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Who We Are

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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GreenTown Joplin Year in Review

Our GreenTown Joplin affiliate has pulled together a list of its accomplishments for the year. We are happy to report that we reached a lot of people in Joplin with our sustainability message in 2013 - thanks to our staff, an amazing local advisory group, and dedicated student interns. We invite you to check out what they’ve been up to in this Year in Review report and to head over to the website to read more. Thank you for your interest and support this year!


Conference Debriefing - Part One


Lisa LaDue speaks to Personal & Community Resilience

The second annual Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference is behind us, and we are pleased to report on its success. The keynote speakers were inspiring; the breakout sessions, informative; the attendees, eager to learn. We accomplished what we set out to do - namely, strengthen a national network of folks working in the disaster recovery field who will continue to share information and offer support to each other long after the conference is over. GreenTown's collaboration with the Center for Sustainability at Saint Louis University made for great synergy in this endeavor.

In coming weeks we will post photos, PowerPoints and videos of the sessions. If you were unable to attend you will still be able to take advantage of the depth of knowledge and experience offered by our presenters.

We are grateful to have had the conference covered by blogger Diane MacEachern, based in Washington, D.C. Diane wrote this fine article for Big Green Purse and we think she captured the spirit of the event quite well.

GreenTown's role in establishing a national Sustainable Disaster Recovery Network is two-pronged. As  facilitator/networker/convener we bring together folks who are working toward common goals and we help them vision what's possible in communities, post-disaster. And as information gatherer and sharer, we provide current, comprehensible, unbiased resources to individuals and communities in need. We are in the process of formalizing the infrastructure of this Network and will keep you posted here and on our Facebook page.


The Latest on the Conference


We're a month away from the 2nd Annual Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference. We are pleased to be able to offer such a rich program featuring experts from around the country, including representatives from several communities recovering from major disasters. REGISTER HERE.

Folks representing Joplin; Greensburg; Breezy Point, New York; Fort Collins, Colorado; West Liberty, Kentucky; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma will make presentations. Each area, of course, is in a different stage of recovery and speakers will share both the pitfalls and successes of their respective community's comeback stories. The conference will be rounded out with experts from government, the private sector, the green building industry, and recovery organizations. Here's the FULL PROGRAM.

Who should attend? The conference will be of special interest to local, state, and federal leadership involved in disaster planning and recovery; emergency management personnel; nonprofit organization staff; instructors and students; people working in all fields related to sustainability and resilience; and folks who want to be inspired by what's happening throughout the country as communities come back from disastrous events. In addition to being able to learn from dynamic speakers, attendees will benefit from ample networking opportunities.

Here's the text of the press release we sent out today with all the pertinent information you need. We hope you can join us in St. Louis November 14-15!




Mark Your Calendar - November 14-15!


We're gearing up for the second annual Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference on Thursday and Friday, November 14-15. GreenTown is working alongside the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability to bring you an excellent lineup of speakers for the event, which will once again be held on the SLU campus in St. Louis. This year there will be two tracks - planning and recovery - and we aim to attract planning professionals, disaster recovery personnel, folks from disaster areas, and students to all come together to share experiences and learn from each other.

You can register here - the fee is a very reasonable $200. Students may attend for $40. The fees include all meals and breaks for the two-day event.

If you are a vendor who would like to exhibit at the event - please check out the benefits of sponsorship from $500 - $5,000+. This is a great opportunity to meet with a national audience, including people who are in positions of decision-making about products and services.

We are confirming speakers daily - so far our featured speakers include:

  • Lisa LaDue, Assistant Director of Field Education, School of Social Work, Colorado State University - Personal and Community Resilience
  • David Greenwell, City Councilman, Ward 5, Oklahoma City; Steve Eggleston, Region VII Disaster Coordinator, U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Eliza Hotchkiss, Project Lead, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) - The Role of Government in Sustainable Disaster Recovery
  • Ashley Fallon, Program Coordinator, Breezy Point Green Committee, New York - Hurricane Sandy and Breezy Point
  • Tim Conley, Morgan County Judge Executive and Bobby Clark, Director of Business Development, Midwest Clean Energy, representing West Liberty, Kentucky - Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky
  • Andrew Murray and PGAV colleagues - a planning, architecture and design firm, St. Louis - Planning and Financing Recovery Projects
  • John Pyron, Director, Missouri Disaster Case Management Program, Lutheran Family & Children's Services of Missouri and Monica McFee, Community Liaison, Long Term Recovery Committee, United Way of Greater St. Louis - Long-Term Recovery
  • Rob Williams, Central & Eastern U.S. Earthquake Program Coordinator, U.S. Geological Survey and Phyllis Steckel, Consultant, Earthquake Insight - Earthquake Hazards in the Central U.S.: What Keeps Geologists Awake at Night
  • Heriberto Urby and Jack Rozdilsky, Assistant Professors, Western Illinois University Department of Emergency Management - The Importance of Introducing Innovative Concepts Early in the Recovery Process
  • David Webb, Program Manager for the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability - Introduction to Sustainability and Sustainable Disaster Recovery
  • Daniel Wallach, Joah Bussert, and Jason Culbertson, Greensburg GreenTown - Introducing the Sustainable Disaster Recovery Handbook

We will continue to post updates both here and on the conference Facebook page - be sure to "like" the page, and check "get notifications" to keep informed. We hope you will join us. If last year's event is any indication of how this year will turn out, it will be a rich learning experience.


Imagineering Greensburg with Disney's Debbie Petersen


Last weekend, Greensburg hosted the creative and insightful Debbie Petersen, a Walt Disney Imagineer and the Executive Creative Director of Disney in Orlando, Florida.

Imagineers are given an allowance to explore anywhere around the world or take part in any activity that would inspire their creativity. After hearing an interview on the radio about local business Studio 54 and Scott and Susan Reinecke’s reuse of tornado glass to fashion works of art, a visit to Greensburg resonated with Debbie. As she familiarized herself with the town's history, she became fascinated with its art, innovation, and ingenuity.

While in Greensburg, visiting Studio 54 was essential, but Debbie also wanted to speak with the community and understand how Greensburg came to be what it is today. She toured the town, spoke with middle school students at Kiowa County Schools, and started gaining a better idea of the process Greensburg took to come back as a sustainable community.

Debbie also presented at two community sessions, held at Kiowa County Memorial Hospital, that enabled the public to learn about her background and her 36-year career with the company, and the history of the Disney amusement parks. Along with GreenTown Executive Director Daniel Wallach, she also opened up the room for a discussion about how to 'Imagineer' the next steps for Greensburg.

She related her work to that of the Greensburg community, and provided insight into the realities of being a model community, or brand, like Disney. During the discussion, one community member observed that "Greensburg is like the EPCOT of the prairie." (EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, originally envisioned by Walt Disney as a Utopian city of the future, located on the Walt Disney World campus in Florida.) Debbie, a member of the EPCOT team, really appreciated this concept and encouraged residents to continue thinking in this fashion. Disney had said that EPCOT "will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems," much like the vision of Greensburg and the Green Initiative. Debbie added that Disney is about storytelling and providing the opportunity for people to be a part of those stories. Greensburg has the capability to be a storyteller by bringing people in, sharing stories of the past, and educating visitors on the future plans of community rejuvenation and sustainable development. Greensburg serves as the experimental training ground of tomorrow, and that is done by recognizing that there are great Imagineers living within the community. This town is built to innovate, and this innovation requires a team of visionaries.

Debbie concluded by noting that by "combining the perfect blend of creativity and technical know-how, personal connections can be made and everything will come together to tell one sweeping story." These closing remarks were as much about Greensburg as they were about Disney. It is important to take risks, bring people together, and challenge questions from local people along the lines of, "Why would anyone want to come to Greensburg?" Greensburg is the Tomorrowland of sustainable communities, so why wouldn't you want to visit?

GreenTown is soliciting input from the community to find the best way to continue this conversation.


Green Town - The Book!

FREE with a minimum $50 individual or business membership! Details below.

We are happy to share the news that Green Town USA is now available! Author Thomas J. Fox did extensive interviewing of folks who were integral to Greensburg's green recovery, and has done a masterful job of telling the story of the genesis of the Green Initiative. I wept as I read the opening chapters and relived how Greensburg took the tragedy of May 4, 2007 and transformed the town into the inspiring beacon hope on the Kansas plains that it is today.

