The Green Scene

Major players in Asheville’s real-estate and economic-development sectors—the Asheville Home Builders Association, the Asheville Board of Realtors, and the Council of Independent Business Owners, to name a few—have partnered with the Western North Carolina Green Building Council and Warren Wilson College’s Environmental Leadership Center to stage a conference on sustainable development.

This is how it’s done: The Orr Cottage, certified LEED-gold, proves that Warren Wilson takes green building seriously. Can they bring developers on board?

Titled “Mountain Green,” the conference will feature workshops on renewable-energy systems, sediment and storm-water controls, and energy-efficient building design. There will also be a panel discussion on the thorny issue of local building ordinances. Audience members will include general contractors, developers, lawyers, realtors and architects.

Some 100,000 acres of forests, farmlands and natural areas are lost to development in North Carolina every year, according to Land for Tomorrow, a statewide partnership of organizations advocating land conservation.

Phillip Gibson of Warren Wilson’s Environmental Leadership Center, a member of the conference’s steering committee, notes that the school is regarded as a green pioneer among college campuses, with substantial green-building experience. Gibson hopes that inviting leading local developers to the campus to share that knowledge will inspire more environmentally sensitive practices across the board. While a term like “sustainable design” is standard fare for local environmental groups, Mountain Green aims to educate the real-estate and development sectors on the basics of “going green,” says Gibson.

The conference is the brainchild of local attorney Bob Deutsch, a real-estate specialist who also serves on Warren Wilson’s board of trustees. He was inspired by a similar event called Greenprints, which his daughter helped organize through her work with the Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute.

“Due to all the real-estate development and the pressures on land, I thought it would be very beneficial to do a Greenprints-type conference here,” Deutsch explains. “The thing I’m proudest of is that we’ve been able to bring together a whole bunch of organizations in the community that haven’t always been on the same side of this issue.”

Implementing green-building practices can help address problems like worsening air quality or the growing threats associated with climate change. But these days, the potential cash flow from major investors who are plunking down considerable chunks of change for green initiatives is likely to provide more of an incentive to go green.

“Not only are builders interested,” notes Gibson, “but lending institutions are interested.” In March, the Charlotte-based Bank of America announced a $20 billion initiative to support the growth of environmentally friendly businesses and carbon-trading systems. The bank is one of the sponsors of “Mountain Green,” and Senior Vice President Robert Kee will deliver the keynote address. (Ironically, the Bank of America was the target of a protest staged by climate-change activists in downtown Asheville on June 8. Calling the bank a “climate criminal,” protesters pointed to the bank’s financial ties to Massey Energy, Peabody Energy and other companies engaged in mountaintop-removal coal mining.)

Another conference steering-committee member, Caroline Sutton of the Asheville Home Builders Association, says she’s seen a growth in demand for green homes. “We have a great deal of people who come to the area and ask for green builders,” she reports, adding that some of those newcomers hail from places like New York and Florida, where “green building” has become a buzzword. Members of the Home Builders’ Association are open to learning more about green practices, notes Sutton.

Deutsch, too, says that demand is on the rise. “Personally, my observation is that we’re at a tipping point,” he maintains. “It seems to me that the economics of the supply and the demand are coming together. You’ve got consumers who are demanding this, and the technology is at the practical realm at the moment.”

Asheville resident Elaine Lite, who’s involved with several grassroots efforts opposing unsustainable growth, says she was surprised to hear about Mountain Green at first but thinks it represents an important step. “If it will bring [developers] into the fold to truly acknowledge that we have some serious problems with unchecked development, and educate them on the importance of sustainability, it would be wonderful,” she says.

Conference co-organizer Maggie Leslie of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council views Mountain Green as “a great opportunity” to educate a more mainstream audience about sustainable design. “I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: ‘You don’t have to be weird to go green,’” she says.

Builders, developers and real-estate agents don’t have to be weird to attend “Mountain Green,” but they do have to shell out a $110 registration fee, which covers materials, lunch and refreshments. For more, call 771-3781.

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