The Torchbearer has lit the way for students for several decades at UT. Shining brightly through rain showers and final exams, many see the Torchbearer as a symbol of big orange pride.
With its ongoing fire, however, some students are beginning to question its environmental impact. Franco Sebastián D'Aprile, a freshman in sustainability, sees the Torchbearer as a "symbol of unity to students."
D'Aprile also sees the Torchbearer as a large source of pollution and energy consumption on campus.
"It represents the face of the university to the outside world, which is why we should strive to make it sustainable," D'Aprile said.
Fueling the never-ending flame comes with drawbacks. The university paid $6,600 in 2011 for natural gas to keep the fire burning bright. In addition to its costly upkeep, the emissions produced by the burning natural gas have raised alarm for several students.
"The Torchbearer produces a staggering amount of emissions every year, roughly 30.8 metric tons per year," said D'Aprile. "The harm the torch causes to the environment will not help UT reach its 'green' goals."
Most students see that, regardless of the emissions of the Torchbearer, the light deserves to burn on. Terry Nowell, a senior in biochemistry and psychology and SGA vice president, feels the Torchbearer represents more than just an ongoing flame. To him, the Torchbearer's purpose is "to bring new students in and to continue lighting the fire for students that are here."
Some students share fond memories around the Torchbearer. One of Nowell's most profound memories involves serving as an Orientation Leader and bonding with new UT students around the statue. Despite the valuable tradition, however, Nowell recognizes a need to change the torch's energy source.
A few members of the campus community have started proposing solutions that revolve around artificial lighting or alternative fuel sources.
"Some solutions include taking out the flame completely and replacing it with an artificial flame composed of LED lights. We could also plan projects that would offset its environmental footprint (planting trees, installing solar panels, installing wind turbines, reducing the waste of the university by increasing recycling)," said D'Aprile. "Also, the university could buy carbon credits to offset the emissions. Another good option is replacing natural gas with recycled methane from the water treatment plant by UT. This idea would need further consultation with the plant to evaluate its viability."
Within UT's goal of becoming a Top 25 university, sustainability is as large of a priority as tradition.
"I personally believe that the Torchbearer is very important to UT, and so we should not make changes that are too big to it. We should try to do things that would not upset either UT alumni, current students, or administration," D'Aprile said. "However, we need to keep in mind that whatever decisions are taken sacrifices will have to be made. Nevertheless, I am completely certain they will pay off in the long run."
Sacrifices towards pushing the campus community to a more sustainable lifestyle begins at home just as much as the Torchbearer.
UT often encourages students to improve their environmental footprint by reminding all members of the campus community to do the small things, like turning off the lights in an unused room or recycling plastic bottles.
The best thing students can do is cooperate with UT when asked to take steps to improve their environmental footprint, such as by turning off a light and recycling.
"Because UT is so big, little steps — if taken by many students — can have a big impact. Students should not see being 'green' as a chore or sacrifice, but rather as a good deed that will in the long run help them," D'Aprile said.
Next year's freshman orientation will be focused on sustainability. With that, students like D'Aprile hope a green Torchbearer will be available to show off to incoming students proving that UT is advancing in areas like academics and sustainability.