Urban Green Lab teaches communities how to live sustainably

Jun 16 2019
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Urban Green Lab teaches communities  how to live sustainably

By: Bailey Basham

When Nashville native Todd Lawrence was in school, he remembers not learning much about how to protect the environment. In fact, he said conversations around sustainability and conservation were nonexistent in the classroom.

Now as the executive director of the nonprofit Urban Green Lab, he is working with a team of environmentally-conscious folks to remedy that.

Urban Green Lab celebrated its 10th anniversary at the beginning of June, and Lawrence, who has been with the organization since 2016, said that though the classroom provides a unique opportunity to teach the next generation, the Nashville-based nonprofit doesn’t stop there.

Urban Green Lab was founded in 2009 and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2011. The mission of the organization is to teach communities how to live sustainably. Over the years, Urban Green Lab has worked with the Davidson County Mayor’s Office, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Kroger, Country Music Television, Nissan, Tesla and others to further the reach of their sustainable living education initiatives.

“In classrooms, we train teachers. In workplaces, we coach corporate green teams on how to teach about sustainable behaviour. With our households division, we are training civic groups how to teach about sustainable living. We also co-lead the Nashville Food Waste Initiative, which is a pilot of the National Resources Defense Council,” Lawrence said. “Our work is all about creating systems of sustainable living education. Everything comes down to systemic change. If we can change the system, everybody that flows through that system now and forever more, would be affected.”

In 2019, Urban Green Lab trained the first class of MNPS teachers on sustainable living curriculum. This curriculum, which outlines basics in seven different areas of sustainable living, was the first of its kind in Tennessee and was created in partnership with Vanderbilt, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Each teacher in the first learning cluster will be able to reach about 150 students a year — that’s more than 4,000 students, and for that reason, Lawrence said it’s Nashville’s teachers that are the heartbeat of sustainable living education.

“When I was growing up in Nashville, our school system wasn’t teaching this stuff at all. They taught about the environment, but now how you could protect it. It’s not enough to know where salamanders come from. You’ve got to know how to protect them,” he said. “Like many people, I care deeply about the earth, and I know that I personally have contributed to a lot of the challenges that we see. I’m excited about being part of the solution now.”

Lawrence said even small changes like switching the lights off in an unoccupied room or taking shorter showers play a role in being a part of the solution.

“If people want to get more involved, say they’re a teacher, let us know and we’ll train them. If they work at a company that is just learning about sustainability or really believes in the environment and need their green team to be coached, give us a call. If they are leading a community group, like a neighborhood association, and they want to learn how they can better teach about sustainability living, we want to help. I think we all have a personal responsibility to the earth that supports us every day, and I think there are small things all of us can do that make a huge difference,” he said.

For more information about Urban Green Lab, visit

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