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Sweet Carolinas

9/24/2008 12:00:00 AM


I just returned from a short three-city tour, during which I had the privilege of presenting workshops on creating green, healthy homes in Mount Airy, North Carolina; Rock Hill, South Carolina; and Salisbury, North Carolina. Great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone here in Boulder (where everyone, it seems, thinks alike and green building is more the norm than the exception). I found in the South an enthusiasm for and interest in green building that left me truly inspired. 

During an all-day workshop sponsored by Surry Community College, I was able to start the “green” conversation with an eclectic crowd, including several students who are involved in building Habitat for Humanity homes. This younger generation’s zeal for green building is already making a difference for low-income folks who will live in healthier, more energy efficient homes. After an extensive review of how the chemicals and toxic materials we use to build our homes can affect our health, one participant had an aha! moment. “I just moved into a new house, and I haven’t been able to breathe since,” she told me. “I never put two and two together. I’m calling my husband right now!”  It’s moments like these that make everything we do at Natural Home worthwhile. 

At the Museum of York County in Rock Hill, I spoke in tandem with my friend Wanda Urbanska, host of the PBS series Simple Living and a tireless advocate for green. (Perhaps the funniest moment in the evening was hearing Wanda very graciously explain how a dual-flush toilet works!) The crowd that gathered on a rainy night in Rock Hill was eager for information and peppered us with smart questions. 

Crowds like this have inspired museum president Van Shields to undertake an ambitious museum and housing development now under way in nearby Fort Hill. Working with architect William McDonough, Shields is creating Kanawha, a unique development on 400 acres overlooking the Catawba River. An environmental history museum, the Museum of Life and the Environment, will share the land with a sustainable housing community designed to preserve the land, water and air in this growing region. I’m looking forward to following Kanawha’s progress as it gets under way. 

I couldn’t have ended my short tour in a more idyllic place than Salisbury, North Carolina, where I got to speak to a gathering of smart, gregarious environmentalists at the Catawba College Center for the Environment . The Center for the Environment, launched in 1996, is housed in one of North Carolina’s first green buildings (it includes a geothermal system, sustainable and recycled materials and smart lighting and energy systems), built in 2001. Set amid a 189-acre nature preserve that incorporates more than 110 species of native plants, three wildlife ponds, bogs and flowing streams, the preserve is both an educational tool and a model of conservation. 

What a treat it was to stand behind a wheatboard podium and speak to an eager crowd in a room looking out over a healthy, verdant forest. Made me realize that we Boulderites may think we’re ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to green building—but we could learn a lot by listening to our compatriots in North Carolina.

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