Crockett has seen Chattanooga change dramatically in the last 30 years. The Office of Sustainability will build on the city's environmental success. | Photo Courtesy of Flickr user mjasonprickett

David Crockett is no stranger to Chattanooga, Tennessee. A three-term city councilman, former chairman of the council and President of the Chattanooga Institute for Sustainability, he knows his way around the city government.




His experience with local government, combined with his passion for the environment made him the choice to head up Chattanooga’s new Office of Sustainability. As the director for the new office, Crockett works with 12 task forces on everything from urban food production to green infrastructure.

The city of Chattanooga created the sustainability director position through funds awarded from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

“When the mayor asked me to suit back up and do this, I was excited,” he says.

According to Crockett, the Office of Sustainability will help Chattanooga be aggressive about clean energy and sustainability -- in a time of fiscal constraint in local government.

“It’s a tough environment for cities across America…we’re in a time where cities have to cut departments and resources,” Crockett says.

“Thanks to these grants, we were able to add an office. These grants empower cities and counties to do things for energy efficiency and other issues that they might not be able to do in this economic climate.”

Environmental history

Throughout his adult life, when he wasn’t working full time in the software industry, in city council meetings or spending time with his family, Crockett devoted time to educating fellow citizens about the environment.

He says his environmentalism stems back to the 1970s, when Chattanooga was a very different place.

“We were one of the most polluted cities in America. It was like we had a heart attack. We had to address everything that was wrong with the city: the economy, environment, social problems,” Crockett says.

Through his commitment and work for the city, Crockett began to shape and form an understanding of what sustainability meant for Chattanooga and cities abroad.

“When you start working on everything, you begin to intuitively understand what sustainability means. All of these things—energy, transportation, storm water, pollution, education, housing, economic development— are connected, and they all affect each other. You have to look at each of the strategies in the context of everything.”

In the last 30 years, with support from city council and citizens, Chattanooga has really turned around. In the 1990s, the city received a battery-powered bus fleet to transport Chattanoogans downtown free of charge, and festivals and fairs attract thousands of people to the Chattanooga riverfront, an area that was inaccessible 20 years ago.

“The issue of sustainability has become our central strategy for everything,” Crockett says.

Sustainability steps

The major initiatives of the Office of Sustainability include establishing an energy office to audit and retrofit city buildings.

The office plans to establish an advanced support center with software to support analysis of water, gas and electricity use for the entire county’s residential, business, government and non-profit facilities.

The office is also assessing storm water management, and the correlation between water and energy management.
“These are permanent things that will get immediate savings,” Crockett says. “In the future, we’ll rely on these savings to help fund our office.”
Another major project that Crockett will work on is the “No Roof Left Unused” initiative, which encourages companies to install green roofs, solar systems or micro wind turbines on rooftops.
Crockett has worked all over the country and around the world with CitiStates and other organizations.
But, for Crockett, there’s nothing like working in Chattanooga.

“Working around the world is fun, but there’s nothing more challenging and gratifying than doing it in your own home town,” Crockett says. “A lot of cities say we want to be the BEST, we want to be the greenest. Sure, we’d like to be the best, but it’s more important for Chattanooga to be a good partner and example for other cities.”

Crockett hopes that Chattanooga will be a resource for other cities looking to become more sustainable.
“We look at sustainability as a collaborative process, not a competitive process. That’s our mission, to help other cities be their best while doing the best we can. I guess you could say that we’re not trying to be Miss America, we’re happy being Miss Congeniality.”