CONTACT: Todd Lawrence, (615) 442-7072 or

Urban Green Lab & Partners Launch Statewide Curriculum to Inspire Sustainable Living, Prevent Waste in Cities

NASHVILLE, TN (July 10, 2018) -- Urban Green Lab, in partnership with Vanderbilt University, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, trained 30 Metro Nashville teachers today as part of a first-ever statewide curriculum aimed at training teachers how to integrate sustainable living education into their classrooms.  

Photo by Alex Berger

Photo by Alex Berger

The curriculum, entitled "Sustainable Classrooms," prepares instructors of 6th grade science and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, & Mathematics) how to teach students what they can do in their own homes and future workplaces to prevent waste and protect the Earth.  Topics include the basics of sustainability, energy waste, water waste, food waste, solid waste and litter, transportation and the built environment, and the quality of air.  

Each of Sustainable Classroom's seven lessons links to a take-home waste investigation where students calculate the use and waste of resources in their own households.  Investigations engage family members in the learning process too and list local services families can connect with to live more sustainably.  And throughout the experience, students imagine and plan a sustainable city themselves using a special game called the Sustainable City Challenge, which reinforces what they're learning in class.

"There's never been a more important time to teach about sustainable living," says Todd Lawrence, executive director of Urban Green Lab, the Nashville-based nonprofit spearheading the partnership.  "Teachers are agents of change in our schools and we want to make sure they have all the tools necessary to empower the next generation of life-long sustainability champions."  Urban Green Lab teaches, trains, and facilitates best practices among public and private partners so people know a basic set of simple sustainable lifestyle choices that prevents waste in classrooms, households, and workplaces. 


Sustainable Classrooms is multi-disciplinary and draws on many of the common best practices found in education today.  Each lesson aligns with Tennessee's newly-revised state science standards and targets what are known as the Four Cs of 21st Century Learning: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  

Karissa Hampton is beginning her second year as a sixth grade ELA (English Language Arts) teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Nashville and one of the Sustainable Classrooms trainees.  Thurgood Marshall is diverse, with some 35 countries represented by its student body alone.  

"Some students have heard the term 'sustainable living,' but don't know how to take action," says Hampton, a passionate advocate.  Many students are low-income, she describes, and living sustainably could help save money for them and their families over time.  "Knowing where you fit and how you can help engages students.  It feels good to know you're making an impact."

There’s never been a more important time to teach about sustainable living.

Teachers in the program are trained in clusters of two or three teachers per school to develop sustainable living "learning communities" that can grow and be self-sustaining themselves over time.  Because teachers are always in need of supplies, Urban Green Lab provides all the supplies necessary to teach the curriculum and is working closely with the U.S. Green Building Council to certify every teacher as Green Classroom Professionals.

Additionally, the project-based learning (PBL) nature of Sustainable Classrooms offers students hands-on understanding of sustainability strategies.  Sustainable Classrooms also links local solutions to global problems of waste, which reinforces a sense of service learning and social emotional learning (SEL) which is critical to developing personal responsibility.  Each lesson also introduces green careers, like hydrologists and solar technicians, to inspire jobs working in the sustainability field.   

Dr. Jennifer Berry leads the new STEAM Office for Metro Nashville Public Schools, where Sustainable Classrooms is being piloted.  According to Dr. Berry, we need to guide our youth in becoming stewards of global citizenship.  "Such a feat requires dedicated educators who understand the problems of tomorrow must be solved today in our classrooms," says Berry.  "Sustainable living education is vital to our city, state, and nation."

