Building Back Green

800px-Greensburg_kansas_tornadoWhen an F5 tornado struck Greensburg, Kan., in May 2007, claiming 11 lives and wiping out 95% of the city’s buildings, the community responded in a courageous way: it looked forward.

Given the extent to which Greensburg would need to rebuild, the community realized that in the midst of the tragedy, they were also facing an opportunity. “The fact that our name was Greensburg was part of it, but more than that we decided that we should build back in a prudent, reasonable manner for future generations,” says Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson. “That started a discussion on how we could be sustainable.”

In December 2007, the Greensburg City Council passed a resolution that all municipal buildings would aim for LEED Platinum status. And that resolution set a tone for the rest of the community as well, Dixson says, that encouraged the community to consider rebuilding their homes and businesses to as high a level of sustainability as they could afford.

To help with the community-wide effort, Greensburg brought in Boulder, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Lab, which offered homeowners advice, cost analysis, and feedback on potential floor plans. The community also established their own local non-profit, Greensburg Green Town, to get information to homeowners about what sustainable options were available.

Today in Greensburg, Dixson reports that there are about eight LEED Platinum-certified buildings, and many others that are built to LEED Platinum standards but have not been through the certification process. While he readily acknowledges that building to the higher standards comes with an increased upfront cost, the anticipated payback period is as little as 8 years for some buildings and no more than 15 years on the buildings with the longest return times.

But according to Dixson, the biggest lesson for other communities, builders, and architects, is that once people have access to the information they need on high-performance building, they are empowered to build to as high a level of sustainability as possible for themA, because they better understand the cost-savings that will come over the life of the building.

“You build as green as you can with the green you have available. When we do that, all of our communities around the country will be able to make a difference in our consumption,” Dixson says. “This is not about us right now. It’s about future generations.”


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