From Idea to Reality: DENSO's EcoPark in Athens, Tennessee

  • DENSO 75-Year Logo
    • Pavillion under construction
    • EcoPark sign
    • Sparsely Planted flowers
  • People posing for a ribbon cutting

    On April 27, 2016, phase one of the DENSO Manufacturing Athens EcoPark was officially opened.

A 2012 trip to Japan by Shawn Bryant, Senior Manager, North America Safety, Health and Environment (NASHE) spawned the seed of an idea that took root and became an 11.5-acre Athens, Tennessee, EcoPark filled with trees, a fruit orchard, a .75-mile walking trail, a small pond and a Japanese-style pavilion.

At the time, Bryant was SHE Manager at DENSO Manufacturing Athens Tennessee (DMAT). When he saw DENSO’s EcoPark in Japan, he put best practices to work by inquiring about the creation of a green space similar to Japan’s, but adjacent to the DMAT facility. Locals knew the area as it is situated near the reservoir Webb Lake and McMahan Church Cemetery.

In a unique Athens City YouTube video, the EcoPark is promoted as a place “where economic development meets environmental protection … where environmentally friendly meets business friendly. A city park that supports Athens Industrial Park … funded by DENSO manufacturing, the makers of environmentally friendly products.” The park was funded in three phases, with the city also applying for money from fines levied on industry pollution.

“There were 11.5 acres in Athens Industrial Park available next to our facility, and we saw potential to develop this small tract of land,” Bryant said. “DENSO wants to find solutions to support green community initiatives.”

In 2015, Bryant’s green thumb idea got the “green light” from the City of Athens Parks and Recreation and the McMinn County Economic Development Authority. They all saw multiple opportunities in developing the land as a safe place for associates and the community, to walk, learn and immerse themselves in nature. 

“DENSO saw it in several ways … as an outdoor classroom for schoolchildren to discover biodiversity by identifying types of trees, or in studying the wetlands area and fishing pond. DENSO even developed QR codes to information about the trees, and we co-hosted some events with local high schools,” Bryant said.

He also saw the potential for plant associates to get exercise on the looping walking path and added, “with the neighboring plant donating picnic tables so associates could bring their lunch outside if they wanted. The EcoPark is still going strong, and now we have restrooms in the park. It’s been a fun project.”

The City of Athens, which is situated 3.5 miles southeast of DENSO EcoPark, also offers the EcoPark’s pavilion for rent to citizens at a nominal hourly fee through its Parks and Recreation Department. The city’s economic development group markets the park, located at 2900 George R. Prince Boulevard, as a green associate perk for potential businesses considering locating in the nearby industrial park.

Bryant said the EcoPark has been an excellent melding of DENSO Japan’s vision for its land with Athens’ future potential for its industrial park plans.

“DENSO grew up in rural Japan, and preserving the environment has long been a part of our heritage. So, we wanted to develop an EcoPark that demonstrates DENSO’s Japanese heritage, while also creating an eco-friendly and educational oasis for associates and community,” he said.

  • People with shovels breaking ground

    The first of four solar projects broke ground at the DENSO Maryville, Tennessee facility on November 2, 2022.

These days, the DENSO associate of more than 25 years is based in Maryville, Tennessee, is a leader of SHE and was an initial member of the renewable energy procurement team for DENSO North America. Bryant has been heavily involved in the upcoming solar facility at DENSO’s Blount County location, which broke ground in November 2022.

In partnership with Silicon Ranch, the City of Maryville Electric Department and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), DENSO’s new solar farm is the first of four solar production facilities the group plans to bring online in Tennessee.

Bryant said community partnerships like these form a strong local initiative toward a clean energy future. He added that he’s proud DENSO’s local sustainability commitment is a prime example of its international goal to achieve carbon neutrality within its production facilities by 2035.