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A Vote for the Environment – A Voter Resource for Nashville’s 2023 Mayoral Election

When walking, biking, or driving through Nashville, the campaign signs make it easy to see that election season is here.  

As you decide who you will vote for to lead the city of Nashville on August 3, we wanted to summarize what we hope candidates will focus on for the health of our city, people, and planet. This blog summarizes the brief provided to mayoral candidates by Urban Green Lab (UGL) and our partners at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). To view the full brief, click here. All sources of information for this blog are in the full brief.

How do Nashville and Tennessee compare?

Nashville and the State of Tennessee have their unique waste and climate-related challenges. For example, Nashville produces twice as much solid waste as the national average and recycles half as much of it (Source). According to a 2019 article in the Tennessean, on a per capita basis, Nashville’s 2017 carbon dioxide emissions were greater than almost all its peer cities, such as Atlanta, Austin, and Denver; but, we were below the national average. 

Tennessee ranks poorly compared to other states on key environmental indicators. For example, Tennessee ranks at the bottom (50th) in residential electricity consumption and almost as poorly on residential electricity bills (45th). This means that “Tennessee’s families pay some of the highest electricity bills in the country,” according to Think Tennessee (Source).

Why are these priorities important for Nashville? 

Why should Nashvillians and city leadership care about taking action on waste reduction and climate change? Beyond the positive environmental effects, addressing climate change and waste in Nashville provides economic and social benefits, like improving citizen health with cleaner air and water, attracting businesses and residents with similar environmental commitments, enhancing property values, and reducing food insecurity by rescuing and delivering surplus food. 

Prioritizing sustainability in every facet of the city will help ensure an improved or sustained quality of life for residents as Nashville grows and evolves. It will make sure our city can respond to the needs of every Nashvillian when climate-related events like flooding, tornados, or extreme heat or cold impact our homes and businesses. 

What are the environmental priorities to keep in mind? 

So, what are the opportunities, and what should voters look for from candidates? 

1.Identify candidates committed to implementing Nashville’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). This plan includes the city’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 through decarbonizing the grid and electrifying buildings and vehicles. Another key part of the action plan is creating an environmental equity task force. The task force would establish routine processes for meaningful involvement from residents in implementing the CAP and use screening tools to check whether climate change actions support equity goals.

2.Look for candidates who support climate adaptation planning. We are already experiencing the effects of climate change in Nashville. It is important for candidates to commit to implementing action steps for mitigating harm from the five key climate hazards facing Nashville: flooding, tornadoes, cold waves/winter weather, extreme heat, and increasingly severe thunderstorms. 

3.Seek candidates interested in the continued implementation of the Solid Waste Master Plan. This plan was approved in 2019 by the Davidson County Solid Waste Region Board and adopted by the Metro Council. It sets a zero waste goal intended to provide long-term economic, environmental, and social benefits. The Plan provides a roadmap for maximizing the amount of waste diverted from landfills and adopting more sustainable waste management approaches, including reuse, recycling, anaerobic digestion, and composting. 

4.Recognize candidates who want to put a sustainable procurement policy in place. These policies would help ensure that when a sustainable option isn’t too expensive, city entities give the same or increased consideration to the sustainable option as the typical choice of materials or products. 

5.Determine if candidates will focus on increasing the number of staff working in sustainability. Additional staff—whether in a newly-established office or within Metro departments—would help institutionalize sustainability by directly supporting policies and projects. More staff could also signal the importance of accounting for sustainability in city operations.

There are many opportunities for increased social and economic impact in Nashville. As you decide who to vote for, we hope this brief will grow your awareness of the environmental opportunities Nashville faces.

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