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Reading, Riding, and Retrofit

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Reading, Riding, and Retrofit: Schools Leading the Way to Sustainability

Buncombe County and Asheville, North Carolina

Federal Funding: $499,500
Project Timeline: February 2010 – September 2012

Project Summary

To support Buncombe's growing green industry sector, the Land-of-Sky Regional Planning Council developed the Reading, Riding, and Retrofit Project (RRR), a collaborative program that provides City and County school systems with tools to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, conserve energy, and reduce operational costs while educating students and the community. This project used two strategies to achieve these goals:

  • Funding school building and transportation energy efficiency retrofits while implementing sustainable policies and procedures, and
  • Mobilizing "Green Teams" to undertake school-based sustainability projects.

The Land-of-Sky Regional Planning Council has wrapped up EPA Climate Showcase Communities component of the RRR. Schools throughout the region completed energy efficiency projects, including lighting retrofits in school gymnasiums and upgrades of electronic energy interfaces. Green Teams in schools throughout the Land-Of-Sky region implemented projects designed to reduce GHG emissions, conserve energy, and reduce operational costs. Green Team projects included a food waste assessment and waste recovery plan, an inter-school energy conservation competition, and installation of reforestation and native plant educational signs along an existing school nature trail. The project staff produced a final report of the project outcomes, which included an annual reduction of 1,315 metric tons (MT) of GHGs. Public awareness and engagement was also a priority for the project: website updates and a visually-appealing brochure promote the project’s activities and highlight key results.

The momentum gained with RRR has led to the adoption of additional energy- and sustainability-related projects, multiplying the effect of initial efforts. Funding from the EPA Climate Showcase Communities program leveraged Federal Energy Conservation Block Grant Funds and rebates from the local electric utility to gain even larger savings. As an outgrowth of the regional program, project staff will develop a statewide NC Green Schools Recognition Program, which launched in 2013.

To implement energy efficiency retrofits in school buildings, the Land-of-Sky Council coordinated energy efficiency training workshops with facilities, maintenance, and custodial staff. The Council directed sub-grants to school retrofits that meet cost-effectiveness, GHG reduction, and energy use reduction criteria.

At the same time, transportation planning staff worked with schools to identify transportation energy efficiency improvements. The project also institutionalized sustainable policies to ensure that recycled and renewable products were more widely used, that new appliances met energy efficiency guidelines, and that lunch programs included a greater share of locally-grown foods.

Green Teams composed of students, teachers, parents, and custodial staff provided support, education, and outreach for the RRR project. These Teams conducted Environmental Leadership Projects such as school-wide recycling competitions, student-organized energy audits, commuter challenges, community gardens, composting programs, or environmental art contests.

The project provided benefits from reduced GHG emissions and cost savings, job training opportunities, increased community awareness of sustainability issues, and improved health and educational experiences for students. It also strengthened existing partnerships between the Council and many stakeholders including participating schools and other energy-related coalitions and projects in the region. The Land-of-Sky Council views the RRR project as an important first step towards a far-reaching sustainability plan for schools across the County.

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                               75,000 (Asheville);

                                               223,000 (Buncombe County)

Area:                                       41 square miles (Asheville);

                                              656 square miles (Buncombe County)

Government Type:                    Regional Council

Community Type:                     Urban

Median household income:        $43,805

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Final Results

Projected Cumulative Results  

Annual GHG Reductions

1,057.4 mt CO2e

1,129 mt CO2e

Annual Electricity Savings

2,477 MWh

1,672 MWh

Annual Cost Savings



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Lessons learned

  • Like with any large organization, or with organizations you have not worked with before, it takes time to develop relationships and know who to talk to about various issues/projects. It helped that the Waste Reduction Partners staff had done prior work with some of the schools and had some good relationships. 
  • Green Team microgrants stimulated some projects and teachers, but we were surprised that we didn’t get more response. Tried to make application simple but may not have been simple enough.

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  • Grant funds were critical to allow schools to undertake the retrofit projects. 
  • School staff need to feel they have ownership over projects, so they will “champion” them and continue to make these types of improvements.
  • Green Teams are complex and there is no one size that fits all. There are many levels and ways to involve students and teachers. Green Teams can take the form of a school team, a district-wide team, etc.
  • There are multiple ways to stimulate engagement, based on ideas from the teachers and students.

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Program Websites

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Waste-Awareness poster Waste-Awareness poster from Isaac Dickson Elementary School
Evergreen’s Green Team DisplayEvergreen’s Green Team Display
Greenhouse and gardeners at Oakley Elementary SchoolGreenhouse and gardeners at Oakley Elementary School
Student from Evergreen Community Charter SchoolStudent from Evergreen Community Charter School
Students at Asheville High SchoolStudents at Asheville High School
waste free lunch 2"x3" magnet promototionAsheville City Schools developed and distributed 2”x3” magnets promoting waste free lunches.
Buncombe County School Fairview Elementary gym Buncombe County School Fairview Elementary gym lighting upgrade.
retrofitted T-8’s in elementary wing hallwayNew retrofitted T-8’s in elementary wing hallway.

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