UTGI was established in 2011 by Jon Shefner, Professor and Head of the UT Department of Sociology, with the overarching goal of growing the area’s green economy by creating and retaining green jobs. Broadly defined, green jobs are those that pose an environmental benefit and offer living wages, benefits, career ladders, and some level of security. The intent of this initiative is to help alleviate the two biggest crises of our time: the loss of good jobs and the spread of environmental degradation. At UTGI, we believe that green job growth is key to the future of Knoxville’s economic prosperity.
There is the opportunity, the demand, and the potential to grow the area’s green economy:
- In the 2011 Brookings Institute’s report, Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment, Knoxville was identified as having the fastest growing and second largest per capita green economy in the nation. Knoxville was also identified as having the least diversified green economy; green jobs are largely concentrated in the high-tech energy sector and require a high level of education, which has left plenty of room for growth in other sectors, such as green building and waste management.
- According to the 2012 Community Survey conducted by PlanET, residents in Knoxville and the surrounding areas find attracting and retaining good jobs a top priority for making life in the area better. Environmental problems, such as water and air quality and overdevelopment, were cited as key areas to address.
- In our 2013 report, Let’s Grow Knoxville’s Green Economy, local stakeholders identified the need for strong government and UT leadership, coordination of goals among diverse sectors, community empowerment, and workforce development.
Because of our complex goals which are driven by community needs, UTGI has always split its efforts among research, engagement, and contract work, and has always worked with a diverse set of green stakeholders.
The next phase of UTGI research and engagement focuses on actualizing and supporting these needs through strong university and community partnerships. Taking on a strong leadership role to meet community needs through research and engagement directs us to four related strategies:
- Creating a searchable and interactive portal of all green economy actors in Knoxville.
- Serving as an organizing conduit for the Knoxville green economy community to strategize and pursue opportunities to grow green jobs in Knoxville.
- Using the interactive portal to expand both research and engagement, employing the community’s knowledge of the Knoxville area’s green opportunities to deepen commitment of local resources to and leadership of this important emergent economic development model.
- Replicating the Brookings Institute (2011) study for Knoxville in order to find opportunities in Knoxville’s green economy that can be pursued in tandem with the strategies above.