Earth Day, April 22, 2024.

Earth Day: Blue Ridge Sustainability Projects Yield Success, Promote Stewardship

Pictured: Earth Day, April 22, 2024.


Marketing & Communications Dept.

Joining organizations across the globe in celebration of Earth Day on April 22, 2024, Blue Ridge Community College recaps some of its more recent projects and award-winning successes regarding sustainability and environmental stewardship. With many efforts led by its Sustainability Committee, Blue Ridge remains committed to an Earth-friendly approach to higher education, workforce development and community service.

“One of Blue Ridge’s core values is ‘Responsibility,’ which means that we are accountable to our students, communities, and the generations who come after us,” said Dr. Chad Merrill, vice president for general administration and chair of Blue Ridge’s Sustainability Committee. “This value is a key component in the sustainability efforts of our faculty, staff and students.”

Sustainability efforts are built into Blue Ridge’s framework through policies and procedures that promote responsible practices around workforce development, campus landscaping and planting, energy and water conservation, recycling and more. Recycling is readily available on all three Blue Ridge campus locations with bins available inside and outside buildings.

Most recently, this cumulative work earned Blue Ridge Community College the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Environmental Sustainability Award.

“Much like the effects of higher education, environmental sustainability work has a generational impact that can affect the life, work and health of an entire community,” explained Benjamin Rickert, Blue Ridge’s director of marketing and communications. “As an organization connected to so many facets of our state and region, our aim is to help set the pace for a more responsible and enjoyable tomorrow, while always remaining true to our mission to build a competitive workforce.”

Learn more about admissions at Blue Ridge Community College at www.blueridge.edu/admissions. Enrollment is currently open for the summer and fall semesters, with summer classes starting May 20, 2024.

In celebration of Earth Day in 2024, here are some of Blue Ridge’s most recent ecological activities.

An electric vehicle uses a charging station outside the Patton Building of Blue Ridge Community College on Feb. 23, 2024.
An electric vehicle uses a charging station outside the Patton Building of Blue Ridge Community College on Feb. 23, 2024.

Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure and Education

In February of 2024, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced approval of a grant in the amount of $367,182 to Blue Ridge Community College to support their ‘Expanding Electric Vehicle Infrastructure in Western NC’ project. With resources provided by both ARC and the College, project funding will total over $734k. The initiative will address the critical training needs for electrical vehicle mechanics, charging station maintenance and first responder safety protocols.

Through the purchase of electric vehicles and EV charging equipment, as well as curriculum and certificate development, students will receive hands-on training and key credentials to succeed in the growing EV industry. In addition, the project will support Blue Ridge’s NC Department of Labor registered apprenticeship program, Apprenticeship Blue Ridge, in the Automotive Systems Technology and Electrical pathways.


A team of employees and students from Blue Ridge Community College clean up Airport Road and College Drive. (Photo by: Rich Keen.)
Community College clean up Airport Road and College Drive. (Photo by: Rich Keen.)

Adopt-a-Highway

At Blue Ridge, several sustainability initiatives directly care for the land and wildlife on and around campus. The College adopted Airport Road several years ago and facilitates a road-side clean-up with faculty and staff two times per year. Most recently, Blue Ridge’s nursing students joined the facilities team in removing waste and debris from Airport Road and the adjacent College Drive.


Blue Ridge Community College automotive and transportation students view electric vehicles in the Flex Lab of the Patton Building (Photo by Rich Keen, Marketing & Communications Dept.).
Blue Ridge Community College automotive and transportation students view electric vehicles in the Flex Lab of the Patton Building. (Photo by Rich Keen, Marketing & Communications Dept.)

Drive Electric Week

In September of 2023, as part of the Land of Sky Clean Vehicle Coalition’s ‘Drive Electric Week,’ Blue Ridge Community College hosted the Electric Vehicles Workforce Development event. The event brought together business and community leaders to explore the future of the electric vehicle industry and the local workforce required to sustain it.


Duke Energy presents the Business Energy Excellence Award to Blue Ridge Community College in July, 2023.
Duke Energy presents the Business Energy Excellence Award to Blue Ridge Community College in July, 2023. (Photo by: Benjamin Rickert, Marketing & Communications Dept.)

Business Energy Excellence Award

In July of 2023, Blue Ridge Community College was recognized by Duke Energy with the inaugural Business Energy Excellence Award for its commitment to energy efficiency. The award celebrated the College’s significant savings of 514,500 kWh – the equivalent energy used by about 50 residential homes – over one year. The conservation efforts have earned the College over $50K in energy rebates.

“As a community college, Blue Ridge strives to be a responsible steward of our community’s resources and environments,” said Dr. Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College. “We’re grateful to Duke Energy for helping to increase our efficiency as we continually work to provide our community with more while requiring less.”


Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

In 2023, Blue Ridge Community College partnered with Duke Energy to become a site host for the installation of two new fast-charge EV charging stations in front of the newer Patton Building. The charging stations are now on the EV app and are used on a regular basis by the campus community and public. The College continues to offer first generation charging stations on campus which have been in place for several years.


photo of honey bee on flower
A honey bee lands on a flower.

Bee Campus USA

In 2017, Blue Ridge was first recognized as one of only a few educational institutions in the nation to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program. This designation recognizes organizations that commit to a set of practices which support pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and birds and also promote and establish pollinator-friendly landscapes that are free of pesticides.

Related, Blue Ridge’s Sustainability Committee brought two beehives, or apiaries, onto campus last year. They later celebrated the growth of the hives through the first harvest of honey. The honey was donated to the Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation to distribute to college friends and supporters.


Wetland Restoration

Blue Ridge is working closely with Conserving Carolina and Jennings Environmental engineering firm to conduct a stream and wetland restoration project along Bat Fork Creek, which runs through College property. The ecological enhancement project will improve water quality and natural habitats along the Creek, including streamside vegetation buffers.


A student working in a flower bed
A horticulture student works in a flower bed at Blue Ridge Community College.

Horticulture Studies

As part of more than 200 program areas in 30 areas of study, Blue Ridge offers several programs through its Horticulture Department, including an associate degree in general horticulture technology, a horticulture technology diploma, and numerous industry-recognized certifications, including basic greenhouse automation, the business of horticulture, landscaping, ornamental plant production, small fruits and specialty crops and turfgrass management.

Blue Ridge Community College would like to wish all students, community members and employees a happy Earthy Day.