Building a Model Green Community in Greensburg, Kansas

Daniel Wallach, the founder of Greensburg GreenTown, answers questions about how this rural community is rebuilding green and tapping renewable energy.

| November 24, 2009

  • Greensburg GreenTown organization
    On May 4, 2007, an EF5 tornado leveled the town of Greensburg, Kan. Greensburg GreenTown is a grassroots, community-based organization that is helping to rebuild the town as a model green community. Find the organization online at www.greensburggreentown.org.
    GREENSBURG GREENTOWN
  • Daniel Wallach
    Daniel Wallach is the executive director and founder of Greensburg GreenTown. This photo was taken inside the nearly completed Silo Eco Home.
    MEGAN PHELPS
  • Greensburg tornado damage
    The Greensburg Tornado destroyed 95 percent of the town’s homes and buildings and took 11 lives.
    GREENSBURG GREENTOWN
  • GreenTown sign
    Outside, near the Greensburg GreenTown office. In the background are several “demonstration cubes” built to explain and showcase different green building technologies. The cubes were designed and constructed by Kansas State University students from the College of Architecture, Planning and Design.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg tornado damage 2
    The tornado was 1.7 miles wide. Greensburg itself is only 1.5 square miles.
    GREENSBURG GREENTOWN
  • Greensburg tornado damage 3
    The Greensburg tornado was on the ground for 22 miles non-stop and 30 minutes. Maximum winds were estimated at 205 mph.
    GREENSBURG GREENTOWN
  • Greensburg silo house
    The Silo Eco-Home is one of the planned “Chain of Eco Homes” in Greensburg. When it has been completed, it will be available as an information center, and for rental as an eco-lodging.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg Kansas tour
    Greensburg GreenTown volunteers show examples of new green building products and technologies. This countertop material includes recycled materials. Other materials on display included samples of the materials for porous pavers, SIPs and insulated concrete forms.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg geothermal
    Part of the geothermal heating system in the basement of the arts center.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg Arts Center
    The outside of the Greensburg arts center, which is used for art exhibitions, classes and meeting space for community organizations. It’s the first building in Kansas to achieve a LEED Platinum rating. Among its many green features are rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg City Hall
    Building integrated PV panels are visible on the new Greensburg city hall.
    NATHAN POELL
  • Greensburg ICF construction
    This commercial building in Greensburg is one of many new structures in town being constructed with insulated concrete forms (ICFs). ICF construction is extremely durable, making these buildings highly resistant to storms. It also produces well-insulated buildings, which will lead to reductions in heating and cooling costs.
    NATHAN POELL

  • Greensburg GreenTown organization
  • Daniel Wallach
  • Greensburg tornado damage
  • GreenTown sign
  • Greensburg tornado damage 2
  • Greensburg tornado damage 3
  • Greensburg silo house
  • Greensburg Kansas tour
  • Greensburg geothermal
  • Greensburg Arts Center
  • Greensburg City Hall
  • Greensburg ICF construction

In May of 2007, Greensburg, Kan., was struck by an EF5 tornado, which killed 11 people and destroyed 95 percent of the buildings in this small southwestern Kansas town. Since that time, Greensburg has made a commitment to rebuilding as a model green community. That effort is already well underway. From city hall, to a new arts center, to the local school, buildings are being constructed with green features such as high performance windows, building integrated solar panels, and geothermal heating and cooling. (You can see photos of some of these buildings in the Image Gallery, and learn much more about specific buildings and their green features by downloading this Greensburg self-guided tour booklet.)

One of the organizations behind the success of this massive green building effort is the nonprofit community group Greensburg GreenTown. Recently, we spoke with Daniel Wallach, the founder and executive director of Greensburg GreenTown. Here’s what he had to say about renewable energy and green building, the challenges facing small rural communities, and the most effective ways to communicate about environmental problems and solutions.

The Idea of a Green Community

How did you first get personally involved with Greensburg?

My wife and I live 35 miles north. We moved from Denver six years ago, and we started a natural foods co-op that included six Greensburg families. After that, I was a rep for natural foods and local gifts from Kansas. Then, the tornado hit about two miles from our house. We were definitely shaken, but we weren’t hit, as our neighbors here in Greensburg were.



In thinking about what we could do, how we could be of service to the community, the idea came up of rebuilding Greensburg as a model green community.

How did that idea get started?

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