Updated: Feb 10
The Appalachian region has historically been behind the curve on sustainability, however, Northeast Tennessee is attempting to turn that around for the area by adopting new practices.
“Appalachia seems to be behind the rest of the country when it comes to a variety of initiatives and technologies, and that stands true with sustainability,” said Alicia Phelps, Executive Director at Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association.
Restaurants, businesses and local shops are putting in an effort and are trying to become more sustainable. This includes energy production, the workplace, waste, transportation and purchasing for the business.
“The northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia portion of Appalachia appear to be a little bit ahead of other areas when it comes to sustainability and preservation efforts,” said Phelps. “We have seen a variety of industries and businesses take part in initiatives with lasting results, particularly the tourism and hospitality sector.”
Dick Nelson, owner of Dos Gatos, a coffee shop in Johnson City, Tennessee, says they have sold an abundance of cups of coffee to customers who brought their own reusable coffee cup in for the last 12 months. They offer a $1 cup of coffee as an incentive for customers to do this.
“That is 5,500 cups that are not going into our waste,” said Nelson.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, sustainability is the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s supporting ecosystems. Therefore, when a business is thriving the amount of waste that can be produced can be drastically minimized by being reused, composted, recycled and having biodegradable products in effort to halt carbon footprints for the environment.
Climate issues have become a forefront in discussion in the recent months due to the worry of what will come with impact from higher temperatures. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if carbon emissions continue to increase unchecked by the end-of-century the hottest daily temperatures that occur in a given year in the United States are likely to increase by at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit as compared with the end of the 20th century.
It is human instinct to be concerned about the world because all communities have something in common which is wanting a safe space to reside.
Nelson says that he put forward efforts in sustainability after he had children and grand-children due to the desire of wanting a better future for them.
“We use fettuccine noodles for stirring, large noodles for straws, all homemade syrups are stored in mason jars, our furniture is all repurposed and we reuse containers,” said Nelson. “We encourage our customers to bring reusable coffee cups in.”
When local businesses start to become more environmentally conscious then other businesses will notice and follow.
“Sustainability is everything and it starts small but eventually makes a huge impact,” said Nelson.
Jacob Speiss, investor and café manager of Bebettes, a New Orleans style coffee house in Johnson City, Tennessee, explains that it is important to their business to make sure that all utensils, except for straws, are environmentally conscious. Bebettes and Dos Gatos make their syrups homemade from herbs and spices from local stores or partners and store them in reusable containers.
“All of our food packaging, plates, cups and everything we serve on is compostable and biodegradable,” says Speiss. “We also use all wooden stirrers, forks and knives in the kitchen.”
Spiess also says that he would like to partner with local businesses to start more recycling and would like to see more green spaces with urban farming developments in the future. The employees at Bebettes also feel strongly about the subject.
“I enjoy working here because their choices in utensils and plating are compostable, and some products are plant-based,” says Liz Forester, employee of Bebettes. “We make an effort to have minimal sources of garbage and our composting company is local, called Hoffman Composting.”
Hoffman Composting is a local business owned and operated by Joe Hoffman. The facility is located just outside of Johnson City in Washington County, Tennessee, and is fully permitted by the State of Tennessee to accept food waste.
“Minimalizing one-use and non-compostable items and trying more recycling,” said Forester. “It is important to motivate friends to do the same and share tasks to minimize carbon footprints. Community-based efforts to minimize waste in any way can bring more awareness in many places.”
Local businesses all encourage the community and region to start somewhere even if it is small, and as long as each person makes an effort it will add up and make a change for future generations.
“My advice is for businesses and people to pick something, just one thing, and I think once they do it will become easier,” said Nelson. “The key is overtime one time is not a big deal, but if we are avoiding it every day or every week it makes a big difference.”