Buzzworm news briefs

Business as if life mattered, Nov. 10

Not infrequently, environmental sensitivity and capitalist profitability are offered as mutually exclusive, even diametrically opposed strategies for business and society. Ecological ethics are cast as either unaffordable or as charitable endeavors for the comfortably equipped — and either way, not compatible with emphasis on the bottom line.

Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial carpet tile, would beg to disagree — and he’ll visit here this week to explain why. From his position at the helm of a Fortune 500 firm, Anderson has become a corporate evangelist for sustainability and environmental citizenship. After experiencing a green awakening in 1994, catalyzed by his reading of Paul Hawken‘s The Ecology of Commerce, the carpet-maker resolved to make Interface a completely sustainable company by 2020.

The goal is nothing less than zero toxic emissions, zero waste and zero use of petroleum — an unheard-of goal in an industry whose products are, in large part, petrochemical. To that end, the company is building solar-powered factories and leasing instead of selling carpet (so that they can reclaim and recycle fiber). Already Interface has slashed waste by 80 percent, water intake by 78 percent, greenhouse-gas emissions by 46 percent, energy consumption by 31 percent and use of petroleum-based materials by 28 percent.

“Our ultimate goal is to put the oil companies completely out of business,” Hawken says, in a tone that is only half humorous.

Perhaps surprisingly, during this retrograde resource cycle the company’s sales and profits have doubled, with annual sales now close to $1 billion. The model and the message have proved enormously popular to other business managers around the world who are driven to do the right thing for both their planet and their shareholders. When Anderson delivered his message as the keynote speaker at an Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce event in 1998, he received a standing ovation.

Anderson will bring his pro-business, pro-environment message to the Warren Wilson College Chapel at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10. His lecture, titled “Sustainability in Action: A Better Way to Bigger Profits,” is free and open to the public.

— Cecil Bothwell

Red dirt dreams

Henry Ford, history tells us, never let liquor pass his lips. Once, on a visit to Asheville, he was offered a jar of moonshine out of pure cordiality. He turned down it down with a huff and a stern look.

But if the father of the American automobile was booze-averse, the black sedans his company churned out by the thousands were not. In the upland South, they were the vehicle of choice for hauling moonshine from hidden stills to urban centers. And lawd, how they ran!

Asheville author and former Baltimore Sun reporter Neal Thompson calls it NASCAR’s “dirty little secret” — the fact that a sport today boasting purses as big as much of the developing world’s GDP started out with Prohibition-buckers throwing rods and toting ‘shine on moonlit, switchback roads.

Dirty or not, NASCAR’s boozy roots and roughneck beginnings make for fine reading, and, in his new book Driving With the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR (Crown, 2006), Thompson resurrects them with a punchy style that matches the velocity of the sport. Readers learn that the founding elements of a sport that would one day ascend to a pan-American, half-billion-dollar industry began with a Ford V-8, a Yankee World War II vet with a bum leg and an abstemious ex-moonshiner from Georgia.

Thompson, who is also a professor at UNCA’s Great Smokies Writing Program, will read from and sign copies of his book at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m..

— Kent Priestley

More condos for Hendersonville Road?

Despite concerns centered around flooding, traffic congestion and the continued development of heavily trafficked Hendersonville Road, the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission has given the go-ahead for Weirbridge Village.

The residential-and-commercial project, slated for nearly 21 acres of undeveloped pastureland adjacent to Crowfields Condominiums at 1741 Hendersonville Road, would boast 336 condo units on the backside of the development, with several acres fronting Hendersonville Road that would be devoted to unspecified commercial development.

At its Nov. 1 meeting, the commission voted 6-1 in favor of the project, with Chairman Tom Byers dissenting. The proposed project now must pass muster with City Council before it can proceed.

The commission voted to rezone the parcel, once owned by commission Vice Chairman Steve Sizemore, from low-density residential and multifamily to a higher-density Highway Business Conditional Zoning designation. Sizemore, who no longer holds any financial interest in the property or the proposed project, was allowed to vote on the rezoning request after clearing it with City Attorney Bob Oast.

Commission members lamented that development in the area would only continue but said they saw Weirbridge as a thoughtful and well-planned venture by a well-respected developer.

“I’ve enjoyed driving along there and seeing the cows and the pasture,” said Commissioner Jerome Jones. “But Hendersonville Highway is what it is.”

Byers was more dubious. “When I first heard about this project, I thought it would be easy,” he said. “But I have strong reservations [now].” With adjacent residential areas zoned for lower densities, Byers said he thought the rezoning was “drastic.”

Several residents in the area around the proposed project, who said they feared that storm-water runoff from Weirbridge would exacerbate an already flood-prone area, rose in opposition. One such resident submitted a petition against the project signed by 173 people in the area.

Crowfields attorney Paul Bidwell said the project’s high density would only add to problems now experienced in the area, most notably flooding and traffic.

“Its scale is out of proportion; its size is out of proportion,” Bidwell said. “This is taking one of the nicer parts of Charlotte and plopping it down in Asheville.”

Crowfields resident David Sudock said Weirbridge was “an unreasonable project” that would destroy what little undeveloped land is left along Hendersonville Road. “It’s the wrong project in the wrong place,” he said.

Quality Forward Executive Director Susan Roderick was one of the few to stand in support of the project and its developer, Rusty Pulliam. To ameliorate concerns about traffic and water runoff, Pulliam’s plans include widening Racquet Club Road and installing a stoplight, in addition to offering Crowfields access to the site to make turning left onto Hendersonville Road easier. To address runoff concerns, the developer plans to install up to 16 “rain gardens” to capture water, absorb it and then release it at a controlled rate. Stormwater consultant Jeff Young told commissioners that the plans should actually improve area drainage, despite the scale of the project.

In addition, Weirbridge would use green-building technologies in its construction and would dedicate 10 percent of the 336 units to affordable and work-force housing in a project where the average prices for the one-to-three-bedroom condos will likely range from $375,000 to $425,000. Pulliam also agreed to limit the square footage of any commercial development on site.

“I feel like these people have put together what looks like a first-class development,” said Commissioner Buzzy Cannady.

— Hal L. Millard

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