Wednesday, April 29

The Greening of Greensburg

From the tragedy that crises can bring, good things can happen. At 9:45 pm on May 4th, 2007 an EF5 tornado leveled the rural town of Greensburg, Kansas. The 1,400 folks in Greensburg decided that the tornado gave them the chance to reinvent their home town. Perhaps Greensburg's web site summarizes their vision best. It reads, "Greensburg: Better, Stronger, Greener!"

Led by Executive Director Daniel Wallach, residents started Greensburg GreenTown just days after the storm. The community came together and decided to rebuild sustainably, striving to become a model green town for the future. A grassroot organization, Greensburg GreenTown has worked side-by-side with city and county officials, business owners and local residents to incorporate sustainable principles into their rebuilding process.

They serve as an educational resource for the community, a conduit through which donations can be distributed, and a representative to those outside the community who are interested in the Green Initiative.

"This town is definitely an example for the rest of the world. We have people from around the world coming out of their way to come to Greensburg," Wallach has said. "So it's a great place for people to come and have an emerging experience with what a town of the future looks like and feels like."

According to CNN, "city leaders are using solar and wind technologies to harness power and geothermal heat. They're also conserving energy by building with solid concrete, using more natural light, and installing better insulation and state-of-the-art windows."

The first green home is being built, a silo-shaped building that will feature ground-source heating and cooling, solar hot water and even a vegetable garden on its roof. A study from the Department of Energy shows that versus conventional “stick” building are on average 15% less to build. But the more importantly, green homes can cost up to 70% less to operate. Over the life of a 30 year mortgage the savings, even at today’s energy rates (which are probably not going to last) an average sized home could save $30,000-$50,000. More here.

Greensburg GreenTown is building 12 more green houses with energy-efficient features. Wallach wants these to be "living laboratories" for educating people about energy-efficient construction.

"We want it to be fun and interesting for folks to come see and experience, and again both demystify and de-politicize going green," he said. "And once you experience it, you understand it in a way that simplifies it and in a lot of cases inspires people to want to do it themselves."

As Iowa considers how to come back from the floods of 2008, we might tear a page out of the Greensburg playbook and see how green can save us green in the long run. Who knows we might want to invite Daniel Wallach up for a visit?

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