Always Greener

Local Businesses Investing in a Sustainable Future for Chattanooga

By Catherine Smith

 Photo by Olivia Ross / Courtesy of NewTerra


A. Boyd SimpsonA. Boyd Simpson
President & CEO, The Simpson Organization





Lisa Maragnano Executive Director, CARTA

Lisa Maragnano
Executive Director, CARTA






Philip Pugliese General Manager of Planning and Grants, CARTA

Philip Pugliese
General Manager of Planning and Grants, CARTA





Adam Kennon Conservation Manager, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute

Adam Kennon
Conservation Manager, Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute





Normand Lavoie Co-Founder & Owner, NewTerra Compost

Normand Lavoie
Co-Founder & Owner, NewTerra Compost





Michael Ryan Co-Founder & Owner, NewTerra Compost

Michael Ryan
Co-Founder & Owner, NewTerra Compost

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Chattanooga has been a cornerstone of Southern industry and manufacturing since the late 1800s. Industrialization breathed new life into the economy, but environmental tradeoffs like pollution soon threatened to suffocate the city. By the 1950s, our air was so polluted that it decreased visibility – our picturesque landscape hidden from view by the smog. By 1963, Chattanooga residents were dying from tuberculosis at three times the national average rate, and by 1969, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare named our city the worst in the nation for particulate air pollution.

It was clear that something needed to change in Chattanooga, and a community-wide effort to mitigate the impacts of industry on our environment began in the 1970s. Fifty years later, Chattanooga’s skies are clear, our waters are sparkling, and our innovative residents continue to further the cause.

Here’s how four local companies are making an impact with sustainable initiatives.

On a Large Scale…
Some companies are choosing to build their offices, storefronts, or other properties with the environment in mind. LEED-certified buildings – buildings that have been optimized to reduce their environmental impact by design and have been proven effective – are becoming more and more popular.

When The Simpson Organization decided to build Market City Center – a combined residential, retail, and office space in downtown Chattanooga – they knew they wanted to design it with the health of their clients and the environment in mind. “This building enables us to reduce our energy and water consumption, improve indoor air quality, and achieve reductions in carbon emission and waste creation,” says A. Boyd Simpson, president and CEO of The Simpson Organization. “Additionally, it has reduced maintenance and operating expenditures while increasing the overall value of the property.”

These environmentally-friendly buildings often feature windows that are designed to optimize lighting and avoid extra cooling costs in the summer and heating costs in the winter. Many also take water waste into consideration, with retention systems or greywater recycling systems that can be used to flush toilets. According to Simpson, achieving an LEED-certified building these days is not the daunting task it once was. “Implementing sustainable materials and procedures in the construction of a property, like we did with Market City Center, is a very straightforward process which we would highly recommend,” he shares. “Selecting materials and products to achieve LEED certification has become significantly less challenging, thanks to the large volume of materials on the market currently.” 

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Investments like this won’t be possible for every resident in Chattanooga, but there are other large-scale efforts that make sustainable options possible at various income levels. For example, CARTA has taken an innovative approach to public transportation since the early ‘90s to provide options that grant Chattanooga residents greater access to reliable transportation.

From options for renting bikes with the Bike Chattanooga bicycle transit service to publically available charging stations for electric vehicles, this variety of services offers sustainable solutions for varying socioeconomic levels, which increases the possibilities for Chattanooga residents to choose green transportation options. Perhaps not everyone will be able to invest in an electric car, but more people can afford to rent a bike, and more still can take advantage of the free electric shuttle.

More options means more accessibility, which means these services will be used more often. “The freedom to move and access services is a fundamental value that affects everyone. The ability to enhance opportunities for people to meet their needs through public transportation is critical for those in need, and provides enhanced value to everyone,” says Lisa Maragnano, CARTA’s executive director.

Encouraged by the positive outcomes of their existing green initiatives, CARTA plans to stay on the cutting edge of sustainable public transportation. “Following the success of the Downtown Electric Shuttle program, the desire to create a sustainable transportation ecosystem has fueled the desire to broaden CARTA’s role as a transportation solutions provider,” says Philip Pugliese, general manager of planning and grants. “The continued electrification of our fleet, combined with projects such as public bike share, electric vehicle car share and solar power generation, and ongoing research on how to optimize our system are all elements of this process.”

CARTA is actively engaged with the public and stakeholders across the community. From partnerships with local, state, and federal government agencies, to strong support from our local foundation community, CARTA has developed a culture of collaboration and support to meet the needs of our city.

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And on an Individual Scale…
Education is a key factor in any community-wide effort. In order to make a difference, people need to know what to change, why it needs to change, and how they can change it. Educational outreach serves the dual purpose of raising the public’s awareness and sparking genuine interest in sustainable initiatives.

The Tennessee Aquarium, for example, is a fun attraction for tourists and locals alike, but the organization itself serves as an educational hub. Similarly, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) is a research center that focuses on our regional environment, increasing awareness about what is going on in our backyards and getting locals involved on a more personal level with conservation.

TNACI has a team of biologists and biology students who conduct research and oversee conservation programs. Adam Kennon, TNACI’s conservation manager, oversees programs that help to conserve the rich aquatic diversity in our area. “One of the things that really fuels my passion is seeing people light up when they realize they live in a special place,” Kennon says. “Some of the greatest fish diversity in the world can be found right here in Alabama and Tennessee. Once people realize that, they start to have an appreciation for it.”

“A large part of what we do is education and outreach,” adds Kennon. “Kids start to learn about ecology in sixth or seventh grade. Once they begin to understand it, we can start to have the bigger conversations about conservation – how it is linked to our habits and the things that we do. They start to ask questions and want to get involved. That’s really the driving force for conservation – just getting people interested.”

Chattanooga certainly inspires an interest in the outdoors. With natural beauty and a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and fishing, it’s no surprise that so many Chattanooga residents make an effort to reduce their impact on the environment we enjoy so much. One popular way to reduce waste is composting, or the process by which organic matter is broken down into nutrient-rich soil and recycled. Unfortunately, composting is not accessible to everyone, so Normand Lavoie and Michael Ryan of NewTerra Compost found a way to help.

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chattanooga composting

“After composting at our homes, we realized that this wasn’t a realistic solution for everyone. But composting needed to be available in our community, so we decided to focus on building a system that reduced the barriers of composting and could allow everyone to participate,” Lavoie explains. NewTerra offers professional composting services for individual households as well as restaurants. “Composting really opens your eyes to the amount of organic material you are throwing in the garbage on a daily basis,” says Ryan. “People also don’t understand the impact of food in a landfill. Food waste is the largest component of landfill waste, and it’s the third largest contributor to human-related methane in America.”

Chattanoogans are Dedicated to Improving Sustainability.

Sustainable initiatives began in Chattanooga over 50 years ago and have spanned several generations. The need to adapt and innovate will continue for many more generations to come, which is why educational outreach is critical. The children who develop an interest in conservation today might grow up to be the scientist who finds a better solution tomorrow.

Today, remnants of our early industrial era harken back to the spirit of ingenuity that Chattanooga was built upon, from repurposed factory buildings to historic industrial sites. But the ways that our city continues to advance are proof that this ingenuity lives on, along with our dedication to preserving the environment.

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