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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's Upcoming Events

These next few weeks are big ones for us here at Greensburg GreenTown! Coming up on October 29th and 30th is our Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference that we are co-hosting with St. Louis University’s Center for Sustainability and GreenTown Joplin. The conference will be in St. Louis at SLU and cover a plethora of topics, including Incentivizing Sustainable Recovery, An Artist’s View of His Hometown, Teaching Through the Lens of Sustainability, and many more.  The full itinerary is on display if you click on this link. I am excited to be in attendance and learn more about all the forces that came into play to make sustainable recovery in both Greensburg and Joplin happen and how to promote sustainable disaster recovery in the future. The conference is open to you too, and with the great variety of panels and expertise of speakers, I wouldn’t want to miss it! Click on this link to find out about registration. Registration for one day is available for those of you who want to attend the conference, but can't make it for both days. Hope to see you in St. Louis!

Another upcoming event for GreenTown is that in three weeks, our Indiegogo campaign for the Meadowlark Eco-Home will come to a close. We are so appreciative for the public support we’ve received for this project! While Indiegogo is not the only avenue we are pursuing to try to finish this innovative home, it is currently the only way for the general public to specifically support this project through GreenTown. Any small amount you can donate will be appreciated and will go towards completing the home. To recap the special aspects of this home, it is the first home in America to be constructed using a wood-block system by HIB, it is one of the few buildings in America to use Passive Design, and it will be free and open to the public to experience these features when completed! You can help complete this project by donating or by sharing our campaign with friends. Greensburg can become a model for the nation in yet another way with your help!

Meadowlark's Passive Design features visually represented.











Deep Thanks for Sarah and Her Quiet Joy

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. ~Ralph H. Blum

Last month we bid adieu to Sarah Thyparambil, GreenTown AmeriCorps staff extraordinaire. Fortunately she's still in the neighborhood, having procured a position just a couple of hours from Greensburg at an architectural firm in Wichita.

Sarah's steady, quiet manner coupled with her enormous talent was the perfect addition to our organization - and to the community as a whole. She came to Kansas from Lincoln, Nebraska and spent a year gifting us with her time and dedication through the AmeriCorps State and National Program. She and Barbara Summers, whom we profiled at the end of the summer, began working for GreenTown last summer. Even though they didn't know each other when they started their AmeriCorps terms together, they quickly became a dynamic team and they have left quite a legacy. Sarah and Barbara are responsible for the beautiful, bountiful community garden project planted last April by the Kansas Heartland Girl Scouts at the Silo Eco-Home. They creatively concocted GreenTown's Recycle Christmas last year, and seamlessly worked side-by-side on many events and projects, including those commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tornado in May of this year.

Sarah writes beautifully and is the author of a good number of articles on this website. Plus, she is a wonderfully talented graphic designer and has made us look really good on paper and on our website. A case in point is the third edition of the GreenTown GreenTour Book, which she poured her energy into. She also has an uncanny ability to work gracefully and very skillfully under pressure.

We are grateful to the folks at Health Facilities Group in Wichita, who have recognized Sarah's talents and hired her as an Intern Architect; she started in her new position last week. HFG is the firm that designed the Kiowa County Memorial Hospital in Greensburg, which is the first LEED Platinum project of its kind in the nation. (This was their first LEED Project, and they have gone on to develop many more since then.) It's nice knowing that Sarah is just down the road a piece . . .

We are deeply grateful for Sarah's year of service and presence at GreenTown. Thank you, Sarah!


Meadowlark Fundraising Campaign Launched Today!

Today marks the launch of our Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to complete the Meadowlark Eco Demonstration Home!  Meadowlark is the second in GreenTown’s Chain of Eco-Homes.  Its most noteworthy design features are its construction with HIB blocks and its keeping with Passive House standards.  HIB blocks have not yet been used on a building in America and Passive House is still a burgeoning concept on this side of the Atlantic, so Meadowlark is groundbreaking in many ways!  When construction began on Meadowlark, all the funds were secured, but an unforeseen turn of events with our primary funding source left GreenTown in need of having to raise additional monies in order to complete the house. The $50,000 will go towards:

  • Siding
  • Triple Pane Windows
  • Exterior Doors
  • Installation

All of these items will be tremendous assets to protect the house to protect it from the elements.

