Knoxville’s Energy & Sustainability Initiative and Chattanooga’s Build it Green Program Announced Winners of the 2020 Tennessee Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards (GESA)

The Tennessee Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards (GESA) are presented annually to recognize outstanding achievements by individuals, local governments, businesses, organizations, educational institutions, and agencies for successful environmental projects and conservation measures. This year, two projects of the Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund, the Built it Green Program of Chattanooga and Knoxville's Energy & Sustainability Initiative. Congratulations to all the project partners for receiving the recognition their hard work deserves! See more information on the award below:


NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers today announced the winners of the 2020 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.

“Tennesseans continue to show their commitment to the environment in innovative ways, and we want to recognize their outstanding efforts,” Lee said. “These awards show that responsible environmental stewardship is happening across our state.”

The Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards program recognizes exceptional voluntary actions that improve or protect our environment and natural resources with projects or initiatives not required by law or regulation.

In its 34th year, the awards program covers nine categories: agriculture and forestry; building green; clean air; energy and renewable resources; environmental education and outreach; materials management; natural resource conservation; sustainable performance; and water quality conservation.

“This year’s Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards reflect a diverse approach to environmental responsibility,” Salyers said. “The winners are worthy of this recognition, and we are proud of the example they set for all of us.”


Winner: City of Knoxville
County: Knox
Category: Energy and Renewable Resources

When the City of Knoxville launched its Energy & Sustainability Initiative in 2017, it quickly became obvious that converting the city’s roughly 29,000 streetlights to LEDs would yield huge benefits for both the environment and the city’s bottom line. The streetlights were the city’s largest municipal use of electricity, and the bill to “keep the lights on” topped more than $4 million annually. Started in 2017 and completed in 2019, the project reduces streetlight energy consumption by more than 65 percent. Additionally, since the lifespan of LEDs is far longer than the former high-pressure sodium streetlights, the project will also significantly reduce maintenance costs and outages in neighborhoods and other critical roadways. As a result of this project, utility bills for streetlighting will decrease by $3 million per year and associated maintenance costs will decrease by $2 million per year. The city will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 13,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The new LEDs provide a crisp, bright light and help limit light pollution which minimizes impacts on nocturnal wildlife, reduces glare and sky glow, and improves nightscapes.


Winner: green|spaces
County: Hamilton
Category: Environmental Education and Outreach

green|spaces of Chattanooga, in partnership with Build Me a World, launched a workforce development program, to prepare at-risk young adults for construction and energy services industry jobs. Two training programs – one in Baltimore and one in Chattanooga – aim to help generate pathways out of poverty for young adults through job readiness training, community organizing and outreach training, and technical training in the green building field. Affordability of utilities is one of the greatest challenges to low-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga. This program brings solutions to issues of energy efficiency in low-income areas as well as a pipeline for employment into the green economy.

Build it Green (BIG) is a 12-week program that will prepare young adults from low-income communities for entry level jobs in the energy services field, while equipping them to engage low-income residents in sustainability practices and programs, particularly best practices in residential energy efficiency and weatherization programs. The program consists of six weeks of community engagement, personal development, and job readiness training, and another six weeks of technical training in weatherization and community sustainability. Program participants also receive weekly job shadowing and off-site job training opportunities, paid job shadowing opportunities, and other benefits, such as OSHA 10 Certification and Lead Abatement Certification. Leading up to completion, trainees are provided with job placement assistance with local companies. Since 2018 the program has graduated 38 individuals with 80 percent placement and retention in employment.