Greensburg, Kansas: Rebuilding Sustainably

On Friday I heard a touching story on NPR about Greensburg, Kansas and their efforts to rebuild sustainably. Greensburg was flattened by a tornado three years ago, and the town leaders didn't just decide they were going to rebuild, they decided they were going to rebuild the right way: sustainably! Their efforts are even featured on a Planet Green show produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The NPR story reports on the decision to rebuild with loftier (sustainable) goals:

"Well, the tornado destroying everything not only transformed the community physically, but mentally, it allowed people to say, 'OK, what were we like prior, you know, pre-storm. And if we were this declining, status quo community, what do we need to change to become this thriving new community?" Hewitt says.

The Department of Energy has a great summary of Greensburg's rebuilding efforts. I took some of the highlights from their PDF write-up below:

  • The 95-year-old Kiowa County Courthouse (Greensburg is the Kiowa County seat), one of the few structures left after the tornado, is being renovated with sustainable features designed to earn it a LEED Gold certification.
  • The City Council passed a resolution requiring all new city buildings larger than 4,000 square feet to meet U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum certification and reduce energy consumption by 42% as compared to standard buildings.
  • The city has entered into a power purchase agreement with a “green” power provider that has promised “100% renewable electricity, 100% of the time” from their wind, hydro, and other renewable energy electricity generation sources.
  • Kiowa County Memorial Hospital: An onsite wind turbine helps to power the facility, a rain filtration and storage system supplies recycled (gray) water to irrigate the property and flush the building’s toilets, and daylighting (natural light) illuminates 75% of the interior, reducing the use of electric lights.
  • The Greensburg School: Key green features include the extensive use of day- lighting (natural light) to ensure that artificial lighting is seldom necessary in most rooms. Heating and cooling are handled by geothermal heat pumps that take advan- tage of the difference between the earth’s and the air’s temperatures. The pumps circulate water from below the earth’s surface to warm interior air in winter and cool it in summer. The building is also highly insulated.
  • LEED Platinum SunChips Business Incubator: High-performance building materials provide maximum insulation and protection from high winds. Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof convert sunlight directly to electricity that meets about 10% of the building’s electricity requirements. A geothermal heating and cooling system taps into the earth’s temperature (warmer than outdoor air in winter and cooler in summer) to heat and cool the building.  Natural light provides most of the internal lighting, which minimizes the need for artificial lights. Water from sinks and showers is recycled and used to flush toilets. The recycled water (gray water) is supplemented by rainwater, which is collected and stored as it falls on the building.
  • LEED Platinum John Deere Dealership: The Greensburg dealership’s green features include highly insulated wall and roof systems, a highly energy- efficient heating and cooling system, and a network of skylights and mirrored reflectors that direct natural light where it is needed and reduce electricity use for lighting. Two onsite wind turbines provide electricity that offsets nearly 10% of the building’s total electricity needs.
  • Greensburg is the first city in the United States to use light- emitting diode (LED) lamps for 100% of its street lighting.

In closing, the DOE paper pretty much sums it all up:

Why such a commitment? Sustainable communities such as Greensburg, with energy-efficient homes and buildings, and electricity and fuels from renewable energy sources have many advantages for our nation. They have a higher regard for human health, are easier on the natu- ral environment, are well poised for economic growth and job creation, and through energy security, contribute to our nation’s security. And, simply put, they are better places to live.

As you can see, rebuilding sustainably gave the citizens of Greensburg something to take pride in. Again, from the NPR story:

"People who've moved away, say, 'You know, I wished we'd thought about it a little more.' Because they sure miss being here, being part of this community," Scott says.

"With the green initiative, it helped us to heal. It gave us something to look forward to," Jill says.

Does your city, community, or home need a goal to reinvigorate it? You don't have to wait for a tornado you know; you can start a sustainable project today....just let the citizens of Greensburg lead the way... (sorry to get all Dr. Seuss on you this late in the blog post)

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As tragic as the Tornado was, its great to see that these rebuilding efforts are taking place with a long term vision that will hopefully benefit everyone.

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