After Tornado, Greensburg Reimagined by GreenTown

| 9/12/2012 12:07:27 PM

Green Energy

On May 4, 2007, the small farming community of Greensburg, Kan., was nearly wiped off the map by one of the largest tornadoes ever recorded. The 1.7 mile-wide twister, with winds in excess of 205 mph, destroyed nearly 95 percent of the community and took 11 lives. Faced with this enormous disaster, the residents had a decision to make: would they abandon the community they knew and loved or would they face this great challenge and rebuild? Not only did they decide to rebuild — they came together and collectively decided to rebuild a better community. They would employ the latest in sustainable technologies to rebuild their town to be more energy efficient, more responsible, more durable, and to create an environment that their children and future generations would want to return to. 

Shortly after the tornado, the nonprofit organization Greensburg GreenTown (for which I work) was formed to provide sustainability information and support to residents and business owners so that they could participate in the green initiative launched by the city. GreenTown helped organize community housing fairs where residents could learn about sustainable products and building options and receive free consultations with architects. We also facilitated and publicized the free Home Energy Rating services for homeowners and generally served as an information clearinghouse, a place where residents could get their questions answered. While the city itself made the decision to rebuild its projects to LEED Platinum specifications, no one was mandated to build “green." GreenTown worked closely with many homeowners and businesspeople to help them incorporate sustainability and energy-efficient components into their structures. As a result, over half of Greensburg's new homes save more than 40 percent in energy costs compared to a typical new house. 

We are in the process of expanding our services nationally to other disaster areas and have opened an affiliate in Joplin, Mo., which you may remember was hit by an EF5 tornado on May 22, 2011; six square miles of the city was devastated. You can check out the GreenTown Joplin website at 

This May will be the five-year anniversary of the tornado and residents of Greensburg have much to be proud of. All of the infrastructure and most of the critical buildings and services have returned; 10 projects have been certified under LEED; in fact, Grensburg now boasts the most LEED certified buildings per capita of any city in the world. The buildings also provide better-than-expected energy savings. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL, a program of the U.S. Department of Energy) estimates that the 13 Greensburg projects they studied to measure performance are saving the city over $200,000 annually in energy costs. To the surprise of many, interest in Greensburg’s recovery has remained very high, compared to other communities struck by disaster that have come and gone in the news cycle. 

The staff at GreenTown continue to field questions and requests from news organizations, students, architects, government officials and the curious public. We have been providing tours of the community and its sustainable buildings since 2008. We noticed early on that many visitors and residents were interested in sustainable residential construction and ways to be green in the home. In response to this, GreenTown launched a project called The Chain of Eco-Homes. The organization is building a series of long-term demonstration homes designed to provide an immersive experiential education into the many facets of sustainable residential construction and living. The homes will feature a variety of building techniques, sizes, prices, and energy-efficiency features and will serve both as an informational center and as an eco-lodging where people can experience green living first hand. Visitors are able to rent a room, or the whole house, and experience what it is like to live in a green home. 

Currently, we have completed one project in Greensburg, called the Silo Eco-Home, with another under construction called Meadowlark House. We are also in the beginning stages of planning two demonstration homes in Joplin. 

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