Right now, Meadowlark looks like this:

But we’re hoping to get it to look like this and be open to the public before too long:

Please help GreenTown realize this goal by donating (even $10 will help us out) and sharing our campaign at http://www.indiegogo.com/savemeadowlark. Thank you for your support!


The Case for Recycling Your Old Clothes


image credit: everyday cleaning tips

I just read a very interesting blog post where I learned more about what happens to the clothing we donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and similar organizations. The Afterlife of Used Clothing points out that about 20% of donated clothes is actually resold as is; much of the rest of it sent off to textile recyclers who use the material in a variety of ways:

"According to the trade organization Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART), less than half of the clothing processed by textile recyclers is of a high enough quality to continue as clothing. About 20 percent of postconsumer apparel is so busted up it is sold to fiber buyers, who break it down into component fibers for reuse in a variety of products from insulation to carpet padding and building materials. Another 30 percent is sold to the industrial wiping-rag industry for about eight cents per pound. Only a small sliver, 5 percent, is thrown away."

Here is a link to SMART should you be interested in finding a textile recycler in your area. When you pass along those old t-shirts and jeans, you just never know where they might end up. It's fun to think about old clothing being repurposed into a product that will help keep people's homes warm in the winter.




Greensburg: A New Life Chapter


I am now a resident of Greensburg! I began work at Greensburg GreenTown on Monday,
September 3rd. I am very excited to begin working with the community of Greensburg and
sharing my interests in sustainability. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and studied at the University
of Nebraska at Lincoln. I received my Masters of Architecture last May. I have lived in Nebraska
for most of my life, but I had the opportunity to study abroad in Europe for one semester while
attending UNL. That experience gave me new insights into a variety of cultures and cities. Once I
graduated I began looking for a job that suited my interests. I am thrilled to say that my experience in
Greensburg has begun!                                                                                                                                                                          
The change of pace from a big city to a small town is significant, but there is certainly a presence
about Greensburg that separates it from other towns. The wind turbines and solar panels
throughout the buildings in Greensburg convey a sense of social progress. Biking in town is
another aspect of small town living that I am excited to utilize. In addition, the distance from my
house to the nearest grocery store is less than 10 minutes. Since the town is pratically new, the
aesthetic is very clean and unweathered. Whenever I enter a new building in town I feel as
though I am still in the city.                                                                                                                                                                      
Even before I moved here, I was aware of Greensburg's goal for sustainable rebuilding. I remember
watching the Discovery Channel series about the inital rebuilding of Greensburg back in 2008. I
watched the construction of the 5.4.7 Arts Center by the University of Kansas graduate Design-Build
course. I remember being captivated by this town and I stored the story of Greensburg in
the back of my mind during my study at UNL. I never would have predicted that I would find
myself working in Greensburg after all. While the series gave me perspective on the inital
rebuilding efforts, I was impresssed by the amount of progress and built work when I toured
Greensburg at the beginning of the summer. Five years after the disaster, Greensburg remains
an inspiration to me as a beacon for sustainable growth. Now that I am involved with GreenTown
I want to help promote sustainability in a way that gives inspiration to other towns faced with
similar circumstances.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
There are quirks of Greensburg that I have discovered that make the experience of living here
unique for me. The Greensburg street names are interesting. From east to west the
streets are named after states and presidents. I was happy to see that one of the streets was
named Nebraska when I first moved down. From north to south the streets have names related to
different types of trees. Although, when you ask for directions not many locals remember the
street names, rather they give you directions based on the landmarks in town.                                                                                          
I am blessed to be given an opportunity to be directly involved with GreenTown's projects both
locally and nationally. I am looking forward to many new experiences within the year!


Here I am on top of the GreenTown Silo Eco-Home.


It's Time to Register!


