The Green Scene

At Warren Wilson College, sustainability is more than just a buzzword: It’s the guiding principle behind the annual Mountain Green Sustainability Conference, slated for Wednesday, June 24. “It’s an attempt by the college to be a catalyst for change in the region,” says Phillip Gibson, director of research and community outreach at the school’s Environmental Leadership Center.

The race to be green: Racecar driver Leilani Münter (aka the Carbon Free Girl) is the keynote speaker for Warren Wilson College’s June 24 Mountain Green Sustainability Conference. Photo courtesy Leilani Münter

Launched in 2006, Mountain Green is a year-round initiative sponsored by the ELC, he explains. Typically focused on the building-and-development industry, Mountain Green has expanded its scope this year to include tourism and manufacturing, notes Gibson, posing this question: “How can we minimize the environmental effects of our development practices, our purchases, decorating the interior of our homes or offices, or getting to work?”

From September to May, Mountain Green’s Lunch & Learn Series, which is open to the public, presents monthly educational lunches designed to help address such questions. The June conference includes presentations, speakers, vendors and a broad range of breakout sessions, from “Tax Incentives for Going Green” to “Green Plumbing.” And throughout the year, the INSULATE! program weatherproofs the homes of low-income Buncombe County residents while training young adults in marketable skills. Furthermore, those who attend a certain number of Lunch & Learn workshops and then develop their own green project (such as setting up a car pool at work) can earn a sustainability certificate, Gibson explains.

By its very nature, Mountain Green is a collaborative venture, with Steering Committee members representing such diverse groups and businesses as the Asheville Board of Realtors, Build It Naturally, HandMade in America, the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Council of Independent Business Owners, notes Gibson.

More and more frequently, he says, business leaders hear their clients and colleagues asking, “What can I do to become greener?” The conference shows how: All the food served on June 24 will be locally grown and produced, the organizers are encouraging participants to car-pool, and all conference materials are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, Gibson reports.

The featured speakers seem likely to present some interesting perspectives. There’s Beth Sinnott of Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, one of North Carolina’s (and the nation’s) greenest hostelries; Simon B. Rich, whose Raleigh company, Solid Recovered Fuel, developed a program that converts trash into fuel; and Leilani Münter, a racecar driver who’s out to green NASCAR.

Münter—who has a biology degree with a focus on ecology, behavior and evolution—styles herself the Carbon Free Girl, whose motto is “Life is short. Race hard. Live green.” The self-described “vegetarian hippie-chick racecar driver”—only the fourth woman to race in the Indy Pro Series—loves barreling down a track at 200 mph, but is also a spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation. The former model has served as a photo double for Catherine Zeta-Jones and other actresses.

Conference freebies

The Mountain Green Sustainability Conference will feature several free events that are open to the general public. At about 10 a.m. on June 24, the Carolina Raptor Center will release an orphaned owl back into the wild. A mini tailgate market will run from 5 to 7 p.m., and from 6 to 7 p.m., the Asheville blues band Skinny Legs and All will perform (seating is limited).
To learn more about the conference, go to

“She comes with some celebrity status,” Gibson concedes. Last December, some Mountain Green steering-committee members heard Münter speak on National Public Radio about her efforts to green NASCAR, practice sustainability in her own life, and use her position to help spread the word, he explains.

Münter has spoken to Congress about climate change and, earlier this year, raced a hydrogen-fueled Ford Focus in the Viking Rally—a zero-emissions-vehicle competition held in Norway. “I am going to use my racecar as a vehicle—pun intended—to change my sport. … Imagine a racecar not covered with logos asking fans to buy something but instead calling to action millions of fans to make a difference,” Münter wrote in a 2008 Huffington Post blog.

Both conference attendees and the general public can hear what she has to say from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on June 24. But whether it’s Münter rallying the troops or a breakout session on green cleaning supplies inspiring a hotel to change its practices, Mountain Green is more than just a conference, stresses Gibson. It’s an opportunity to green your home, business or whole industry—even one that moves at 200 mph.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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