Sustainability in real life

Two years ago, enviro-activist Ned Doyle hit the pause button on the Southeast Environment and Energy Expo he brought to the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center every year. The event focused on clean energy and environmental conservation, and when last held in 2010, it drew about 8,000 participants.

But once he reached that plateau, Doyle came to feel that he was preaching to the converted, and the next year, he announced that the event’s 10-year run was over.

The SEE Expo needed a reboot.

Then came the call from local builder, SEE exhibitor and Peak Productions owner Tim Alexander, who asked Doyle to join forces and help “green up” the annual Western North Carolina Home Show. Alexander was promoting the event, and the idea was appealing, says Doyle. But efforts to do anything less than a wholesale retooling might amount to mere green washing, he recalls telling the promoter.

“About two months later, [Alexander] called and said, ‘We’ve reserved the Civic Center; we’re going to do a green event!’” says Doyle, a tall, long-bearded fellow who almost always has a jovial lilt in his baritone voice. Just like that, Doyle says, “I went from a sole proprietorship to working with a team at Peak Productions [to put on an event] that would reach more of a general population.”

Building on SEE Expo’s original focus, the Sept. 14-16 Southern Green Living Expo adds sustainable economics. An expanded agenda includes topics such as jobs training for workers in green-energy systems, and the economics behind protecting our region’s “natural commodities,” Doyle explains.

In another first, the expo will also offer free disposal of electronic waste — the old cell phones, computers, monitors, and related devices cluttering up your life: Asheville-based E-cycleUs will be collect electronics across the street from the U.S. Cellular Center (formerly named the Asheville Civic Center; for more info, see “E-cycleUs!”).

Alexander also notes that sustainability is all the more relevant during a recession. “While people are watching every dollar they’re spending, there’s a myriad of green-living products” that help save money, he says. Cost-conscious homeowners can pursue “the low-hanging fruit” — solutions that have a real return on investment, and don’t cost more than traditional building practices, such as creating a tight building envelope, he explains.

“Some of today’s advanced framing techniques use less lumber and get more insulation in” to save on heating and cooling as well as building costs, says Alexander. In addition, “homeowners can add better windows, or one of the on-demand hot-water systems that don’t cost a lot more than the standard hot-water tank. North Carolina tax credits can help.”

An expanded list of practical seminars on these and other aspects of green living will be offered over the three-day event, Doyle continues. “Do you want to save money? Do you want to make money? Want a sustainable economic base? Are you looking for a job?” he asks. With 48 seminars on tap, “everybody will find something every hour that will be of interest,” says Doyle, adding that green living isn’t about “futuristic or maybe-someday technology. It’s all proven approaches that make sense economically.”

The Southern Green Living Expo is presented by Peak Productions, and sponsored by the WNC Green Building Council, WNC Alliance, BackHome Magazine, Earth Fare, Mountain Xpress, A-B Tech, HomeSource Design Center, Progress Energy, Asheville Radio:The River, MAIN, WZGM, SheVille, LUX Lighting and ASAP.

For more information, visit southerngreenlivingexpo.

— Susan Andrew is a freelance writer and researcher based in Asheville.

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