Greensburg GreenTown, GreenTown Joplin, and the St. Louis University Center for Sustainability invite you to attend our inaugural conference addressing the all-important issue of sustainably recovering from disaster. On Monday & Tuesday, October 29-30, on the St. Louis University campus, we will be gathering together many of the  leaders in this arena and working to optimize the resources available to the people working in our field. We look to the conference to be an inspiring place to learn, network, and share experiences. You can check out our confirmed speakers here. (Please note that we are still in the process of finalizing a few of the sessions; these are not yet listed.)

Students may attend the event for free; all that we ask is that you pre-register, here. For paying customers, please note that our Early Bird Registration deadline is coming up September 27. If your company would like to exhibit at the event or to partner with us as a sponsor, we invite your participation. (Clicking on the corresponding pages will enable you to read about the many benefits associated with a being a part of this event.)

A few highlights of the program include:

  • Residents from Greensburg and Joplin will tell their inspiring comeback stories and their decision to build super energy efficient homes, post-disaster.
  • Mike Smith, a leader and innovator in the field of meteorology, will give a plenary talk entitled Miracle at Greensburg.
  • Representatives from the Federal government (FEMA, NREL, and the Department of Defense) will give an insider's view of the recovery process.
  • City leaders will discuss the decisions that Greensburg and Joplin have made related to incorporating a sustainable vision into their community's comebacks.
  • There will be sessions addressing the psychological and social aspects of recovery from disaster.
  • The documentary Joplin, Missouri: A Tornado Story will be presented, with special commentary from the film's director and producer.
  • There will be a work session where folks from disaster communities can meet with experts in the field of sustainability to brainstorm ideas and strategies for their rebuilding process.
  • And much, much more.

The nascent field that is sustainable disaster recovery is an exciting one, in that it takes the misfortune of a disaster and transforms it into an opportunity for the affected areas. There is profound power when human beings are able to take tragedy and redeem it into something beautiful that will have a lasting positive impact on a community for generations to come. Sustainable disaster recovery channels grief and loss into a proactive response and serves as tribute to those who lost their lives. We see unparalled opportunity for our culture to embrace more sustainable ways of living and using resources, ultimately benefiting the well-being of future generations.

This conference is poised to become an annual event that is a place where those working to make rebuilding communities stronger and more successful come together to share ideas, experiences and inspiration.

Please join us at this inaugural event designed to give greater form to the “industry” that is sustainable disaster recovery and make it an even more powerful force in years to come.



Sustainability and the Job Market

A background in sustainability is becoming a valuable asset in the job market. The U.S. Department of Labor cites several reasons why companies have adopted a more sustainable focus. First and foremost, being sustainable saves money. Companies can reduce their expenditures on oil and other energy costs by operating in a sustainable manner. Secondly, consumers are increasingly interested in supporting sustainable firms. Online tools like Good Guide are readily to available help customers monitor what different companies value, so they can determine where to spend their money. Finally, firms that observe sustainable practices have an easier time complying with state and federal regulations. These incentives to be sustainable have resulted in adding a sustainability component to positions at companies that didn’t formerly have them, including chief executives in sustainability, transportation managers, industrial production managers, and more. In 2009, 75 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics engaged in sustainable practices, which is double the percentage from the 2006 survey. Another 61 percent of respondents report having a person or team dedicated to sustainability. As the Department of Labor notes, “Sustainability is becoming part of how companies do business in the United States, rather than being viewed as a cost.”

With the new availability of these positions, several sustainability training programs have cropped up as well. St. Louis University, which is co-sponsoring our Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference October 29-30, offers a masters degree in sustainability. My alma mater, Bard College, started offering an MBA in Sustainability this year.  Other U.S. universities including Yale, Stanford, and the University of California-Berkeley offer MBAs in Sustainability as well. If going back to school isn’t in the cards for you, supplementary sustainability training programs have become more common recently. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) offers in-person training as well as webinars and other e-learning options pertaining to sustainability. TRESTA, The Renewable Skills Training Academy, recently opened in Scotland appealing to “School leavers/young people, those seeking work, people wishing to retrain or up skill, anyone currently employed in, or wanting to work in the renewable energy sector.”  Finally, if you stop by Greensburg GreenTown’s Silo Home, you can get a crash course in all the sustainable features we use here, as well as ideas about how to incorporate them into your life! Learning about sustainability is at your fingertips because you’re at a computer. Or it’s a short walk away if you live in Greensburg.

