On a Friday afternoon in 2008, while Kathleen Moore was helping put up Christmas decorations at Shelbridge, she told former ETSU President Paul Stanton that ETSU needed to be a leader in sustainability.
“He thought about it over the weekend,” Moore said. “And then called me into his office on Monday and said, ‘You’re going to be our new director of sustainability.’”
In addition to Moore’s new role, this moment also marked the formation of the East Tennessee State University Department of Sustainability.
After almost thirteen years as ETSU’s director of sustainability, Moore officially retired on Feb 26. She is working on a temporary contract through May 15 as she continues to help finish up projects, prepare the department for her departure and ensure that the work she has done continues on.
During her time as director, Moore has worked on countless projects to help further ETSU in terms of sustainability. Her work, though, goes farther back than just 2008.
Moore started working at ETSU in 1994 as the campus’s first horticulturist. In that position, she helped establish a trial flower garden on campus in conjunction with the University of Tennessee, helped start an Arboretum on campus and got funding for the department. She said they also received some awards from the city for their beautification efforts.
Moore later went on to become director of grounds and athletic facilities in addition to her horticulturist position, before eventually being named director of sustainability in 2008.
Shortly after the department of sustainability was created, a group of students approached Moore asking how students could get more involved with sustainability. She then helped form the EcoNuts, a group of paid student workers with the department of sustainability dedicated to saving the planet and making ETSU more earth friendly.
In her first year as director, Moore was in charge of a committee of 60 people across campus looking at how the university could become more sustainable. The data they collected and submitted from that committee won ETSU a bronze classification for its sustainability efforts from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
Also in 2008, as chair of the ETSU Campus Sustainability Committee, Moore helped students vote and instate a $5 sustainability fee per semester per student, which is now $8 a semester.
“That's the last thing that was really instrumental for the growth of sustainability on campus,” Moore said. “And that really takes a big part of my job.”
Moore said the campus sustainability fee has helped fund many sustainability projects at ETSU, which includes lots of pilot projects.
“We just approved one this last semester on a glove recycling program for the labs,” Moore said. “So, because you throw away a lot of those nitrile gloves. There are some companies that will recycle those, but we decided – let's try a pilot [program] in two or three of the labs, see what happens before we go campus-wide. So, right now we're just initiating that and getting it started. So, those are the kind of things that are exciting – the new things that we do on campus, just by having a little bit of money.”
Over the past thirteen years, Moore has helped revamp and rebuild the recycling center. She also played a key role in moving the community garden to its current location at Buccaneer Ridge.
Moore said the elements of her job at ETSU that she will miss the most are the relationships she formed with people.
“I will not miss the computer, or the spreadsheets and the hiring employees,” Moore said. “I will really miss my work with other faculty and staff members, but in particular, the students. I've always had 20 to 30 students working for me, and they're the ones that I see as our hope for the future coming up with solutions and everything, and I just I have a love for my students.”
Moore’s students have a love for her as well. Madison Hayton, EcoNuts member and one of Moore’s student leaders, said when she first joined the EcoNuts in 2017 during the fall semester of her freshman year, she could immediately tell that Moore was going to be an important person to her.
“She pushed me to do things I didn't think I could, and she's really inspired me,” Hayton said. “And we seem to see that pattern a lot with people who work under her. She just really helps us flourish and get out of our shell.”
Hayton said she has changed a lot personally since joining EcoNuts. She said she has learned so much and that working with Kathleen has made her more mindful.
“I’d never really recycled a lot before this; I didn't really understand the importance,” Hayton said. “And now I’ve got home recycling set up, and I'm actually a vegan now. So, I’ve had my definite moments of enlightenment through all of the cool research we do, and all the programs we look at.”
Hayton said Moore has been an inspiration to all of the EcoNuts, which has made the job even more important to them.
“We definitely are more than just a work group, and that's mostly because of her influence,” Hayton said. “We're definitely like a very close family and friend group that she's always willing to help us out, and we all look out for each other.”
Moore said her students are “just the most important thing” to her, and she has enjoyed watching students who have graduated become more involved in sustainability. Moore, who is very involved with local organizations through public speaking, organizing climate marches and more, tries to inspire her current students toward activism and volunteer work, such as helping clean up litter around campus and getting involved in the community.
“That's teaching people how to be volunteers, but to really be active citizens,” Moore said. “That's the legacy I thought, you know, I'm about. I'm always going to be an active citizen, no matter what I do because to me that's important.”
