She's making Charlotte more sustainable
Plus: Top news of the week — CMS delays school boundary decision again — Costco scouts a new location in Indian Land — Charlotte's aviation museum gets a new name — RIP to the city's transit plan
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Q&A: Amy Aussieker of Envision Charlotte is bringing people together for the good of the environment; listen to a full conversation with her in the Ledger’s 40 Over 40 podcast series
Editor’s note: As The Charlotte Ledger gears up for its fourth annual 40 Over 40 Awards, we’re sitting down with award winners from previous years to gather their wisdom and hear about the big contributions they’re making to the Charlotte region.
We’ll publish portions of our conversations in a series of articles like this one, but you can hear the conversations in their entirety on The Charlotte Ledger Podcast.
After the 1996 Olympic Games ended — in fact, the very next day — Amy Aussieker left the heavy traffic of Atlanta and moved to Charlotte, which, in 1996, was nowhere near what it is today. Almost 30 years later, she’s now one of Charlotte’s leaders in making the city more sustainable.
Aussieker serves as executive director of Envision Charlotte, a public-private nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainability initiatives in Charlotte.
She was named one of the Charlotte Ledger’s 40 Over 40 Award recipients in 2020 for her efforts in reducing emissions and promoting recycling and energy efficiency.
She sat down recently with Ledger podcast host Steve Dunn of Miles Mediation and Arbitration to explain her role at Envision Charlotte, how she got into this work, why it’s important for our city — and why she is breeding soldier flies at the city-owned Innovation Barn.
You can listen to the full conversation here:
The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What are you doing at Envision Charlotte to create equitable and sustainable solutions to climate change?
When I came into this job, someone gave me the advice: Don’t try to boil the ocean. You know, try to pick a few things and go deep. And so we did a study about four or five years ago that looked at Charlotte and gave us some opportunities. So look at plastics, organics, textiles, concrete and demolition and build an innovation center.
We really focus on those five things. We opened the Innovation Barn a little over a year ago, and that has just opened up all kinds of opportunities. We’ve focused on plastics and looking at taking No. 5 takeout plastics that exploded during the pandemic. You can’t curbside recycle those in Mecklenburg right now, but you can bring them to the Barn and we can turn them into benches or bricks. So, it’s kind of like chipping away at one little opportunity after the next — some fail and some work, and some we hope to scale huge. Some might just be niche. But if you just stay focused and kind of get the little wins; maybe all the little wins will add up to some really big wins.
Q: You mentioned the Innovation Barn, which Envision Charlotte operates on Seigel Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlotte. What goes on there?
We are trying to showcase a bunch of closed-loop systems, everything from an aquaponic garden, which is fish and leafy greens, to soldier fly composting. But then we also process plastics and aluminum. We have a recent project with Goodwill, where we are taking old T-shirts, and we are weaving them into sound panels. The cool thing about the Innovation Barn is all these different people come in, and they have all these different ideas, and it takes a whole bunch of people with different mindsets, different skill sets, different resources to move the needle. It’s been really fun engaging the public in this innovation.
Q: How do you decide what you’re going to do or try?
I'll give you one example: One of the issues that Mecklenburg County has is with glass. If you curbside recycle glass, it can break. It hurts the workers out at the MRF, which is the material recycling facility. So, the county is trying to get that glass out. There’s a bunch of yellow bins around town where they want you to put your glass in, but it is more expensive to ship glass to Atlanta to be recycled than it’s worth, so it’s costing us to ship it down there, plus you think of the footprint of shipping it all down there.
So, we had a glass crusher. We would take all the wine bottles that I had during Covid, which might’ve been a few, and then we would crush those and it would turn it into sand. The machine that we had was on loan, and I had another person who had come to the Barn I’d known for years who owns a company that does outdoor landscaping of ponds and uses sand. We were talking and he’s like, “Well, what if I bought the Innovation Barn a granulator, and then I could use the sand for my products and we could use some of the glass from Mecklenburg?”
