Susanna Sutherland: Knoxville's Green Thumb

Susanna Sutherland's smile is as bright as her polished wooden desk is shiny. She says she's shy, but the city's sustainability program manager has a strong presence that easily fills her office.

For the past three years, Sutherland, 34, has been working on projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and a grant from the Department of Energy to make Knoxville more sustainable, including the installation of solar panels at the Knoxville Convention Center last year and starting a curbside recycling program. She says it's a relief to be nearly done now that most of those funds have been spent, and the projects nearly completed.

For the first time in three years, she says, "I have the luxury of just sitting down."

The self-proclaimed workaholic and introvert says she can finally take a break from pitching sustainable practices and programs to the people of Knoxville—something that was a real challenge for Sutherland.

"We don't talk about the climate here. What matters is the bottom line," she says.

She's a numbers person now, but she wasn't always so economically-minded.

"I was a total left-brainer," she says. "I love to paint and write."

But when it came time to pick her college major, the Chattanooga native felt she knew all there was to know about her favorite creative pursuits—and picked environmental science to study.

"I get my peace from my natural surroundings," she says. "I wanted to have an impact on our world."

Though she aspired to be a park ranger and interned at state parks, Sutherland couldn't turn down the offer of free graduate school when TVA offered. After a stint working for the company in Alabama, Sutherland says she couldn't wait to get back to Knoxville.

These days she says she often enjoys running with her black lab Henry in Sequoya Hills Park.

"That strip by the river is my happy place," she says.

Her favorite book is Gone With The Wind—"She wrote that thing like six months!" Sutherland exclaims—and has a penchant for silly movies.

"I love Adam Sandler movies. I love Nacho Libre, which is so embarrassing!" she says, laughing.

She's not one for going out late at night—Sutherland says she's usually home by 6 p.m.—but has created a home for herself in Knoxville.

"I've never felt at home like I do in Knoxville," she says.