Skip to Main Content
One of the greatest benefits of recycling is the psychological assurance it brings that not all of the copious amounts of paper and plastic we use daily will be thrown into a landfill for our great-grandchildren to deal with. But what if tossing that empty box of wine into the recycling bin is actually hurting the environment?
All actions, including conservation efforts, have the potential to inadvertently damage the environment. And studying the overall ecological impact of practices and materials is the focus of Daniel Reed's research at UT Knoxville, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in natural resources and environmental policy.
"There are a lot of misconceptions in the 'green' movement, whether this or that is green, when it may not be," Reed says.
Reed explains that his work does not attack eco-friendly practices, but rather looks at ways to make them, along with a variety of other activities, more environmentally sound. One example might involve incorporating renewable energy sources into the recycling process. But Reed's work is not limited to conservation policies; he also studies the ecological impact of construction, general transportation, product manufacturing, and other activities.
Recently, Reed's work received a boost in the form of a $5,000 fellowship from UT Athletics as part of a larger $1 million annual donation to the Knoxville campus from its ESPN contract.
Originally from Rogersville, Tennessee, Reed received a bachelor's degree from East Tennessee State University and a master's degree from Texas State University. He hopes to receive a doctorate in December 2011, noting that the extra funding has helped him gain teaching experience and has enhanced his research projects.
"It was important to me and my department because I wanted that teaching experience as well as being able to do my own projects, which takes a lot of time; I'm surveying farmers and doing other things that are just a lot of work," he says.
In addition to his general life-cycle research, Reed is working on a project with UT faculty and students at UT's Center for Renewable Carbon on the life-cycle assessment of wood-based biofuels and switchgrass cellulosic biofuel. The project assesses the production and use of woody biofuels, such as wood pellets, and compares them to energy sources like gasoline to determine which is the more ecologically sound option. Reed says the money from UT Athletics also has helped him visit more farmers and wood pellet mills for his research.
After earning a doctorate, Reed hopes to either work in academia or in the field of environmental policy. Ultimately, he hopes that holistic ecosystem research will lead to more information for manufacturers and consumers on how environmentally beneficial or detrimental things really are, leading to more informed choices.
"A lot of countries — like Switzerland and Denmark—have eco-labeling," he says. "It's kind of like labeling nutritional facts. They have to report the environmental impacts of their products. It may not be a big deal, but it gives you a choice. And I think it's very important to have choice in everything."