Seed money

Thanks to a $600 Self-Help loan, a homeowner is weatherizing her home as part of the Neighbor Saves program. 

What do a 1,500-acre tract of nature, a $600 home-energy-efficiency loan and a biofuel-collection site have in common? They are all part of the environment-friendly work that Self-Help/Carolina Mountains Credit Union is doing in Western North Carolina. Like so many in WNC, we at Self-Help/Carolina Mountains have long placed a high priority on sustainability. And as a community-development lender, our role is to provide the flexible financing that can be hard for “green” projects to find.

Founded in Durham in 1980, Self-Help opened its first WNC office in 1984 on Asheville’s Wall Street. We merged with Carolina Mountains Credit Union in 2009, adding branches in Hendersonville, Rosman, Penrose and now South Asheville. Our mission is to help create ownership and economic opportunity for all, especially people of color, women, rural residents and low-wealth families and communities.

Self-Help/Carolina Mountains has long recognized the fundamental connection between our economy, communities and the environment. We are known as a “triple bottom line” lender, meaning that we seek to make loans that have positive community impact and positive environmental impact.

Our environmental-lending history in WNC tells a story of diverse investment. It includes helping to finance the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s purchase of the World’s Edge, 1,568 acres of sparkling waterfalls, sheer cliffs, forested slopes and dramatic views in the Hickory Nut Gorge just 15 miles southeast of Asheville. World’s Edge contains a mile-long set of steep slopes on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, with more than 20,000 feet of streams and waterfalls. The noncontiguous property extends into Henderson, Polk and Rutherford counties.

We also are part of the innovative Neighbor Saves program, run by the WNC Green Building Council and initially funded by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. Neighbor Saves provides financing for energy-efficiency upgrades in homes. The program empowers participants to “Save Energy, Save Money, Improve Comfort, Learn Skills and Build Community in a team-based (not just neighbors), FUN environment.” Participants get trained by and complete work on each other’s homes with an experienced supervisor. Self-Help/Carolina Mountains can provide project financing of up to 100 percent as well as consumer loans for needs such as home heat-pump and furnace replacements.

The first borrower of our WNC Neighbor Saves program received a $600 loan to buy materials to improve the energy performance of her home. She is now able to heat both floors of her house, and her average energy bills are 23 percent lower than last winter. “The Neighbor Saves program has allowed us to save money, lower our energy usage and be more comfortable in our entire home all year round,” she reports.

Self-Help/Carolina Mountains has also partnered with Blue Ridge Biofuels to place a cooking-oil recycling bin at our south Asheville branch at 1911 Hendersonville Road. Blue Ridge Biofuels is an employee-owned business that produces and distributes biodiesel for Asheville and WNC. The company collects used cooking oil from restaurants, cafeterias, public bins and other businesses; converts it to biodiesel at its Asheville facility; and distributes it through numerous public pumps and private delivery. Perhaps not surprisingly, this partnership grew out of Self-Help’s long-standing relationship with Blue Ridge Biofuels, which began with a loan to help the company purchase its first fuel truck.

Realizing the breadth or our environmental work and its centrality to our mission, we formalized it by creating an Environmental Stewardship Initiative staffed by a full-time manager who identifies high-value operational savings and green benefits for members and borrowers.

As the saying goes, we are all in this together. That certainly holds true with the partnerships that form our environmental work and help us meet our mission. We are honored to work with individuals and organizations in WNC to help them achieve their goals and increase our environmental and economic sustainability — and are eager to do more!

Key success

  • Green lending: We have provided more than $36 million in loans to businesses that are manufacturing, selling or purchasing environmentally friendly goods and services. Recent projects include green-product retailers, sustainable agriculture practitioners, recycling and biofuels companies, solar installers and major solar-energy providers — including growth capital loans to FLS Energy and Integritive2. We’ve also provided loans to nonprofits specializing in land conservation.
  • Energy Loan Fund: With support from Bank of America, we are piloting a specialized $5 million loan fund to finance renewable energy and energy-efficiency upgrades in commercial buildings in Charlotte and seven other target cities nationally. Lessons learned will help us expand energy lending across North Carolina for multifamily housing, small businesses, child-care centers, charter schools and houses of worship.
  • Green facilities: We operate 16 commercial office buildings in downtown locations. We believe that the re-use of historic buildings in downtown locations near public transit is an inherently green activity. In renovating these buildings, we have worked to establish energy-saving and green practices, including digital HVAC controls, efficient lighting and low-VOC finishes.
  • Green commuting: We offer a green-commuting program to encourage our employees to walk, bike, carpool or ride public transportation.
  • Green deposits: We offer a Green Term Certificate (CD), which pays the same competitive market interest rates as Self-Help’s standard-term certificates and helps to support green lending and other initiatives.
  • Green partnerships: We collaborate with key environmental organizations, such as the WNC Green Building Council, EVOLVE Energy AdvantageGreen, the N.C. Department of Energy and Natural Resources, the Carolina Recycling Association, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.
  • Green downtowns: We support downtown revitalization, a key strategy in combating sprawl and encouraging infill. To date we’ve invested more than $62 million in the purchase and renovation of buildings in downtown areas.
  • Green homes: We develop healthy and affordable homes (more than 150 to date) by applying SystemVision and Green Built N.C. guidelines and materials in new-home construction. Our homeowners enjoy energy efficiency and improved air quality, while saving up to 50 percent on their heating and cooling costs.

To learn about becoming a Self-Help/Carolina Mountains member and Green Certificates of Deposit, visit or call Hatley at 676-2196, ext. 3473.

Jane Hatley serves as Self-Help’s western regional director. For more info, check out and On Twitter: @SelfHelpGreen.