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Greensburg GreenTown is a charitable nonprofit organization working in Greensburg, Kansas to rebuild the town following the devastating tornado in May of 2007. The town has made a remarkable comeback, reinventing itself as a model for sustainable building and green living now recognized around the world. GreenTown works to make green building and living easily understood, appealing and accessible to all.

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MARET: A Midwestern Gem

photo credit: Catherine Hart

Readers who follow GreenTown's activities know that we have been working with folks in the city of Joplin, Missouri, to help facilitate the integration of sustainability into the rebuilding process. Residents of that community are facing the daunting task of restoring a devastated area that runs about a mile wide and 6 miles long through the center of town. In addition to the loss of 162 lives, over 8,000 housing units and 300 businesses were destroyed during the May 22 tornado.

One of the sustainable gems we have encountered in our work in the region is a two-year institution of higher learning, Crowder College, home of the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center. Reading about the work they have been doing there since the late 1970s is sure to impress you.

Located about 20 miles southeast of Joplin, Crowder has an enrollment of about 4,000 students from 60 different countries. The cutting-edge curriculum includes a renowned program offering education in alternative and renewable energy programs. Under the leadership of a visionary man named Art Boyt, in 1978 the college offered its first solar curriculum. Art was joined the following year by Dan Eberle, and together they built a program that has become a national leader offering courses in solar, wind, biodiesel, green construction, geothermal, and other technologies. In 1984, Crowder’s solar team designed and built the first solar-powered vehicle to successfully complete a coast-to-coast trip across the United States. Since then, Crowder has continued to distinguish itself in world and national solar energy competitions.

In 1992, the Missouri legislature acknowledged Crowder's accomplishments by designating the school as the State's official center for renewable energy education, and MARET was born. In addition to training people for the job force, the Center also assists in research, product development, and other business support services in renewable energy.

The international Solar Decathlon competition is just one of the areas where Crowder has shined. Held every other year on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this design/build contest challenges collegiate teams to create solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. Crowder has competed in this contest twice - the only 2-year college to do so. Their solar houses placed 6th in the inaugural event of 2002 (out of 14 entries), and in the second competition, held in 2005, they ranked 12th out of 18 teams. Both times they were honored with the "People's Choice" award. After 2005 the contest rules were changed and Crowder no longer qualified to compete, as they have no school of architecture.

In addition to the Solar Decathlon competition, alternative energy staff and students continue to be involved in various projects, including building, racing, and coordinating competitions for electric-powered and ethanol-powered cars and solar bicycles. Crowder’s two solar houses serve as working models on the campus of Crowder College, near the site of the MARET center facility. Click here for a more detailed history of Crowder's accomplishments (too numerous to list in this article).

MARET is currently under the direction of Russ Hopper, who assumed the reins earlier this year. He is overseeing the construction of the Center's new training facility, which is being built to LEED Platinum specifications and incorporates several innovative features. GreenTown is working closely with MARET to bring sustainable building information to the people of Joplin.

We hope that people interested in pursuing careers in renewable energy give Crowder a look - they have a lot to offer.

Joel Lamson (instructor and student team leader for 2002 Solar Decathlon), Russ Hopper (MARET Center Director) and Matt Blair (student)