In May 2007, a tornado swept through the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. It left it devastated, destroying or severely damaging 95% of the buildings.
As the dust settled, the community came to terms with the fact that they basically needed to rebuild the entire town from scratch. Despite the urgency of providing new homes and infrastructure, they decided to take the opportunity to build with the long term future in mind. The town passed a unique ruling that all public buildings would need to be rebuilt to LEED platinum standard. As a county centre, that included a city hall, courthouse, library and art centre.
Inspired by this community objective, many local businesses took a similar decision, with banks, showrooms and offices also built to the highest possible standard of energy efficiency.
The result is possibly the most sustainable small town in America, in terms of built environment. It has a Best Western hotel that generates half of its own electricity needs and a John Deere dealership with a third of its energy needs met on-site. The new hospital is 60% more efficient than it’s predecessor, and the school is 70% more efficient. These energy savings save the county $200,ooo a year, and those are savings that will continue for decades.
Most of the buildings have been built with a north-south orientation, maximising natural light and ventilation. Ground source heat pumps were extensively used, with airtight building ‘envelopes’ to control temperatures.
The town is also completely powered by renewable energy, having made a commitment to ‘100% renewable 100% of the time’. As well as solar power on buildings, a wind farm on the edge of town generates four times more wind energy than the town uses, selling it on to neighbours.
Greensburg’s story is an inspiring one, and there’s a really practical side to it too. With so many sustainable buildings in one place, it’s become a key destination for those wanting to know more, or wanting to see sustainable design in action.
- For more, see this presentation from the Department of Energy
- or this tour guide to the town