Group Pushes for Sustainable Rebuilding in Joplin, Missouri

By Debby Woodin | April 16, 2012

Folks in Joplin, Mo., who want to go green in rebuilding homes and businesses — or at least use products to help them cut down on energy costs — can find help in a local organization called GreenTown Joplin.

The group is a transplant from Greensburg, Kan., a farm community of about 1,400 residents that was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado five years ago. The town decided to build back using sustainable techniques and renewable energy.

Catherine Hart, co-founder and program director of GreenTown Greensburg and GreenTown Joplin, said that Greensburg decided to build back in a sustainable fashion within a week after a tornado wiped out most of the town on May 4, 2007.

The fact that such a small community would make such a big commitment was novel, she said. The effort involved hundreds of public meetings to plan how to bring the town back in a sustainable way. Today, about 800 people have moved back into town, and most of its major buildings — from the school to the hospital — are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“It’s like a living science museum to come to Greensburg,” Hart said.

A wind turbine farm outside of town supplies enough electricity to power the city, with any residue being sold to the grid, Hart said.

The school was built largely with recycled materials, including wood repurposed from the salvage of Hurricane Katrina.

The town’s farm implement dealership, BTI Greensburg, scrapped the standard design for its offices and built a LEED Platinum-rated building that serves as a model for others in the chain. In the process, the owners became interested in wind technology and erected two wind turbines to power part of the building and repair shop, cutting the operation’s energy and water use by about half. The business now sells and services wind turbines, Hart said.

Some experimental homes that were constructed allow people from elsewhere to spend a night in one to check out the technology.

One, called the Silo Eco-Home, is constructed of concrete in a silo shape to withstand tornado winds. Hart said two cars were dropped onto the roof of the house to show the durability “because so many injuries occur when things are dropped through roofs in a tornado.”

Greensburg reached out to Joplin and another tornado-ravaged city, Tuscaloosa, Ala., last summer, and established a Joplin branch of the GreenTown movement as a way of “paying it forward,” for the help Greensburg received in rebuilding, Hart said. “We got a lot of resources and attention because we were the first disaster after Katrina, and the government was anxious to get it right” after complaints about slow disaster response and rescue for Katrina survivors, she said.

Wally Crane, of Crane Home Energy Consulting, said the Joplin branch of the GreenTown effort was established in November and recently held a workshop for building contractors on sustainable building techniques.

A similar session for residents who would like to know more about energy-efficient building will be held May 12 at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said the session would be handy to people who are not experienced in green building techniques and do not know how easy it is to incorporate energy- and water-saving features in their properties.

“Once people realize it doesn’t have to be difficult, they tell others,” and the goal is to get communitywide participation, Crane said.

Crane and Hart discussed the GreenTown initiative at a seminar on green infrastructure and construction put on by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the city of Joplin at City Hall. It was intended to help other cities and contractors become acquainted with stricter regulations that will go into effect this year aimed at reducing water pollution from stormwater runoff.