UT’s Bennett Makes the “Switchie”

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When he started college as a math major, Gordie Bennett never thought that he would end up an environmental advocate who spends his days with a nine foot tall light switch affectionately named “Switchie.”

But for Bennett, the sustainability manager for UT Knoxville, it’s just another day at the office. His job duties include working to reduce the overall energy consumption of the university, through the oversight of Make Orange Green and Switch Your Thinking programs.

Both programs are a collaborative effort with Facilities Services, the Committee on Campus Environment and Marketing and Communications.

Bennett has spent the last year working with “Switchie” to promote an energy conservation program designed to encourage the campus community to make simple choices that lead to energy savings.

Bennett said “my goal for the coming year is to promote our new Friends of Switchie program. I want to work on new ways to develop the program so that our ultimate goal of ten percent reduction is met.”

Bennett did not start his journey with the intent of studying environmental planning.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Indiana University, he received a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Florida. He began working for an environmental research group in Florida, where he helped analyze field data. It was the connection to protecting natural resources that led Bennett to rethink his career path.

He received a second master’s degree, this time in environmental planning from the University of Cincinnati. After that Bennett began working at Northern Kentucky University where he led a committee on environmental impact. His time at NKU gave him the experience needed to come to UT Knoxville.

While he has only been with the university since fall 2008, his leadership on energy issues has left a mark. So far the campus has yielded a six percent decrease in energy consumption. That amounts to over $800,000 in savings in the 2009 fiscal year alone.

Bennett does not just preach environmental stewardship, he practices it.

He recently moved closer to campus so that he can ride his bike to work.

“I do my best to ride my bike to work; usually three to five days a week,” Bennett said. “It is hard some days but I try to ride as often as possible.”

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