Alliance Intends To Mobilize

June 6, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Alliance for Environmental Sustainability is on a mission to educate the public about green building, energy efficiency, and construction that promotes indoor air quality, and it’s now gearing up to take its show on the road.

To spread its message farther, the Alliance plans to outfit a mobile unit with hands-on displays, working models of equipment and assorted green building materials and roll it into different venues around the community.

Alliance President Mike Halcomb, owner of Home Inspector General, said the organization has been getting more Internet visitors on its Web site than actual foot traffic through its doors since opening a MichiganEnergyDemonstrationCenter eight months ago, originally in a building on Madison Avenue in Wyoming

“Our interest was in providing a place where builders and consumers could go and look at displays of actual products in use without being pressured to buy a particular product and be able to compare products to find out what works for them and fits into their budgets.

“We realized the space we had was underutilized because there wasn’t that much off-the-road traffic coming in, unless we ran a seminar or held an event. For training purposes, it’s easier for us to take displays to where there is a large group of people than it is to have a large group of people come here.”

The Alliance intends to build an 8-by-28-foot trailer that will serve as an energy demonstration center on wheels. The public can see different materials being tested, as well as items such as a mechanical ventilation system and a low-flush toilet.

“We expect to have working models and some actual solar panels on the trailer. We may even have a green roof on it if things work well. We’d like people to see that a green roof can be installed on almost any type of property.”

The first hurdle is raising the funds to buy the mobile unit. Executive Director Jeannine Reynolds said that, after seeing some specs and cost estimates, the Alliance will seek grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, as well as seek local corporate sponsorships for the project. Reynolds said the organization hopes to have the mobile unit up and running before the end of the year.

The Alliance is currently located in the HelmusBuilding at

959 Wealthy St. SE
, one of the first remodeled buildings in the state to meet U.S. Green Building Council standards for LEED. It’s serving as a temporary office while the organization looks for larger digs, Reynolds said.

“Deep green” developer Guy Bazzani of Bazzani Associates Inc. restored the historic HelmusBuilding, which houses both his offices and living quarters. He and Halcomb, along with Dave Thacker, owner of MACS Builders, and Gayle DeBruyn, owner of Lake Affect Design Studio, formed the Alliance about two years ago.

Halcomb said the group founded the nonprofit because it felt there weren’t enough educational resources on green building and energy efficiency available in the community.

The Alliance has conducted a number of training seminars for building professionals over the past two years. It’s now trying to do more outreach to consumers and homeowners. In fact, Halcomb was in Lansing last month hosting a panel discussion on green building at the 2005 Michigan Conference on Affordable Housing.

Most people, he said, appear to be particularly interested in seminars on green building, which naturally encompasses energy efficiency.

“Everybody’s concerned about high energy bills. I had a lot of calls this winter from people that had energy bills of $500 to $600 to $700 a month on existing homes. I think builders have to give people a reason to buy a new home, and one of the things people are interested in is the energy aspect of it.

“When building a home or remodeling a home, you only get one chance to do it right. The very things that would save you the most amount of money are the things that are getting the least amount of attention.”

It’s easy to upgrade carpeting, countertops or cabinets. But it’s costly and difficult to upgrade the thermal shell of a home once it’s built, he said.

On another front, the Alliance has been involved in testing different products from Japan to determine whether they effectively improve indoor air quality. It’s also working to help develop a green building program in that country.

The organization is now conducting initial tests on a Japanese product for hydroponic gardening that’s supposed to increase the yield of fruits, vegetables or whatever else is planted, he said. The Alliance is initially experimenting with soybeans, in cooperation with the United Soy Growers Association of South Dakota. If initial testing results come back favorable, members of the association will run actual field tests on the product, Halcomb said.

He pointed out that soybean and corn growers are currently competing for available land to increase their yields. He said the most important aspect of corn oil, soy oil and all the vegetable-based oils is that they can be used to produce biodiesel fuel, a cleaner burning fuel made from natural, renewable sources rather than petroleum.

Vegetable oils are also being used in place of petroleum to produce polyol products like plastic insulation, as well as many other kinds of products serving the construction, appliance, molded products, transportation and packaging industries.

“Doing it with soy, corn and vegetable-based oils means it’s sustainable because we can actually grow two acres of soybeans, while we can’t grow two acres of oil. It will make us less dependent on foreign oil.”        

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