Image from the Bureau of Labor Statistics


Joplin Media Feature 3 Sustainable Building Stories in 4 Days

image credit: walltowalltruckers.com

We are pleased to share with readers the recent flurry of media coverage related to local sustainable building projects and to the resources offered by GreenTown Joplin. Saturday's Joplin Globe featured a story by reporter Debby Woodin, Residents Use Green Building Techniques to Conserve Utilities, which showcases three families who lost their homes in the tornado who have chosen to rebuild very durable, high performance residences.

  • Good Will Builders is constructing a SIPs home with ICF foundation for Hugh and Ramona Shields. It's projected that heating and cooling their living space will run them about a dollar a day. Camdenton-based Alternative Real Estate has designed the home's energy efficient features. The pre-fabricated walls went up in under three hours!
  • Bob and Julie Sheldon are building a beautiful ICF home. Based on the great experience they have had with their detached ICF garage, they expect great things when the energy bills on their new home come due.
  • Frank and Erika Schaffer and their three young children will be living in a very energy efficient home that Frank, a builder, has designed. He owns F.E. Schaffer Construction, which rebuilt over a dozen homes immediately after the tornado; now he is turning his attention to the family home. Frank's dream is to demonstrate to other local builders how simple it is to incorporate energy efficiency features into new construction, and he will use his own home as a living laboratory, documenting every step of the way and offering training on-site.

GreenTown Joplin has provided support and assistance to both the Shields project and to Frank Schaffer, and we are eager to show the public the whole range of what's possible with various building systems. (In addition to the projects featured in the Globe, we helped publicize a local open house being built with ICF from Stitt Energy Systems, based in Rogers, Arkansas. And we've promoted the Convoy of Hope project constructed from the TF Forming System, an innovative concrete-based wall system.)

TF Forming Systems, Stitt Energy, and Alternative Real Estate are GreenTown sponsors, and Will Perkins, owner of Good Will Builders, and Frank Schaffer are part of our local committee.

In Sunday's Joplin Globe, editor Carol Stark characterizes green building and living as "common sense" and "a way of life that makes sense for our future". Carol is a wonderful, passionate writer and we encourage readers to check out her editorial, Green Makes Sense When It's Common Sense.

Monday found Will Perkins, home energy rater Willy Crane, and GreenTown's Catherine Hart on-site at the Shields home for an interview with Melanie Huonker from Joplin TV station KSN. Will described the many energy efficiency features of the home, Willy (our GreenTown committee's energy efficiency guru) demonstrated a blower door test, and Catherine described some of the free services and resources offered by GreenTown Joplin.

Awareness is rapidly growing in Joplin and elsewhere about the many benefits of incorporating energy-saving principles into homes and commercial buildings. If you are building a new structure, retrofitting an existing home, landscaping a yard, or looking to incorporate other sustainable features into your life and want someplace to start with your research, click on the RESOURCES tab at the top of this page.



Paying It Forward, Continued

image credit: William Lemaster

The beautiful Kentucky town of West Liberty was struck by an EF3 tornado in March of this year, taking the lives of 6 people and leaving a mile-wide path of devastation.

A week after the tornado event, Tom Eblen, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote a piece in the newspaper offering advice gleaned from community leaders from disaster-damaged areas throughout the country, including former Greensburg Mayor John Janssen. Eblen wrote that Greensburg's "experience seemed to offer a good model for West Liberty. Several people in West Liberty thought so, too." Their local leaders studied Greensburg's comeback and arranged for GreenTown's Daniel Wallach to meet with local officials and speak at a public meeting. Daniel spent August 14-15 in this charming Kentucky town (population 3,435) nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

On August 14, Mr. Eblen accompanied Daniel and his hosts, Bobby Clark and Jason Delambre, as they went from meeting to meeting. (Mr. Clark and Mr. Delambre are consultants from Lexington-based Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise, who are helping with the town's revisioning and reconstruction.) His column, After the tornado, West Liberty explores a "green" recovery, gives a good overview of Greensburg's bold experiment and GreenTown's role in the Green Initiative. In addition to individual meetings with the representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce and elected officials, the evening presentation on August 14 drew 50 interested people from the community.

