From Devastation To LEED: A Small Town Story

What’s the greenest small town in America? If you’re thinking it must be somewhere famously eco-obsessed–such as northern California or the Pacific Northwest–think again. Every city building in Greensburg, Kansas, population 900, is LEED certified. What’s more, Greensburg has its own community wind farm, which is said to produce 100% of its power.

It all began late in the evening of May 4, 2007, when a monster tornado 1.7 miles wide and moving at 205 miles an hour flattened this small town on the southwest Kansas plains, totally destroying its infrastructure and a vast majority of its homes and buildings. Thanks to an emergency announcement by the National Weather Service in Dodge City, the citizens of Greensburg had 20 minutes to evacuate, but the devastation brought by the tornado was still a huge blow for a town of this size.

Greensburg

image via Greensburg

After the disaster, the mayor, city administrator and president of the city council–initially meeting in tents–all had the idea to re-build the town in a sustainable manner, a concept which found support from the office of Kansas’ governor at the time, Kathleen Sebelius. As a result, the members of the Greensburg City Council, with the help of the U.S. Department of Energy, made a monumental decision: to rebuild all of Greensburg’s muncipal buildings to LEED Platinum standards, the highest standard of environmental stewardship in building design as designated by the U.S. Green Building Council. They passed a resolution to that effect, said to be the first of its kind in the country–and miraculously, every one of Greensburg’s residents and businesses followed suit. Today, all but one building in town is certified LEED Platinum, and that one, a city shop, is certified LEED Silver, according to the Dodge City Daily Globe.

Currently, Greensburg is said to have more LEED Platinum buildings per capita than any other city. But perhaps just as significant is the fact that , according to the Daily Globe, wind power reportedly provides for 100% of those buildings’ electricity needs. Greensburg’s community wind farm–built to take advantage of the Great Plains famous sweeping gusts–consists of ten turbines that have the capacity to generate way more than enough energy to meet this small town’s energy usage, which is reduced anyhow when you consider how energy efficient many of its buildings are.

Greensburg Tornado

image via Mike Theiss/Greensburg GreenTown

Because they were built to such high environmental standards, many of the town’s buildings feature geothermal heating and cooling and were built with healthy building standards in mind as well (i.e., they contain no volatile organic compound paints and adhesives). The streetscapes downtown were designed to make the most of natural resources, as were the community’s LED street lights.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.