Sustainability has always been a topic close to Moore’s heart. She said this generation has “gotten off course,” and that our children are inheriting our messes. She is also concerned that vulnerable populations and people who live alone are really going to feel the brunt of climate as they already are being displaced. Because of this, Moore said people need to act quickly.
“I want my grandkids to be able to live a good life and to not have to worry about the air, and the water and, you know, contamination and not being able to find woods to hike in,” Moore said. “And, I mean the things that I enjoy now. So, that's why I do it. I want it to be here for future generations and be good.”
For ETSU Engineering Technology professor Mohammad Moin Uddin, who has worked with Moore on many projects over the years as a fellow member of the campus sustainability committee, Moore’s passion for sustainability is evident and genuine, which is something he appreciates about her.
A specific memory he recollects of Moore is from a sustainability in education conference in Nashville. Every time they would eat lunch or dinner, Uddin said, Moore brought and used her own utensils to reduce her carbon footprint.
“So, a lot of us – a lot of talk,” Uddin said. “She’s a lot of not talk; she's a lot of work, and that's how I really, really appreciate her and the time I’ve gotten to know her and got to work with her. As a human, I really, really appreciate the value she brought to ETSU.”
Moore’s retirement was a surprise to Uddin, and he hopes that ETSU can find someone like Moore for her replacement. He said the position requires a good leader who can bring people together and make something happen, because that is what Moore did.
“I wish we get somebody like her, who shares some of her vision, so we can continue moving forward on the things she tried, the positive impact she tried to make in the students’ lives, in the faculty and staff’s lives and overall, the ETSU committee, it's going to continue to live on,” Uddin said. “She made so much impact on so many students’ lives.”
Moore said one of her “last hurrahs” included organizing the fourth annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, which took place April 10.
“That's been something near and dear to my heart,” Moore said. “And I love getting all these different groups together, like nonprofit groups, that normally come that are normally tabling at this thing, but we can't do that this year.”
Other final projects include working on getting upgraded LED lighting in the ETSU Mini-Dome, which would save 90% of the dome’s energy. Moore is also trying to get eight electric vehicle charging units for the campus.
“We want to do our part to make sure that when students come on campus or faculty, staff, or visitors that they can plug in and recharge a car,” Moore said. “So, we're trying to do that. I'm very excited about that, that we are able to do that. So, that's awesome. [I’ll] get that done before I leave. So, there's a lot of things to do before I leave.”
There are also upcoming projects Moore looks forward to seeing the impact of after she leaves. One of these involves ETSU being an alpha partner with Eastman Chemical Company for its new plastic processing plant, which Eastman aims to build by 2022. The project would entail ETSU sending plastics for them to use while working on their process.
“So, we're right in the beginning stages of that,” Moore said. “But it's going to be an exciting thing for ETSU, and we'll be the model for other entities similar to us, but also anybody that has the ability to sort materials, and how does all this work? So, that'll be something that I'll be passing on to the next person.”
Regardless of who takes Moore’s place, Hayton said she wants to make sure they continue the sustainability work Moore has done at ETSU, to ensure that her legacy lives on.
“We don't want any work that she's done to just go away or be forgotten because it's so much important work and so many amazing changes she's made,” Hayton said. “And she's had such an impact on the campus that some people may not even realize. And yeah, I definitely am for as long as I’m here, I’m going to make sure that everything she's done continues.”
Moore sees the recycling center and trees she’s helped plant on campus as part of her lasting legacy at ETSU. When she first arrived at ETSU in 1994, she said the campus was not recycling much at all. During her time at ETSU, Moore said she has either planted or overseen the planting of roughly 500 different trees.
“So, I mean, I can look here and see right now just treat the planet,” Moore said. “So that is a lasting legacy, you know, when you're playing a tree, you plant for the next generation.”
Moore said retiring from ETSU is bittersweet because it has been a big part of her identity for past 27 years, and she knows there is more work to be done for sustainability. While finishing out her temporary contract with ETSU, Moore has also recently begun a job as a horticulturist at Dollywood. She said she is excited for this new chapter.
“There's just so much to be done,” Moore said. “And I feel like there—right now—there's starting to be a swell of support among the general population for sustainability. Because 10 years ago, when I started this, I was kind of an outlier, you know. I was the tree hugger, but now people are like, ‘We need to do this,’ and so I wish that I could stay to kind of see where ETSU is going to go next, but I'm excited, too, because it's time for a new chapter for me.”