Now, six years later, Greensburg is ready to teach the rest of us how to do it. Green Town USA provides a roadmap that will help us use the experiences of Greensburg to transform our own communities. We don't have to wait for tragedy to begin this process of change. from the Foreward by Alex Wilson

GreenTown's executive director and co-founder, Daniel Wallach, offers his dream for the future of Greensburg, GreenTown, and the world in the book's Introduction:

My dream now . . . is to see communities around the country (and the world) come together to tackle challenges with a zest and a loving commitment to future generations, to preserve this astoundingly beautiful planet and the very systems that make life possible. I hope that reading this excellent book helps move you in that direction and most of all gives you a sense of optimism and awareness of the power of your vision and impact that you can, and will, have.

There's never been a better time to join us in making our dream a reality. We'll send you a copy of Green Town USA with every membership of $50 (or more!). We are inviting both individuals and businesses to consider partnering with us to spread the inspiring message of what is possible. Together we are making a big difference!

Non-members can purchase Green Town USA at your local independent bookseller or online.


Good News About Insurance for "Green" Homes


This article was contributed by Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley. 

Reducing Risk in the Sustainable Community

The Greensburg story of recovery is amazing. The community's emergence from the nearly total devastation of the May 4, 2007, tornado, and its dedication since then to sustainable building has been inspiring.

The good news for homeowners who have rebuilt their homes with sustainable materials and systems, is that many of the tenets of sustainable building also reduce your home’s risk of being damaged due to severe weather and other unexpected events. Furthermore, homes that are at a lower risk for damage also often qualify for the most preferred homeowners insurance policies- translating to the most comprehensive coverage and competitive rates.

Folks in Greensburg – the town with the most LEED-certified buildings per capita in the world – know something that other people across the country probably don't. Construction of homes with sustainable materials, when green design is included from the beginning of a project, costs only about 2% more than conventional construction. That's according to a study done for more than 40 California state agencies. That additional cost is more than recovered over the life of a green home due to lower electricity and water costs alone.

Since the replacement cost of a home greatly affects the amount of coverage a homeowner must purchase, insurance carriers typically require homeowners who want their homes rebuilt with green materials to purchase an endorsement on their policy to cover additional costs in the event of a claim. While this can slightly increase the cost of insurance, carriers help to counteract that additional cost by offering some green certified homes a 5% discount.

On top of that, green homes typically also qualify for preferred policies, which equates to better premiums.

  • For example, one way that homes gain points toward LEED certification is by having roofs that are constructed with reflective aluminum or steel on 75% of their surface. Those roofs also prove to be fire resistant and highly durable against weather conditions such as wind and hail. Even a non-LEED certified home that is built with new energy efficient roofing materials can qualify for a preferred policy.
  • Green homes also typically employ water-efficient toilets and other updated plumbing to reduce the amount of water they use. Because modern plumbing systems also reduce the chances of a burst pipe or other incident that could lead to costly water damage, insurers consider them lower risks.
  • Sustainable homes usually employ updated electrical and HVAC systems designed to use less energy. Modern systems also greatly reduce the risk of house fires, one of the most costly sources of residential insurance claims each year.

All in all, sustainable building can help lower an individual homeowner's costs. In addition, it may also help lower rates across the entire market. Insurance carriers' rates are based on being able to cover their losses in the event of a claim. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute reported that 92% of the $62 billion paid in homeowners insurance premiums in 2011 went towards paying claims. If sustainable construction reduces the frequency and severity of claims filed, it just may help throttle future rate hikes.

Green home owners who want to take advantage of all available homeowners insurance discounts should talk to their insurance agent about the discounts and coverage options available to them.

image credit: sfgate.com



GreenTown to Present in Moore at REBUILD Expo

Greensburg GreenTown and GreenTown Joplin were asked by the City of Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability to help with the REBUILD Expo on Saturday, August 3 in Moore. We've assisted with putting together the agenda and offering suggestions for the event, which is free and open to the public. If you know folks in Oklahoma who might benefit from the Expo, please share the program info with them.   

A delegation of four from Joplin will staff an informational table and will make presentations: Willy Crane, a green building expert and home energy rater; Frank Schaffer, a builder whose family lost their home in the Joplin tornado and who has rebuilt a house that is a durable model of energy efficiency; Andrew Whitehead, Chair of GreenTown's advisory group; and Catherine Hart, General Manager of GreenTown Joplin and Co-Founder of Greensburg GreenTown.

