuable greenspace for conservation, recreation and alternative transportation. Greenways provide all citizens with barrier-free access to natural resources and recreational opportunities.

To do your part to save water:

In Residence Halls

In Offices and Labs

  • Turn off the water when it is not in use
  • Report water leaks, broken toilets, and dripping faucets by contacting Plant Operations (615-343-9675)
  • Wash full, rather than partial, loads of labware, dishes, or clothes.