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Cool green: Asheville GreenWorks' annual Environmental Excellence Awards

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11/30/2011 - Cool green: Asheville GreenWorks' annual Environmental Excellence Awards
by Susan Andrew Mountain XPress

There's no shortage of green-friendly businesses in Asheville, and this year's Environmental Excellence Awards spotlight some notable examples.

Asheville GreenWorks, which presents the awards, "was green before it was cool," noted Buncombe County Commissioner Holly Jones during a special ceremony last month. Each year, the group recognizes local businesses, nonprofits and individuals who strive to promote a greener Asheville and Buncombe County.

Formerly known as Quality Forward, the group got its start in 1974 as a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. Last year it provided some $557,000 worth of volunteer services, as more than 2,800 new volunteers picked up litter, planted trees, cleaned up streams and landscaped public areas, among other contributions.

Jones attended the awards ceremony at Posana Café in her role as executive director of the local YWCA, which was among the groups honored. Besides a serious commitment to recycling and a switch from disposable paper products to convenetional dishes, the nonprofit recently installed 30 solar panels on its roof. The YW also educates young people about gardening, transporting them on biodiesel-fueled buses, and it offers reduced-price memberships for people who pledge to use public transit.

"It's an ongoing commitment," noted Jones, "because you never get all the way there, do you?"

Green efforts large and small were recognized. David Gantt's law office got an award for converting its front yard on Church Street into a rose garden, thus eliminating the need for mowing. And Higgins Horticultural Services was recognized for maintaining traffic-island plantings and for donating staff time and expertise to many community landscaping projects.

Navitat Canopy Adventures in Barnardsville was honored for its extensive green practices, including using trees cut on-site to build its zip-line platforms, and encouraging customers to embrace environmental advocacy. Accepting the award for Navitat, Ken Stamps said the company is committed to leaving no scar on the forest site it's leasing for 25 years. "When we leave, you won't know that we've been there," he promised. In the meantime, Navitat has embarked on a program to remove invasive plants and reintroduce native species, and its welcome center incorporates parts of an old cattle barn on the property. Even the bark mulch on the pathways was chipped on-site, he noted.

The experts at FLS Energy were recognized for installing solar panels throughout the community (including at the YWCA), and for the company's ambitious commitment to recycling wastes generated during installation, keeping as much material as possible out of the landfill. In both energy generation and materials decay, the company tries to hold the line on carbon emissions, Marketing Manager Joanna Baker explained, citing a "triple-bottom-line philosophy: people, planet, profit."

Joe and Annie Ritota of Annie's Naturally Bakery said they aimed for the smallest possible carbon footprint when their business expanded; 40 employees now operate a commercial bakery that began in the couple's home in Sylva. In renovating the former Square D facility in Asheville, they added solar panels, reclaimed many building materials and used low- and no-VOC paints -- "an expensive endeavor for us," noted Joe, "but we just didn't want to deal with toxic chemicals off-gassing in a natural and organic bakery." Annie's is now preparing for the next step: full organic certification using locally milled North Carolina-grown wheat from Carolina Ground, which is gearing up to link farmers, millers and bakers by providing a viable market for local organic grains.

In accepting his restaurant's award, Posana owner Peter Pollay cited the emphasis on organic and local menu items, noting that they compost all pre- and post-consumer food waste through another local business, Danny's Dumpster. No-VOC paint, no-formaldehyde adhesives and high recycled content in floor coverings and other materials in the dining room further bolster Posana's green credentials. "We were the first certified-green restaurant in North Carolina," Pollay reports, noting that 18 local eateries have since achieved certification by the Green Restaurant Association, "making Asheville the greenest restaurant city in North America. It's very exc iting."

Not to be outdone, co-owner Randy Talley of Green Sage Coffeehouse and Café told the crowd, "The inspiration for our restaurant was to fulfill this prophecy that Asheville is a green city. I was living in north Asheville when Progress Energy announced the oil-burning power plant they wanted to build a mile from my house," he continued, "and I felt like I had to do something that would make a difference ... to inspire people to live healthily, and to green their lives and their communities."

The newly opened Green Sage II in the Dingle Creek Crossing shopping center in south Asheville makes extensive use of recycled and reclaimed materials. Lights are low-energy LEDs, and moving the refrigeration unit outside will slash energy bills. "We even got everyone in Dingle Creek to join us in a major recycling program," Talley told Xpress.

But top honors went to Greenworks Hall of Fame member Mountain Housing Opportunities for such projects as its LEED-certified Glen Rock Depot development in the River Arts District and related educational efforts.

"Location is environmental," notes Director Scott Dedman. There are more than 40,000 jobs within a three-mile radius of downtown, he points out; adding residential units there reduces transit time -- and thus the community's carbon footprint.

And if people find the setting safe, exciting and attractive, continues Dedman, "That's how we're going to turn the environment around."

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