Tags:Start small. Think big. Pass it on. Build on that foundation. This pay-it-forward idea might have started with Benjamin Franklin, who told an acquaintance not to pay him back for the money given, but to pass it along to the next person who needed it. “I hope it may thus go through many hands,” Franklin told Benjamin Webb in 1864. “This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”
There’s a strong dose of this spirit underpinning the Western North Carolina Green Building Council. In 2000, the organization was little more than an idea tossed about by six building professionals. They aspired to educate others on the health and environmental impacts of design and construction. That mission is well under way and gaining momentum each year.
In 2006, the council had 150 members. Two years later, that number had grown to 450. By early 2009, membership had risen to 550.
In 2004, the council partnered with state organizations such as the N.C. Solar Center to create the North Carolina HealthyBuilt Homes program, a statewide building-performance rating system that helps homebuilders establish truly green, high-performance, low-impact homes across the region. From a mere 19 homes certified in the WNC program in 2006, the program numbered 220 at the start of 2009. More than half those homes were certified in 2008. Another 700 are in the works, the council reports.
The WNC Green Building Council also became an official provider for the LEED for Homes program in January 2009 and is working on five homes in the program. The council’s greening forward with its education programs, too: More than 850 people participated in its outreach presentations and class series this past year.
On-the-ground progress is also showing up in its partnerships. In a joint project between the council’s carbon-offset program Appalachian Offsets, the Asheville Housing Authority and local businesses, student volunteers from the University of North Carolina at Asheville changed out a total of 13,000 incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs. The effort will result in savings of more than $500,000 and five million kilowatt hours over the life of the bulbs; that means a reduction of 3,700 tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere.
Such efforts go a long way toward green building, or sustainable design. It’s an attitude shift away from high-impact practices still prevalent in the building industry. Stormwater and erosion problems at construction sites can degrade streams. The wood used in construction may come from clear-cuts that ravage forest habitats. Some common interior products can emit harmful chemicals, such as the formaldehyde still used in many plywood/veneer adhesives or the volatile organic compounds released by many stains and paints. The green-building approach aims to show that it doesn’t have to be done that way -- and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
For example, some of the first steps towards sustainability are increased efficiency, including exchanging incandescent lights for CFLs, weather stripping and caulking windows to prevent heat loss, or installing a $30 timer on your hot-water heater so it’s only hitting peak temperatures when needed. Local nonprofits such as Asheville GO! train youth in such work, as well as the more technical tasks, such as installing solar panels. Local governments are catching on, too. As one town planner observed, her office has a tremendous opportunity to educate residents, builders and contractors, simply because so many of them come through town-hall doors looking for information and seeking permits.
And homeowners and business owners willing to do a little more — sometimes spend a little more and be out front a little more — are showing that sustainability can be accomplished. We can use energy, water and materials more effectively. We can have a gentler impact on human health and the environment, whether building a new home or renovating a business building.
Consider the Cherokee Central School Campus, a project that the Green Building Council helped along. With a silver-level LEED certification in sight, the 500,000-square-foot, 50-acre facility will open its campus to students in the fall of 2009. Or take a look at the net-zero-energy home owned by Yves Naar near Brevard. Or catch a glimpse of the solar panels popping up in the region — on top of Green Sage Coffeehouse and the YWCA in Asheville or spread across seven acres in Haywood County. And ponder the positive results that will come out of the council’s efforts to get Habitat for Humanity and the Eastern Band of Cherokee certifying HealthyBuilt homes for low-income families.
These are signs that green building is coming of age.
Not content with that, of course, the WNC Green Building Council has planned an ambitious 2009. The council is developing a three-year strategic plan. Thanks to a grant from The Community Foundation of WNC, they’re also busy planning two Asheville bus-stop shelters that demonstrate green-building techniques. They’re developing and will pilot a Green Communities certification program, too.
Hopefully, some of the tips and stories in this directory will spark your own efforts to green it forward. The directory offers a mix of case studies, articles by professionals in the field, fact sheets, tips and — of course — listings of companies and individuals that can get you a step closer to sustainability.
For more information about the WNC Green Building Council, visit the Web site at www.wncgbc.org, or call (828) 254-1995.
Margaret Williams is contributing editor at Mountain Xpress, and writes a weekly environmental news column for the newspaper called "Green Scene." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (828) 251-1333, ext. 152.