Chattanooga lands top environmental sustainability rating from TVA

photo People walk near solar panels arranged in line on 33 acres of property at the Chattanooga Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga. Volkswagen's Chattanooga manufacturing plant has implemented energy management and environmentally friendly procedures that will be used in other Volkswagen plants across the globe.
photo Charles Wood of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

About a generation ago, newscaster Walter Cronkite labeled Chattanooga "the dirtiest city in America" because of its staggering air pollution.

Tuesday, the city won a top environmental sustainability rating that officials believe will help it attract more jobs and businesses.

"Gosh, have we not come a long way?" said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger after the city and county accepted TVA's platinum ranking in its Valley Sustainable Communities program.

Millie Callaway, a TVA senior consultant for economic development, said only 13 communities in its seven-state service area will be cited this year. Just two others are platinum, or top-ranked, so far -- Knoxville and Oak Ridge.

TVA sponsored the initiative to help cities and counties catalogue their sustainable assets, and the effort is weighted toward business actions, Callaway said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the citation highlights the link between sustainability, economic development and quality of life.

"I think a lot about the Chattanooga brand," he said at a news conference. "It's so tied up with sustainability."

Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development, said the business group's goal is to tell the city's story to prospects and sustainability helps with some companies.

He termed the award "a big deal" for West Coast companies which want a presence in the Eastern time zone, for example. The Chamber collected the information for the designation.

Ron Harr, the group's chief executive, said it will help spur companies and people to take a look at Chattanooga.

While details such as land and workforce decide a deal, having shared values with companies related to the environment "keeps putting us on the map," Harr said.

Officials on Tuesday noted Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant, which last year was named the world's first platinum-badged Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design auto assembly factory.

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Coppinger said there wouldn't have been a VW in Chattanooga unless steps were made to bring the city's air quality into attainment with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

He added that $5 million was spent to upgrade the county's small business incubator and help make it LEED certified.

Berke mentioned EPB's money-saving Smart Grid as well as Chattanooga Airport's LEED-rated general aviation facility. The airport also has installed a solar array that produces the equivalent of 85 percent of Lovell Field's power usage, he said.

Enterprise South industrial park, which holds VW, a handful of its suppliers and an Amazon distribution center, was created from a polluted former U.S. Army ammunition production plant. The city also has 35 miles of linear greenways and trails, including the 11-mile Tennessee Riverwalk which runs to downtown.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.