Expo organizers have assembled two dozen exhibitors who will be on hand with free informational materials for homeowners. (The expo is educational in nature rather than being a commercial venue.) In addition, there will be consultants on hand (architects, green building consultants, energy efficiency experts, etc.)  to meet with folks one-on-one to answer questions about their individual rebuilding needs. GreenTown is also preparing new handouts on the topics of: How to Find a Green Builder, Low- and No-Cost Sustainable Building Strategies, and Incentives.

The Expo will run from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Presentations will get underway at 11 a.m. and will include information about improving a home's durability and energy efficiency, water quality concerns, how to select a  homebuilder and an architect, insurance issues, personal stories of recovery from Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri, and other pertinent topics. The agenda lists speakers and their time slots.  

Program content has been to tailored assist people who are rebuilding in areas affected by the May storms, but the Expo is open to anyone who is considering building a home and wants to learn how to do so with energy efficiency and durability in mind.    

GreenTown looks forward to doing whatever we can to assist with the recovery of the good folks of Moore, Oklahoma City, and the other Oklahoma communities affected by tornadoes last spring.  


Saturday, August 3 - Expo - 9:00 am-3:30 pm - Presentations - 11:00-3:30 pm

Westmoore High School, 12613 S Western Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK

City of Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability
Jennifer Gooden, Director, (405) 297-3686
T.O. Bowman, Program Coordinator, (405) 297-3168

Greensburg GreenTown
Daniel Wallach, Executive Director, (620) 388-5558
Catherine Hart, General Manager GreenTown Joplin, (620) 549-3752


Transitions - From the Personal to the Global

Editor's note: This is Sydney Menees' last column for Greensburg GreenTown in her role as AmeriCorps fellow. Today she heads out on vacation before starting law school in the fall at Georgetown University. Her talents have been a great asset to the organization this past year and we are deeply grateful to Sydney for her time in Greensburg. She has been instrumental in making many projects a success, and has helped countless visitors learn about the community and its big vision - in person, on Facebook and Twitter, and here on the website. As we told her, she joins the other illustrious alumnae in our AmeriCorps "Hall of Fame".

Sydney recently studied the inspirational book, Cradle to Cradle, which has had a big impact on her way of thinking. We hope you enjoy her analysis of the book's message and its implication for the future of the Earth.

Daniel Wallach, Sydney Menees, Ruth Ann Wedel & Jason Culbertson smile for the camera during Sydney's last week in Greensburg

Transitioning Away From Sustainability by Sydney Menees

Since I started working at GreenTown in August of 2012, I have been happily surprised by the amount of sustainable products and practices available today. There are so many innovative green building products on the market and renewable energies are getting better all the time. But thinking of the actual definition of sustainable (“capable of being sustained”) doesn’t make it sound like an especially appealing lifestyle.  

As I hear politicized rhetoric surrounding sustainability, I gather that a lot of the pushback comes from people disliking feeling guilty.  Some of the dialogue of environmentalism encourages people to cut back: use less gas, produce less waste, have fewer children....  Why should I cut back if my neighbor isn’t?  Previous generations didn’t worry about cutting back; why should we? It’s a natural inclination, but the sustainability of earth depends on us cutting back and restricting ourselves...or does it?

I recently finished reading the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The book introduces a new paradigm for sustainability: eco-effectiveness. The idea behind eco-effectiveness  is that environmentalism and capitalism necessarily go hand-in-hand. This harmony is achieved by ditching the current paradigm for sustainability, which is making products, buildings, and emissions less bad.  Eco-effectiveness means making products, buildings, “waste,” emissions, etc. that are actually GOOD for the environment.  To illustrate how creating good waste/byproducts is possible, McDonough and Braungart use the analogy of a cherry tree. By living and growing, the tree purifies the air and its “waste” (blossoms) enriches the soil and provide food for other animals.  Why use chemicals that make us sick when we have the possibility to use materials that are harmless?  Why be less bad when we can be 100% good?  Though the switch to eco-effectiveness will require a restructuring of current practices throughout industry, it is possible and a few companies (the book specifically mentions Ford and Nike) have been reaping the benefits of enhancing the environment.