"One of the most important lessons for Sustainable Classrooms teachers," says Diana Andrew, who leads development of the project for Urban Green Lab, "is the idea that sustainability is more than just protecting our environment, but also a healthy economy and social equity, and that you can't sacrifice one for the sake of another.  All three -- people, profit, planet -- are necessary for a sustainable city to grow and thrive."

solid waste & a focus on prevention


Sustainable Classrooms is in response to a ten-year solid waste management plan by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) which calls for solid waste competencies throughout Tennessee schools.  Pat Flood, director of TDEC's division of solid waste management, views Sustainable Classrooms as essential to securing a shift in culture around sustainability in the state.  In the fall of 2017, Flood's division awarded Urban Green Lab a two-year $419,000 grant to pilot Sustainable Classrooms in Nashville before moving on to other densly-populated cities in the state like Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Memphis.  

"TDEC developed the 2015-2025 Solid Waste Management Plan to create a roadmap to improve the management of wastes, conserve waste disposal capacity, and capture historically-discarded materials to fuel Tennessee’s economic growth," says Flood.  "Part of the plan supports education and outreach to bring this vision to fruition, and Urban Green Lab’s Sustainable Classrooms program is an excellent tool to help educate students."  

Knowing where you fit and how you can help engages students.

Another important thread woven throughout the new Sustainable Classrooms curriculum is a focus on litter.  According to Keep Tennessee Beautiful, a University of Memphis department, over 50 billion pieces of litter end up on U.S. roadways every year.  That's an average of nearly 7,000 items per mile, $12 billion in clean-up costs, and even higher tolls on waterways, oceans, and the biodiversity humans depend on.  

For this reason, the Tennessee Department of Transportation contributed another $200,000 to Sustainable Classrooms in 2018 through a special litter grant to make sure Tennesseans grow up litter-free from the beginning of life, and that first depends on a firm understanding of solid waste prevention.  The Department's slogan "Nobody Trashes Tennessee" speaks to its goal of keeping the state waste-free.   

The problem of waste is growing in Nashville and around Tennessee.  The Middle Point Landfill, for example, which serves Davidson County and surrounding counties, is scheduled to close in the next five to 10 years, which will drive up costs to haul and tip trash in counties almost 100 miles away.  According to a recent waste characterization study by Metro Nashville Public Works, nearly 80 percent of Nashville's residential waste in landfills -- including organics, paper, plastic, glass, and metal -- could have been recycled, reused, or reduced altogether.  

Metro Nashville Public Works is leading development of a solid waste master plan that reaches an aspirational goal of 90 percent waste reduction.  The plan calls for an increase in public education to help grow support and understanding of the plan's recommendations.  

Photo by Alex Berger

Photo by Alex Berger

MEASURING impact: The teacher is the student too

Before embarking on the Sustainable Classrooms, Urban Green Lab spent a year with Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University to understand the current school climate regarding teacher and administration attitudes, practices, and resources available to create a community of learning professionals with an eye towards sustainability education.  Vanderbilt interviewed 68 principals and teachers in Nashville using a triangulated multi-modal approach to be carried out as teachers implement the program in their classrooms.  

Researchers found that most principals were not familiar with sustainable living education, and that teachers do not yet have sufficient knowledge of basic sustainable living facts and terms themselves, such as energy, water, and solid waste concepts.  

However, Vanderbilt discovered that 90 percent of teachers surveyed do have positive feelings towards sustainable living education and want more of it, even though 43 percent of them feel unprepared to teach it because of poor knowledge of the subject (30 percent), little time to create lessons for it (30 percent), few materials on the topic (92 percent), and no formal training on the subject (94 percent).  

Chris Vanags, director of research initiatives at Peabody, says the results prove a path forward for teaching sustainable living education in the state.  "The majority of perceived barriers to this type of education were based less on cultural stigma, and more on school culture and teacher preparation.  Urban Green Lab wants to build a culture of sustainable living education within schools with the chance of dramatically changing school learning environments."  

Urban Green Lab and partners will use newly-designed observation rubrics, pre-post testing, and a year-end impact review meeting to determine Sustainable Classrooms' ultimate impact.


read more & get involved

Learn more about Sustainable Classrooms, the partnership, and future teacher trainings, plus view samples of the new curriculum  at  To learn more about Urban Green Lab, visit