The Green Scene

Environmental awards have been piling up like fall leaves around here. Xpress thought you might like to know who’s been winning what, and why.

Asheville’s got (compressed) gas

Eight years ago this month, Mark Combs persuaded Asheville’s City Council to add natural-gas-fueled vehicles to its fleet. The public-works director argued that grants were available for building a fueling station, Mission Hospital would come on board, and the city would be doing its part to reduce air pollution in Buncombe County (see “Asheville City Council” Nov. 15, 2000 Xpress).

Green wheels: NGVAmerica, an industry group, has recognized the city of Asheville for greening its fleet with cars and trucks that use compressed natural gas — such as the Honda shown here with Fleet Manager Chris Dobbins. Photo by Jonathan Welch

Five years later, a state grant helped offset the cost of building the region’s first fast-fill station for compressed natural gas (otherwise, it can take up to eight hours to fill a CNG tank). And though the city’s 12 vehicles are short of the 21 Combs initially anticipated purchasing, the program has earned Asheville a bit of recognition this year—the National Natural Gas Vehicles Achievement Award, presented by NGVAmerica and the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation.

Fleet Manager Chris Dobbins reports that Asheville now has six CNG Chevy pickup trucks and six Honda Civic GXs. The city has since received another grant from the state Division of Air Quality to help purchase a CNG garbage truck, and Mission, which now has eight CNG Hondas of its own, is fueling up at the city station, he says. Dobbins—recognized in the award for having “shepherded” the CNG station project and being a “champion” for educational outreach—points out that the facility is also open to the public (just bring MasterCard or Visa).

“Asheville’s investment in the public-access CNG station and their willingness to share their experience with others is an investment in their community,” notes education foundation President Doug Horne.

CNG-powered vehicles emit about 98 percent less air pollution than gasoline-powered vehicles, Combs points out. And CNG, he adds, is still cheaper than gasoline, though a 50-cent-per-gallon federal credit is set to expire at the end of the year—if it’s not renewed.

Warrren Wilson College nabs two enviro awards

Some colleges win on the football field; Warren Wilson College scores on the green gridiron.

The National Wildlife Federation has named WWC the country’s leading school for waste reduction and recycling. The national nonprofit acknowledged the award in its Campus Environment 2008: A National Report Card on Environmental Performance and Sustainability in Higher Education. The report card notes that the college’s extensive recycling and solid-waste operations, which began in 1981 as a one-student enterprise, evolved into a partnership with Buncombe County and the town of Montreat that established the first drop-off recycling centers in the county. And though the college is no longer active in countywide recycling, its “multifaceted operation … processes trash and over 25 different recyclables.” The whole shebang is now run by a 20-student crew supervised by Jessica Wooten. (Earlier this year, the Carolina Recycling Association gave its first award for Outstanding College or University Recycling Program to Warren Wilson.)

Meanwhile, Quality Forward has inducted the college into its Hall of Fame in recognition of the school’s Environmental Leadership Center, which Quality Forward board members say has done “more for the environment than anyone else in Buncombe County in 2008.”

The local nonprofit cited the center’s work in “insulating homes, teaching children [and] reducing waste and energy use.” Director Susan Roderick adds, “By reaching out to include so many people in its many initiatives, the Environmental Leadership Center is an outstanding example of hands-on environmental improvement in the community.”

Founded in 1996, the Environmental Leadership Center has launched numerous programs both on and off campus as part of its mission “to raise awareness of local, national and global environmental realities and to inspire caring citizens—especially our youth—to reflect, to communicate and to act as responsible caretakers of the earth.”

One such program is EcoTeam, an environmental-education program for third-graders that uses fundamental ecological concepts to help students connect with the natural world. One of the center’s most recent projects, INSULATE!, reaches out to below-poverty-level homeowners and insulates their homes free of charge, to reduce their utility bills.

Quality Forward’s annual Hall of Fame award has now been given to two divisions of Warren Wilson College. The college’s Service-Learning Office is a past recipient. (Make a note, too, that the 35-year-old Quality Forward is evolving into Asheville GreenWorks. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site,, and click on the newsletter.)

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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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