WNC Sierra Club announces Environmental Recognition Awards winners

Press release from the WNC Sierra Club:

The WNC Sierra Club will present its annual Environmental Recognition Awards on Thursday, Dec. 5, at its Potluck Holiday Party. The awards are made in recognition of local individuals, institutions and businesses whose actions reflect their commitment to preserving the environment.

The party gets underway at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place, Asheville. Please bring a dish to share, as well as your own dishes and silverware. This event is free and open to the public.

This year’s six awards are:

Lifetime Environmental Leader: Molly Diggins

It has been two decades since Molly Diggins joined the Sierra Club in 1981. She assumed many volunteer roles with the Sierra Club in both her Winston Salem group in and at the state level in North Carolina, including serving as Chapter Chair and chair of the Chapter’s Conservation and Legislative Committees. In 2007, she was hired as the North Carolina Sierra Club’s first chapter director, a position she has held for the past 22 years.

During her tenure, and supported by the outstanding chapter staff she created, the club has grown to more than 100,000 members and supporters in North Carolina. Diggins has worked to build public and political support for the passage of wide-ranging and groundbreaking environmental policies on both the local and state level. She has represented us at the table for countless landmark accomplishments, including the Clean Smokestacks Act (2002), and the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (2007). 

The Charlotte Observer proclaimed Diggins a “Guardian of the Environment,” saying “It would be difficult to name a single environmental issue in North Carolina that Molly Diggins and the staff of the state chapter have not been involved in.”

As Diggins retires this year, her accomplishments are being lauded with a wave of praise and acknowledgment. Recently awarded “The Order of the Longleaf Pine.” the highest award of the state of North Carolina, by Governor Roy Cooper, she will also soon receive the “Dogwood Award” from Attorney General Josh Stein.

Green Elected Official: Brownie Newman

Brownie Newman has been chosen Green Elected Official of the Year for his leadership and vision to move our county away from reliance on carbon to 100% Renewable Energy. 

Chair of the Buncombe County Commission and co-founder of Headwaters Solar, Newman has led the effort to get the county to adopt the most aggressive 100% Renewable Energy Goal in the southeast. This goal calls for the county government to reach 100% renewable energy by 2030 and the entire county to reach that goal by 2042. 

He is now leading the efforts to aggressive install solar on city, county, public school and AB Tech-owned property in an effort to reach the county’s goal well ahead of schedule. Previously, Brownie had served on the Asheville City Council where he led efforts for the city to adopt an 80% carbon reduction goal, a goal which has led to the city reducing its energy usage by 30%. 

Forest Protection Award: Sam Evans

A senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville, Evans’ primary focus is on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in Western North Carolina and the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee.

He has been involved in the Pisgah and Nantahala Plan revision, representing conservation values and public involvement, while coordinating with Sierra Club and other conservation-aligned groups. With no shortage of threats to public lands, Evans has played a lead role in fighting new proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Forest Service rules that would exclude public participation from most National Forest activities.

Green Business Award: REI

Calling itself a “different kind of company,” REI is a maverick in the outdoors industry. Not only does it push its own stores to sustainable practices, but it influences its vendors to do the same. At the same time, it takes a stand for reversing climate change and helping everyone, regardless of clothing size or economic status, to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Its goal is to leave the planet healthier than it found it and to use 100 % renewable energy for its operations.
The store itself is a standout, from the skylights that bring in as much natural light as possible, to the solar hot water, to the timer-controlled HVAC and lighting, and to the commitment to achieve zero waste by 2020. The store recycles cardboard, mixed paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass, and its vendor takes its silica gel packs back.

The store’s attitude reflects the philosophy of its parent company. In its 2018 Stewardship Report, it states, “As a co-op, we put purpose before profits.” It show(s) what we’ve done to get more people outside, operate more sustainably, and protect and create access to outdoor places.”

Green Volunteer Club: Carolina Mountain Club

Established in 1923, the Carolina Mountain Club (CMC) is one of the oldest hiking clubs in the United States. Its mission is to encourage and support hiking in the Western North Carolina Mountains. The club does this by leading hikes and welcoming all who are capable of participating, building and maintaining over 450 miles of hiking trails. The club has accepted responsibility for some sections of the Appalachian Trail and Mountains to Sea Trail. It works with public and private partners to conserve our natural heritage.

With more than 1,000 members, CMC has eight crews and individual section maintainers that maintain trails in Western North Carolina. The club leads almost 200 hikes each year and supports trail and forest conservation through active advocacy. Operating as a 100% volunteer organization, the CMMC has no office and no paid staff. It is governed by a Council that meets quarterly and committees that plan and execute the work of the club.

Green Solar Congregation Award: The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville (UUA) installed 105 solar panels, creating a 37kW system that generates an average of 85% of the electricity used in the main campus building. This figure stands to rise as the congregation further updates its lighting. Simultaneously, UUA installed a new white roof membrane. Together, the panels and roof are expected to last decades.

Given a total cost in excess of $148,000 and a Duke Energy rebate of close to $26,000, the breakeven time is estimated at under 18 years.

UUA is committed to becoming a net-zero and carbon neutral energy use campus.

For more information about these Environmental Recognition Awards, contact Judy Mattox, judymattox@sbcglobal.net, 828-683-2176.

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