Article Authors: Annalisa Tarizzo, 2018-2020 CAC AmeriCorps Member
Christine Doka, CAC AmeriCorps Staff; Alum 2015-2018
Annalisa Tarizzo is a CAC AmeriCorps member currently serving a second term with the University of Tennessee, first with UT Recycling and now with the Office of Sustainability.
1. Tell me about your role within the University of Tennessee Office of Sustainability, and why you chose to serve at this site.
I spent my first term during the 2018-19 corps year as the Zero Waste Coordinator with UT Recycling. I chose this site and this role in particular because I wanted to gain experience working in sustainability at a large institution, and the Zero Waste Coordinator role seemed like one where I could take on a lot of responsibility fairly quickly. I was definitely correct in this assessment and I spent my first term doing a lot of hands-on work with campus waste reduction initiatives, which included implementing My Tiny Trash, ensuring smooth operation of the composting program and zero waste events, and creating a campus Zero Waste Commitment.
In the middle of my first year, UT Recycling merged with the UT Office of Sustainability. I decided to stay on for a second year because I felt I had a big opportunity to impact the direction of the newly formed office while trying something new. I ended up helping write the position description for my current role as Program Development Specialist, where I have been researching and strategizing ways to improve sustainability at UT and laying the groundwork for some new programming. This has included developing a Sustainability Master Plan, completing UT’s STARS report, writing a subsequent gap analysis report based on our STARS ranking, and developing materials and securing funding to launch a faculty/staff engagement initiative called the Green Office Program.
2. What projects have you been working on, what all do they entail, and what challenges, setbacks, and successes have you had with these projects?
Zero Waste Commitment:
This is probably the project I am most proud of. We worked with an organization called the Post-Landfill Network, who helped us assess the state of our waste infrastructure through stakeholder interviews and strategic planning sessions. They provided us with a report detailing their findings, which I then was able to take and turn into a proposal for the university to adopt an official commitment to achieve zero waste and how to get there. The current UT Chancellor Donde Plowman signed on to the Zero Waste Commitment this past January! Seeing this project through was another big reason that I decided to stay a second year.
While some of our momentum with this has been put on pause due to coronavirus, we have opened up some opportunities to start a couple new initiatives and I was able to develop a second proposal for how the university can specifically eliminate single-use plastics on campus. A couple successes from the Zero Waste Commitment so far include Panda Express switching from Styrofoam to compostable clamshells at their campus locations, a pilot program for reusable to-go containers at one of the campus cafes, and a commitment from Aramark, UT’s food provider, to transition the remaining single-use items in the dining halls to either reusable or compostable versions.
Sustainability Master Plan:
UT has a Climate Action Plan that was written in 2010 and has not been updated since then, so Jay asked me to take on this project at the beginning of my second term. The original CAP focused solely on greenhouse gas emissions, but we decided to expand the reach of the updated plan to include a more holistic look of what our office does.
I’ve conducted lots of stakeholder interviews with Jay to gather baseline information and then hosted a series of workshops with student groups, classes, and the Committee on the Campus Environment, UT’s sustainability committee, in an effort to gauge feedback on the potential projects we had compiled. We are going through some final approvals on the document and plan to publish it this month on Earth Day. We hope to eventually gain the blessing of some higher administrators to codify the goals we developed once normal campus operations resume.
My Tiny Trash:
I spent the majority of my first term working on this project. The goal of my Tiny Trash is to replace the regular trashcans that most employees have in their offices with a small 7-gallon bin that hangs on the side of their recycling bin. The size is supposed to be a visual reminder of the amount of waste we all produce. It is also too small to put lots of normally recyclable items like cans, bottles, and cardboard, so it encourages increased recycling. I acted as the face of the program, personally making this switch in every office and explaining to employees how the new program works. As a part of this project I also conducted building waste audits where I collected data on the recycling rates before the program began, with the ultimate goal that future AmeriCorps members will conduct a second round of audits to see if/how the rate changed. By the end of my term, I had conducted about 30 waste audits and implemented the program into approximately 4,000 offices across campus.
After Randall left I took on completing our STARS report, a benchmarking tool for sustainability in higher education. Normally this is something the data coordinator starts in September and works on until the deadline at the beginning of March. I ended up doing the whole thing in a month and a half to make the due date, so I’m pretty proud of that. I’m going to be using the remainder of my term to write an in-depth gap analysis report of our ranking and how we can improve in the future.
The former Office of Sustainability had a green office program years ago that ended because there was not enough time for staff to administer it. It is a certification program that most universities use to engage faculty and staff, so I thought it was important to bring it back. I re-did the certification system to make it easier to use and developed a bunch of new instructional materials and posters for offices to have a portfolio of sustainability resources available to them. I also proposed and won Green Fee funding for offices participating in the program. They will be able to use the money to purchase more energy efficient equipment, motion sensor light switches, and other energy saving items that would not normally be included in their office budget. The launch of this program has now been delayed twice, first by me inheriting the STARS report and now by coronavirus. I’m a little bummed I won’t be able to pilot it, but I’ve prepared everything I can think of so that next year’s member can hit the ground running.
4. What is your favorite AmeriCorps memory thus far?
My favorite AmeriCorps memory thus far has been the camaraderie that forms among the AmeriCorps members at UT. There are seven of us at the same site and we get to bond through all the long days spent collecting recycling at UT football games and hosting big campus events. We’ve got an awesome crew this year and I feel that we have been able to make more progress on our initiatives than we ever have in the past.
Of course, there is always something special about the relationships formed at the start of your service experience and some of my fondest AmeriCorps memories come from hanging out with the members from my first term. Our former student workers and current AmeriCorps members, Garrett Woods and Sean Melvin, would always affectionately refer to the 2018-19 UT members as the “AmeriGals” because of the close friendships we formed. We all still keep in touch regularly despite being dispersed around the region and country and I’ll always be grateful to AmeriCorps for serendipitously bringing us together.
5. If you could give any piece of advice to an incoming AmeriCorps member, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to dive in and let yourself feel the discomfort of having no clue what you’re doing. There is so much potential to make change as an AmeriCorps member, but it requires patience and persistence to find those opportunities. Sometimes you just need to make something out of nothing.
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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