The ideas presented in Cradle to Cradle make so much sense to me.  It personally relieves me to know the future will not necessarily hinge on humans restricting themselves for their survival. But it will require thoughtful, diligent planning, to which I am excited to contribute.


"Fueled by Mother Nature"

Editor's Note: We at GreenTown were pleased to find the following article online last Friday. Author Kevin Richberg does a great job of capturing Greensburg's post-tornado vision and inspiring folks to come visit.

GREENsburg: A Town Reborn by Kevin Richberg - for the Huffington Post

Mother Nature is unquestionably one of travel and tourism's biggest draws. The power produced by the distribution of energy around the Earth causes travelers to venture thousands of miles to witness her wonders, bask in her comfort, and escape her harsh realities. Majestic waterfalls, stunning auroras, pristine beaches, swarming animals, devastating blizzards, or gigantic superstorms, they're all under the influence of her churning energies. Mother Nature is one of our closest companions and occasionally the worst of our enemies.

On May 4th, 2007 an enormous area of low barometric pressure stalled out over the midwestern Great Plains states abutting against an area of high moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting meteorological supercells spawned 123 separate tornadoes in just 56 hours. One in particular, an EF5 tornado 1.7 miles in width, annihilated the small Kansas town of Greensburg leaving a mere 5 percent of structures intact and taking 11 lives.

It only took Mother Nature a few minutes to utterly destroy what over a thousand residents spent lifetimes building and nurturing, and it would take years for those individuals to rebuild their lives, homes, and businesses. But this was not a routine rebuilding effort, quite the contrary. It would become one of the most radical transformations any city had ever attempted.

The citizens of Greensburg came together, deciding that their rebuilding efforts would focus on harnessing the same power Mother Nature used to destroy their town, this time, to ensure its survival. They set out with a motto; "Stronger, Better, Greener!" Their town was to be a model of energy efficiency, sustainable living, and ingenuity based on the natural energies of the Kansas plains.

Their plans weren't brought about by government mandate or corporate greed; they were the organic efforts of townspeople who saw a future based in renewable energies. Mother Nature would be an integral partner in their second chance.

Greensburg had been founded in the 1880s based partially on an enormous hole in the ground. The Big Well, as it's still known, was dug without the aid of machines (the world's largest hand dug well at a depth of 109 feet) in order to secure water for the advancing railroad lines penetrating into the west. Almost immediately after its decommission the Big Well was opened as a historical attraction in 1937, and by the time the May 4th tornado reached it, the well was a national landmark. Being completely underground it was the one thing in Greensburg the tornado could not touch!

Tourists had been traveling to see the Big Well for decades before the tornado; it was Greensburg's major claim to fame. But during the "Green" rebirth of Greensburg the residents decided to widen their vision of what could attract tourism to their small piece of flat Kansas. Putting all their efforts into creating the "Greenest" town in America (in name and in function) would give them a unique perspective to share with their visitors. Their story would become a tourist draw in and of itself, the ability to illustrate the power of Mother Nature to destroy, the ingenuity of the American spirit to adapt, and the resulting model for a sustainable future to be exported -- all fueled by Mother Nature.

Today Greensburg has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structures per capita than any town in the world, and a visit to Greensburg is now far more than just a Big Well (which is an amazing structure in its own right). The public face of Greensburg's transformation is GreenTown, an organization helping to export the ideas that utterly transformed a community to the rest of the world. And since seeing is believing, they encourage each and every visitor to walk the GreenTour, a map and booklet of where all of Greensburg's innovations are located and descriptions of how they work.

With Mother Nature back in a warm embrace with the people of Greensburg, she would now be able to work her magic to draw in visitors and travelers from around the world. Greensburg shows us a glimpse of what's possible for a future more in tune with the earth's ability to provide for us, and more responsible to upcoming generations.

Visit Greensburg and see how it was done!

From Kevin's bio on the Huffington Post: Kevin is a freelance travel writer who recently transitioned from a career in molecular marine biology to pursuing his passion of “project” oriented world travel. Recent projects have included a 30 day, 12,500 km road trip through India and going on 30 dates in 30 days in 30 American cities. His travels have taken him to 89 countries on six continents and even included two trips to the bottom of the abyssal ocean. His current ongoing travel project involves visiting 30 places around the world having been invited by everyday locals who mail him postcards (www.30postcards.com).