The Emerald City Wizard: Daniel Wallach on Rebuilding Greensburg

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Diane Guthrie
Daniel Wallach smiles at the camera

Daniel Wallach and his wife, Catherine Hart, are the directors of Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit that’s helping residents of tornado-torn Greensburg, Kansas, rebuild as a model green community. A tornado struck on May 4, 2007, wiping out 95 percent of the homes and buildings in Greensburg, population 1,500. Soon afterward, the residents committed to rebuilding to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum standards, the first town to attempt such an endeavor. Wallach, who lives 35 miles northeast of Greensburg, is helping to raise resources and disseminate information as the city rebuilds.

Is middle America ready for green building?
Absolutely. Many of the principles of green building are just common sense! And isn’t middle America known for that? The key is depoliticizing green, getting it out of the red-state/blue-state associations and making it the patriotic thing to do. Rural communities are all about self-sufficiency, energy independence and conservation. That is why many of these folks are called conservatives.

What’s the coolest thing nobody knows about Kansas?
The state motto, Ad astra per aspera. It translates, “To the stars through difficulties.” How poetic is that? And how appropriate that the state is taking a leadership role in solving some of the big issues facing our country.

If people could do one thing to go green, what would you suggest?
Be aware of how one’s everyday choices affect others and the environment.

What’s the first step to rebuilding after a natural disaster?
Finding ways for the residents to reconnect physically, emotionally and virtually. Continuous communication with as many residents as possible ensures that the people who have been displaced still feel connected and are a part of the recovery, planning and rebuilding process.

Tell us a funny story from your time in Greensburg.
A city council member in his 70s walked up to me several months after the tornado, when the rebuilding was going strong and it was apparent we were on a good track. He said to me, “We are mighty happy with how all this is going, and you have been a very important part of it. I have to tell you, though, when you first were talking about all of this, I thought you were a kook.”

What’s the best way to talk about green to newbies?
Appeal to common sense. Use metaphors that relate to people’s experiences. I ask people if they pick up after themselves in their home. Do you sit in your garage with the garage door closed and your car running? Probably not. So why are we tolerating it on a global scale? 

Daniel’s Favorite Things

• Honda automobiles and their longtime leadership in fuel efficiency, durability and reliability.

• The new generation of rechargeable batteries: Sanyo Eneloop and Rayovac Hybrid. These do not lose power over time like most renewables, and they are very reliable.

• My LED headlamp-flashlight is a great tool that I use all the time. The batteries keep the LED light going for a very long time.

Give a Little Green

Greensburg GreenTown’s One Million $5 Donations Campaign is raising funds for the city’s continued efforts to go green. to pitch in, visit or