Sustainability & Efficiency

A Sustainable FutureLooking Ahead

Looking towards and working for a sustainable future is interwoven into University School of Nashville’s mission of innovation and excellence.

Our sustainability efforts include environmental stewardship, with both large- and small-scale sustainable practices reflecting a concern for the environment, an efficient use of resources, and an integrated curricular commitment to empower students.

Both our Edgehill and River Campus facilities feature environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient projects, from a Young Naturalist curricular program in Lower School, to student initiatives like a high school student-organized green roof at our Edgehill Campus, and finally to facilities projects such as the solar panel array at the River Campus. Keep reading to find out more about our SEI initiatives (Sustainability, Efficiency & Integration).

List of 4 items.

  • 15 Acres

    of restored wetlands & outdoor boardwalk classrooms within our 88-acre River Campus
  • 100+ Students

    ride our daily morning transit buses on four regular routes through Nashville
  • 29kW

    Capacity of our 100-panel, grid-conected solar energy array at the River Campus
  • 12.5 miles

    of water-filled pipes as part of our geothermal system under our Edgehill Campus back lawn

Projects & InitiativesHighlights

University School of Nashville counts the following among our environmentally responsible decisions over the past decades:

  • Geothermal heating and cooling system under the backfield to support Tibbott Center and Hassenfeld Library (2003)
  • Dedicated USN morning buses bringing 100+ students to USN, alleviating traffic congestion (2009)
  • Energy management system for power & HVAC throughout campus (2009)
  • WeGo bus & rail passes for employees and HS students at no cost (2010)
  • Solar installation at the River Campus to offset power use (installed 2011 at 24kW; upgraded 2021 to 29kW)
  • Recycling paper, plastic, and aluminum on the Edgehill Campus
  • Composting in the Sperling Cafeteria; eliminating the use of Styrofoam
  • 15 hydration water stations to promote usage of reusable bottles (2015)
  • Edgehill Campus recognized as a Level I Arboretum with 32 labeled trees (2018)
  • Green Roof design and installation by HS students (first phase, 2020)

USN's Sustainability Brochure

Systems, Sustainability & Students

List of 9 items.

  • Geothermal

    USN installed a vertical geothermal system in 2003  to support HVAC heating in cooling in the Tibbott Center and Hassenfeld Library.  USN chose the geothermal system for its financial and environmental advantages. The closed-system piping will circulate water through a grid of 110 holes, each 300 feet deep and six inches in diameter. These holes form a closed-loop network that serves as the heat source for an air-to-water heat pump (residential heat pumps are air-to-air). 

    In middle Tennessee, the earth below 10 feet stays at a temperature of about 59 degrees Fahrenheit. When we need heat, the system pumps heat from the water loop into the room. For air conditioning, excess heat is pumped out of the room into the water loop. As USN students learn about the impacts of climate change in the classroom, they also see the school’s efforts to mitigate carbon emissions through renewable energy.
  • Solar

    In 2011, USN with partner Lightwave Solar Systems installed a 100-panel 24kW solar panel array at the River Campus.

    Initially wired to power sports facilities and offset power use, it was updated in 2021 to 100 290W panels, improving capacity to 29kW total. It is now fully integrated and delivers 100% of its power generation back into Nashville's energy grid for cost savings and offsetting carbon emissions.
  • Green Roof

    Born out of an eighth grade change project, USN’s green roof is student-led and maintained. Consisting of seven raised beds on the school’s near century-old roof, it provides a restorative habitat for Tennessee pollinators and native species driven out by Nashville’s urban growth.

    The green roof also serves as a curricular resource to accompany USN’s education surrounding naturalism, environmental stewardship, biology, earth systems, and urban design. The existing green roof is one part of an extensive master plan for the Edgehill Campus.
  • USN River Campus

    River Campus - Cumblerand River Access

    Nearly a mile of our River Campus is bounded by the Cumberland River and the Whites Creek tributary.

    Students in all divisions utilize the river and floodplains to study riparian flora and fauna, ancestral lands and cultures, hydrology and watershed dynamics, the connected wetlands environment, and environmental science concepts. Nashville draws and purifies all of its drinking water from the Cumberland River, and returns treated wastewater to the river cleaner than it was pulled out.
  • River Campus Wetland

    USN features 15 acres of marsh and are accessible by over a thousand feet of boardwalk built by the volunteers of USN community.

    With over 80 identified animal species and 50 plant species, the wetlands provide a live habitat for students to study and explore across all grades. While Lower School Naturalists explore the flora and fauna, High School AP Environmental Science students wade through the swampy waters to test pollution levels. 
  • Young Naturalist Program

    The Young Naturalist program fosters an appreciation for the natural world for our youngest students and connects the scientific and developmental concepts of a Lower School education with real-life experience in the outdoors. Starting in kindergarten, young naturalists journey to different ecosystems in the Tennessee area every month. Beyond journeys, Forest Days bring students to “the Lodge,” an old Girl Scout cabin in Edwin Warner Park surrounded by the forest.

    Shelby Bottoms, Radnor Lake, Beaman Park, Old Growth Forest, Warner Park, The USN Wetlands, and the USN Outdoor Classroom are natural environments frequented by our Young Naturalists from kindergarten to fourth grade. The naturalist foundation established in Lower School is continued through Out of These Doors trips and Wilderness Days in Middle School as well as High School trips, retreats and independent study projects.
  • Edgehill Campus Outdoor Classroom

    USN’s Edgehill Campus features a micropond with a tree-covered teaching space, where students learn about naturalism, track environmental change, and make observations about the natural world.

    The outdoor classroom near the 19th Avenue entrance provides students and teachers alike with a peaceful respite from the bustle of a midtown campus, and includes many trees and shrubs as part of our officially recognized Arboretum.
  • Arboretum

    In May 2018, University School of Nashville’s Edgehill Campus gained recognition as a Level I Arboretum through certification with the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. The arboretum’s 32 labeled species span the entire 7-acre campus, from the front lawn to the Outdoor Classroom. As an arboretum, USN serves as a tremendous tool for teaching naturalism and conservation to students, particularly in Lower School’s Young Naturalist program.

    USN’s foliage: reduces the urban heat island effect, the phenomenon that explains the comparative warmth of Nashville’s urban microclimate; sequesters carbon and other atmospheric irritants that lead to climate change and respiratory illness; and fosters a green, welcoming campus for students and community members.
  • Steam Energy Loop with Vanderbilt

    USN's new sustainable energy system is more efficient and powered by natural gas instead of coal. Improving and renewing USN’s energy supply will modernize the original system to heat and cool the Main Building, West Wing, and Gordon Wing. It also will have future capacity for chilled water loop on the new Vanderbilt system.

    Our University neighborhood steam line, part of the original Peabody Demonstration School when doors opened in 1925, has been a crucial yet hidden proverbial link to Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College for decades even after its 1975 transition to become USN. In an effort that serves environmental, budgetary, and safety purposes, Vanderbilt recently decided to forego its dependence on coal-powered steam heat and switch to a hot water and chilled water loop.
USN Mission: 
University School of Nashville models the best educational practices. In an environment that represents the cultural and ethnic composition of Metropolitan Nashville, USN fosters each student’s intellectual, artistic, and athletic potential, valuing and inspiring integrity, creative expression, a love of learning, and the pursuit of excellence.