by Anna Oakes
Established in fall 2011, the N.C. GreenTravel Initiative recognizes tourism businesses for their use of sustainable practices that save energy and protect the environment. Certified establishments receive a certificate to display and are listed in an online directory of green businesses.
"On top of being a gorgeous place to live and visit, North Carolina is ideal for those who want to travel green," said John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in a statement Tuesday. "The N.C. GreenTravel Initiative has made people more aware of sustainable, travel-oriented businesses that make sound investments in sustainability. These businesses are a vital part of our efforts to protect the environment and encourage economic growth."
N.C. GreenTravel was started to promote sustainable travel. Tourism-focused businesses, including hotels and state parks, apply and are selected for the program by DENR, the Center for Sustainability at East Carolina University, N.C. Department of Commerce and the Waste Reduction Partners.
Applicants are selected based on a grading system in which they earn points for different environmentally friendly practices they use to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, recycle and help protect the environment.
Buncombe County, home to Asheville, leads the way with 15 GreenTravel businesses, followed by Onslow County on the coast at 14. Watauga's nine GreenTravel locations are Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Casa Rustica, Canyons, Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Green Park Inn, Makoto's, Meadowbrook Inn and Pepper's.
Casa Rustica owner Rick Pedroni said his restaurant implemented many of GreenTravel-qualifying practices and measures years ago to reduce the business's carbon footprint and to reduce costs.
Casa Rustica's green practices and installations include recycling of several materials, including cooking oil; tankless water heaters; low-flow toilets; and using recycled plastic take-out cups instead of Styrofoam. After realizing the restaurant spent about $100 a month on fuel for candles, Casa Rustica recently replaced the fuel-burning models with battery-powered candles that power up on chargers.
"I can't really answer whether or not it's been cost effective for others," said Pedroni. "(For us,) it has been for some stuff; other things it hasn't been. Will it catch on is based on how many people come out and participate -- if we can get the masses involved in stuff like this, it's only going to be better. Once you start to do things like that, it becomes the norm."
Pedroni said a few years ago he paid for someone to pick up used cooking oil for reuse. Now, someone pays him for the oil.
Casa Rustica is a member of the Boone Independent Restaurants organization, which promotes the green and sustainable practices of Boone area restaurants in its marketing efforts.
"I would say that it definitely helps," Pedroni said.
Gwen Dhing of Makoto's Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar said the restaurant's electric vehicle charging stations have made the restaurant -- and Boone -- a destination for vehicle owners. Electric car owners use websites and smartphone apps such as PlugShare to locate charging stations.
"People who have Teslas want to travel," said Dhing. "We have had so many people come and charge and stay in town."
Water-saving sinks and toilets, LED lighting and recycling are among other practices that helped Makoto's qualify for the GreenTravel designation.
Businesses that are a part of or aspire to become part of N.C. GreenTravel are eligible for free, nonregulatory environmental technical assistance. Applying to the program is free. To learn more, visit http://www.ncgreentravel.com.