Then, I had another friend who can take the sand and use it as aggregate in concrete. So he’s taking some of the sand and looking at standing up a company to do concrete, and then we're talking to Atrium, and they're building their new innovation center and could they use this concrete within their innovation center?
So, that’s the kind of thing where you’re pulling all these different people together and solving a problem, which is: Our glass in Charlotte doesn’t need to be sent to Atlanta to be recycled. We’re in early stages to see if this works, if it financially works, if the numbers work, to see if this is something that we could prop up and let it fly.
Q: What advice might you give to a younger version of yourself?
This is my philosophy: I say yes all the time, like to crazy stuff, and if people need help or if people want advice. And yes, my time can be limited sometimes, and so I’m not always the best at getting back to things, but I always tell people, “Diversify and say yes to things.”
You know, I got an email from a group that wanted me to guest bartend in a play two weeks ago, and I’m like, “OK, sure.” You meet a bunch of new people that way. Over my 27 years here, I’ve done political campaigns. I was co-chair of the school bonds. I was on the Arts and Science Council. I do environmental stuff. I was at the Charlotte Chamber. I did all this school stuff with my kids, all these sports. I could go on and on. And because of that, I have this really rich network that if I have a crazy idea, I’m like, “Oh, I can pull someone from the arts community, and I can pull from someone from the business community.” So my philosophy is to say yes.
— Compiled by Lindsey Banks
Add this to your weekend to-do list: Nominate someone for the Ledger’s 40 Over 40 Awards!
Nominations are now open for this year’s Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 Awards, Presented by U.S. Bank, and today’s a great day to spread the word about someone doing great things in our community.
The criteria are simple: Do you know someone who …
Is aged 40+, and
Lives or works in Mecklenburg County, and
Is making our community better?
Of course you do! Nomination is fast, easy, free and open to all. The deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 7. Our panel of independent and wise under-40 judges will get to work soon, and we’ll honor the winners in a fun celebration in person on April 27. (Go ahead and mark your calendar for that now — you won’t want to miss it!)
You might be interested in these Charlotte events
Events submitted by readers to The Ledger’s events board:
SUNDAY: Opera Carolina presents Art * Poetry* Music, 4 p.m. at Caldwell Presbyterian Church, Charlotte. Opera Carolina's Art * Poetry* Music Concert at Caldwell Presbyterian Church features famous works of African-American composers to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy with the entire community. Following the concert, there will be a reception with fellowship and refreshments. All ages are welcome! Limited capacity - please RSVP. Free event.
FRIDAY: The Enneagram and Relationships Workshop, Intimate and Professional, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Enneagram Center, Charlotte. In this workshop, you’ll deepen your understanding of relationships, discover sources of conflict, and learn how to achieve harmony within yourself and those around you. Join us as we deep dive into the Enneagram, relationship interconnection. This is a weekend workshop: Friday Evening 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9-4pm. Early Bird: $275 until Jan. 8 | Regular: $295.
JAN. 24: Opera Carolina presents The Gershwins®’ PORGY AND BESS®, 7 p.m. at Belk Theatre, Charlotte. Audiences will be transported to Charleston’s Catfish Row with the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Will love conquer all? Ticket holders are invited to a special pre-show panel exploring the lasting and nuanced legacies, histories, and impacts of Porgy and Bess. $20 - $140 per ticket.
This week in Charlotte: CMS looks to move fast on superintendent search; N.C. legislators signal the demise of the city’s transit plan; Costco eyes Indian Land for new store; Aviation museum to bear Sully’s name
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
School boundary decision delayed: (Ledger) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will wait until April or May to decide on the new south Charlotte high school boundary lines and is currently in the process of buying land for a new middle school to relieve overcrowding in south Charlotte.
Superintendent search: (WFAE) The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday on a plan to hire a new superintendent by the end of April – a goal that is believed to be ambitious but not impossible. The plan calls for the district to choose a search firm and launch a search in February, screen and interview finalists in March and hire by the end of April.
