Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Oct '11

Naturally Green

People often ask us why we left Seattle. Valerie always points to me and says, “because of Ron!”  Yes, I was the one who ultimately made the decision, but it wasn’t on a whim, there were lots of reasons behind it. Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times had a story about a local business, actually several local businesses, that reveals a big difference between Seattle and Asheville and exemplifies one of the reasons why I just had to move away.

Several years ago the City of Seattle, being a bastion of progressive environmentalist thinkers, determined that foam takeout containers, plastic forks and spoons, and plastic grocery bags were BAD. They don’t break down in landfills, the bags blow away in the wind becoming unsightly litter, and if they get into a body of water, can be eaten by fish and wildlife which will choke and die. If all that isn’t bad enough, being plastic, they’re manufactured from crude oil. Bad Bad Bad. So what does the City of Seattle do? Why institute a ban of course, complete with inspectors, enforcement, and hefty fines. To their credit, the City did have a public comment period (not that it mattered since they were going forward no matter what) and delayed implementing the ordinance for several months to give the restaurants and grocery stores time to prepare. Unfortunately, at the time, there weren’t many viable alternatives (I heard that the biodegradable spoons tended to melt in hot liquids) and the alternatives that did exist were very expensive. Too bad! They knew what was good for us. To paraphrase an old Seinfeld line “No Styrofoam take-out containers for you!” Restaurants, by order of the City, had to make it happen. Practicality and cost be damned. Or else!

Now, Asheville, at its core, has the same mindset as Seattle—lots of treehuggers (and I say that in a nice way). The City has talked about the issue of foam and bags at a few council meetings but rather than using a hammer to pass an ordinance banning these products, hiring inspectors, and levying fines they…drum roll…decided to do nothing! Really. And, guest what? Without government waving its fist at them, the private sector is figuring it out on its own. Nineteen local restaurants have taken it upon themselves to become Certified Green Restaurants. They will train their staff, implement processes, and purchase products to meet specific criteria for pursuing the certification; water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, responsible energy consumption, environmentally sound disposable products, and chemical and pollution reduction. To quote the owner of Tupelo Honey, “Green travelers and other people who want to support the people who are supporting the green movement will want to come to Asheville.”  My guess is that because of peer pressure many more restaurants will follow their lead and in a couple years (probably as long as it took Seattle to roll out their mandated program) most of the restaurants will go green, and they’ll probably end up being more green than if they were forced to just replace their foam, plastic, and bags.

It’s a different approach here. People do good because it’s the right thing to do, not because government is forcing them. I like it.

Read more about the Seattle approach here…

Read more about the Asheville approach here…

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