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North Carolina Takes Reins For Green Future

By Lesley Lammers

The sustainability movement is making waves in North Carolina, at least that’s the impression one might have gotten from the budding enthusiasm at yesterday’s GreenNC: Building for a Sustainable Future in Durham, North Carolina.

Mayor Bill Bell opened up the conference by bragging about his Bull City, which has become a hub for social and environmental entrepreneurship, a model post-industrial town that has risen from the ashes and is witnessing its rebirth amidst repurposed historic tobacco warehouses and textile mills. Bell observed that with the recent climate talks in South Africa, it’s important to remember that the US is one of the world’s highest emitters of greenhouse gases. Bell pronounced, “We’ve got to begin locally,” which is why the city of Durham set the ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

North Carolina State Senator Josh Stein, recognized by the Sierra Club and NC Conservation Council as an ‘Environmental Champion,’ got into the nuts and bolts of the state legislative process and how challenging – but not impossible – it can be to push legislation through for emerging industries such as green building. “Sustainability and energy efficiency – it is a harder time for pushing those agendas forward than it was two years ago. That said, you are a growing sector of the economy and it will take hard work.”

It appears the Tar Heel state is gladly up to the challenge. Just the Triangle area alone attracts an innovative, entrepreneurial, forward looking bunch, which makes sense considering it is home to institutions like Duke’s Center for Sustainability, Research Triangle Park, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School's Center for Sustainable Enterprise, Bull City Forward, among other sustainability-oriented businesses and organizations.

Meanwhile, the green housing business in North Carolina appears to be on the up and up. In fact, green homes make up roughly 20 percent of new single family home sales in the Triangle and Raleigh was the first city in the country to do a Green Homes Tour back in 2006, according to the GreenNC panel of green housing experts addressing the “State of the Green Home Market in the Triangle.”

Keynote speaker Nate Kredich, VP of Residential Market Development for USGBC, built on the momentum, encouraging attendees to see this moment as one that cannot be overlooked, “The change is massive, but so too is the opportunity.” Referencing what he calls one of the most well written business books, Switch: How to Changes Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, Kredich insisted that the green building movement’s biggest challenge will be to leverage both the rational and emotional self, which are in constant battle when it comes to decision making.

As the book observes, “If you want to change things, you've got to appeal to both.” Kredich expanded upon this idea, illustrating how the green building industry’s rational side must lead the movement toward the ultimate goal -- in this case building a sustainable future -- via logical, specified, strategic moves (like LEED certification and other standards including Earth Craft and NC HealthyBuilt Homes).

Green building advocates must also simultaneously call upon the brain’s emotional side, splitting the challenge up into more bite-sized pieces that don’t overwhelm with the daunting nature of the task at hand (greening all existing and new buildings, oh my!). While saving on energy costs is a major concern for home buyers, Kredich believes making the case for building homes that are healthier for our families is a strong argument that appeals to those feelings of concern for the well-being of our future generations, making that human connection between homeowners and builders and subsequently generating initiatives like the Net Zero Revolution.

To bring his pep talk to a close, Kredich quoted from Thomas Friedman's remarks at the recent GreenBuild gathering, agreeing that while all signs point toward a grim outlook, this movement might just succeed because we are all “too dumb to quit.” From all the laughs and smiles in the room, you might have thought that was the nicest compliment this group of green building professionals had ever received.

Lesley Lammers headshot

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

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