Chasing Conservation through ConServe Knoxville

Article Author:
Christine Doka, CAC AmeriCorps Staff; Alum 2015-2018

A year of service through CAC AmeriCorps can look different from person to person. Depending on your service site, you could be engaging in anything from hiking to remove invasive plant species, performing environmental education, or building capacity through the office or organization you are serving with. As staff, we often tell members that their year of service is, “What you make of it,” and current second year member Chase Steele has definitely made an effort to leave his mark on the Knoxville community by creating a brand new sustainability certification program!

After volunteering at his first EarthFest, Chase was inspired by the zero-waste initiatives of the event. He began to wonder, “If this event can work with food vendors to produce no landfill waste, why can’t someone create a program that helps area restaurants do the same?” He began to do research to see if any other cities have taken on a similar project. He discovered a few, one of which being the California Green Business Network. After a few conference calls and some brainstorming on how something similar in Knoxville could work, he brought the idea to his site supervisor who gave him the green light – and that is when ConServe Knoxville was born!

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To put it simply, ConServe Knoxville is a green restaurant certification program sponsored by the City of Knoxville Solid Waste division (Chase’s service site). To further elaborate, “As a community over the last 10 years, Knoxville has significantly increased the amount of waste diverted from our landfills. Approximately 30% of the City’s waste stream is recycled or mulched for reuse. Much of this progress can be attributed to the more than 28,000 households opting to participate in single-stream recycling collection, which makes recycling easy by eliminating the need to separately sort paper, plastics, and metal products. About a third of our recycled material comes from those dedicated recyclers who take their materials to one of our five drop-off centers.

To continue pushing towards a greener future for our current and future residents, the City of Knoxville Solid Waste division would like to challenge our thriving restaurants and food outlets to reduce food waste and minimize waste sent to the landfill.”

real forksIn order to become certified through ConServe Knoxville, there are some general requirements, such as using reusable dishware when customers are dining in, and some optional requirements that offer businesses the flexibility to meet the standards in a way that works for them.  In addition, there is a yearly walkthrough with someone from the solid waste office to ensure the integrity of the certification. In return, restaurants receive a certificate, a wall cling, as well as getting featured as a participating business on the ConServe Knoxville website.

good-golly.jpgSo far, Chase has successfully gotten one local restaurant, Good Golly Tamale, certified, and is in the process of talking with more local business owners to get them on board. However, creating and implementing a brand new program hasn’t been easy – Chase has had to amend the requirements of the program a bit so that it didn’t end up hurting businesses more than helping them. For example, when talking to local restaurant owners, one manager stated that it seemed like a great program, but they couldn’t quite afford to get rid of their plastic bags because paper bags were too expensive. Chase took it upon himself to find an affordable paper bag alternative, but ultimately decided to do away with that requirement after reading an article citing that you would have to reuse a paper bag at least three times to equal out the greenhouse gas emissions it takes to create a paper bag.

With only a few months left in his service term, Chase has been focusing on finalizing the initial stages of the program so that he can pass it along to the next member who serves at his site. He’s thinking about long term goals of the program, such as a stable social media presence, business spotlights, and even toying with the idea of collaborating with different local non-profits to fully see it through.

This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.

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