Doubts about Charlotte’s transit plan: (WFAE) N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore said Charlotte’s transit plan focuses too much on bike lanes and rail, and he’d prefer that transportation spending focus on road-building. In our Transit Time newsletter, editor Tony Mecia suggested that means the end of Charlotte’s transit plan as we know it — and that leaders can pursue other options to get the job done.
Legislative preview: (Ledger, 🔒) Among the issues discussed at Monday’s legislative preview with N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, Berger said ABC privatization won’t happen but “we’ll have to wait and see” about changes to hard-to-find bourbon allocation.
Costco plans for Indian Land: (Ledger, Ledger🔒) Costco is scoping out a new location about three miles south of the state line on Lancaster Highway in Indian Land, S.C., according to a transportation analysis filed in Lancaster County first reported by Ledger media partner Untap Indian Land.
Egg limits: (Observer) Harris Teeter is limiting online egg purchases to three cartons at a time, as egg prices hit all-time highs.
Wells Fargo cutback: (Observer) Wells Fargo said it plans to cut the size of its mortgage business and narrow its focus to bank customers and minority communities, which will likely lead to layoffs.
New funding strategy and name for United Way: (Axios) United Way of Central Carolinas is changing its name to United Way of Greater Charlotte and shared details this week about its $16M investment in communities across the Charlotte region.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Mother-daughter DoorDash delivery team: The Ledger tagged along as Sharon Moore, a retired hospice social worker, spent time with her 95-year-old mother, Sadie, enjoying the scenery and each other’s company as they deliver DoorDash meals in a small town outside of Charlotte.
New bank heading to South End: Silicon Valley Bank appears to be opening a location in South End at 2151 Hawkins St., Unit 1100, which is address of The Line, the new 16-story office building next to the old Sycamore Brewing.
Another tenant to move into Blacklion space: Gracious Living, an adult day and healthcare facility, has signed a lease on a 10,655 s.f. space at the location of the soon-to-be-closed home décor retailer Blacklion at The Plaza at Park 51.
Surge of e-books: Data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library system show a sizeable increase in digital downloads of e-books in 2022 compared with pre-Covid numbers in 2019, and the library even has more digital copies of some titles than hard-print copies.
More on Indian Land Costco plans: Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes said that a rezoning would be required for a potential Costco at a site three miles south of the S.C. state line in Indian Land. After The Ledger ‘s article in Monday’s newsletter on the potential plans, readers sent in their thoughts.
Property tax revaluation: Some Mecklenburg County homeowners might see steeper tax values for their houses this year, as the county finishes its first tax revaluation since 2019. The revaluation is coming at an odd time, just as the local housing market is peaking.
New name for aviation museum: The Carolinas Aviation Museum was renamed the Sullenberger Aviation Musuem on Thursday in honor of Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in New York City’s Hudson River in 2009. The museum closed in 2019 but will reopen its new facility later this year near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
No left turns in Ballantyne? North Carolina transportation officials are working on plans to widen Johnston Road in south Charlotte from I-485 to the South Carolina state line, and current draft plans would allow only right turns onto Johnston Road from certain streets that intersect it.
Mellow Mushroom fined for vermouth violation: An investigator busted the Ballantyne Mellow Mushroom in May buying vermouth from Harris Teeter, failing to destroy tax stamps on the bottles and immediately discard them and not recycling the old bottles. The ABC Commission agreed to fine the restaurant $2,800 for the offenses this week.
Airport parking feedback: Following The Ledger’s article last week about travelers’ comment forms submitted to Charlotte Douglas International Airport about its parking system, some readers sent in their own stories about parking at the airport.
Ways of Life (🔒)
Robert E. Bush Jr., former president of Charlotte’s Arts & Science Council, made it his life’s mission to bring the transformative power of arts and cultural experiences to others —regardless of their social or economic status. He died Dec. 8 at age 70.
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project