There are a lot of ideas being considered for West Liberty's comeback, including geothermal and adventure eco-tourism, and there is a great deal of enthusiasm for a bright future. Writes Mr. Eblen: "As horrible as disasters are, they can provide a clean slate for renewal if leaders seize the opportunity. Wallach stressed that the best hope for small towns such as West Liberty is to create authentic, innovative visions for economic development that will generate excitement and investment from locals and outsiders."

The Greensburg community sends its best wishes as the folks in West Liberty recover and re-imagine their town. Greensburg has always been about paying it forward and, in its position 5+ years out from the tornado event, continues to serve as a beacon of inspiration and model of possibility.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/19/2304032/tom-eblen-after-the-tornado-west.html#storylink=cpy



The Greenest Greensburg Resident

I began working for Greensburg GreenTown on Friday, August 3rd. Before moving here two weeks ago, I had been to Greensburg twice: once just passing through and the second time in June for my interview with GreenTown. It would seem that I knew what I was getting into when I decided to move here, but there are some intricacies you discover only when you live in a place full-time.

I’m originally from Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City which is about five hours east of Greensburg with a population of just under 200,000. Though I’ve claimed Kansas as my home state, I now feel as though I’ve been misrepresenting myself. Overland Park, despite the fact that it lies within the borders of Kansas, isn’t the heart of the state in the way that Greensburg is. Greensburg has a population of about 800 and it takes no longer than 20 minutes to walk to virtually everywhere in town from my house. True to Greensburg’s legacy, the weather can be extreme. During my second night here the power went out for about an hour and a half as howling winds invaded the town. Though I tried to be brave, I couldn’t help fearing that a repeat of May 4, 2007 was on its way. Thankfully it wasn’t, but tornado awareness is constant; Greensburg tests its tornado sirens four times per day (7 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m.). Dodge City and Pratt, the two closest good-sized towns, are 45 minutes and 30 minutes away, respectively, and the closest big city, Wichita, is two hours away. The towns are separated by vast expanses of tree-less agriculture. Luckily there is a grocery store in town where you can shop for the necessities; for more exotic ingredients like feta cheese and oregano you need to visit one of the larger towns. Another truism that is unique to towns with a small population is the lack of anonymity. Sometimes people know who I am simply because I’m new, but everyone I’ve met has been friendly and welcoming when I introduce myself.

While the core of this experience ostensibly holds true throughout many small towns in America, Greensburg’s focus on sustainability sets it apart from small towns and major cities alike. Though I obtained my respect for Greensburg’s green endeavor before I moved here, the magnitude of sustainable rebuilding didn’t hit me fully until I started experiencing Greensburg from the inside out. From most locations in town you can see wind turbines taking advantage of the copious wind. Solar panels also adorn many buildings on main street. Easily observable features like the wind turbines and solar panels capture one’s attention at first, but even more incredible are the underlying sustainable features. The more discreet design concepts like rainwater harvesting, which reuses rainwater for irrigation, and reclaimed materials, which preserve resources by reusing old ones, make a big impact on the sustainability of Greensburg. The GreenTour Book has a full list of the sustainable features in Greensburg and has been instrumental to my knowledge of the community. I came to realize that the most remarkable aspect of Greensburg, however, is the people themselves, who made a sustainable community their mission. They didn’t pick the easy way out by choosing either not to rebuild or to rebuild hastily. The town has been carefully planned with the green focus at the forefront, making it a sparkling example in the middle of America. I’m excited to be working for GreenTown and to become a regular contributor to the GreenTown blog. Here’s to a great year!

Here I am in the city, but thinking about Greensburg!

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