Events showcasing GRs green initiatives

September 9, 2010
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Grand Rapids' place on the national environmental stage will be highlighted Thursday and Friday when the city hosts GreenTown Grand Rapids, and local advocates of sustainable building construction offer tours Friday and Saturday of some of the area's most prominent green-built projects.

The Future Cities: Climate Strategies for Sustainable Communities conference will feature keynote addresses from Mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids, Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit and Director Rebecca Humphries of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The full program, along with registration information, is available via the GreenTown website at

More than 250 attendees from the public and private sectors, ranging from mayors and city managers to landscape architects and community stakeholders, are expected to attend the event at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center.

Heartwell will outline the implementation of various green measures in Grand Rapids and how other local communities are mitigating climate change. Bing will discuss his efforts to transform Detroit through usage of locally grown agriculture and sustainable transportation. Humphries will explore her organization's efforts in improving the air, land and water quality of Michigan communities.

Sessions will include a focus on such topics as "Climate Strategies for Sustainable Communities," "Community Design and Building," "Healthy Food, Little Waste" and "The Outdoors."

Also part of the activities is the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan's Green Buildings of West Michigan Tour on Friday and Saturday of approximately 40 commercial and residential LEED-certified buildings in and around Grand Rapids. For more information, visit

Renae Hesselink, chair of the USGBC-WM, said the tours are part of a three-pronged project:

  • Post-occupancy research that documents energy cost savings in local LEED-constructed facilities.

  • Publication of a 112-page "coffee table" book that showcases the 40 buildings projects with which the USGBC-WM worked and which are on the tour.

  • The tour itself, which costs $60 for USGBC-WM chapter members ($25 for students) and $90 for nonmembers, and is open to the public.

The tour will coincide with the Future Cities: Climate Strategies for Sustainable Communities conference hosted by a5 Inc. and Seven Generations Ahead on Friday at the Eberhard Center.

"The Grand Rapids metropolitan area ranks first nationally in the number of LEED buildings per capita, and fifth overall," said Hesselink, a LEED accredited professional. "We've earned the right to call ourselves a national center of green building, but more importantly, we're positioning our region as a trendsetter, a leader in innovation, and home to experts in the design and manufacture of energy-efficient, sustainable buildings and materials."

The Green Buildings of West Michigan Tour will provide participants with a close-up look at a diverse portfolio of LEED-certified building stock, spanning a variety of market segments including office, manufacturing, small project, health care, education, residential, hospitality and nonprofit. The buildings are featured in "Green Buildings of West Michigan," the book published by the USGBC West Michigan Chapter to commemorate the tour. Information is available at

Primary tour transportation will be based near the Eberhard Center, where tours begin at 10 a.m. both Friday and Saturday. Registration is required. In addition to the shuttle services, some tours will incorporate public transportation and walking. The tour includes visits to Aquinas College, the David D. Hunting YMCA, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Hyatt Place Grand Rapids South, in addition to LEED buildings owned by Haworth, Herman Miller and Steelcase.

"Based on the initial response, we expect hundreds of industry professionals, students and those just curious about the green building movement to join us on the tours," Hesselink said. "They're coming from throughout the Midwest to 'kick the tires,' ask questions, and consider how they might advance the art and science of green building in their own communities. We're excited to see the growing interest and happy to share the lessons learned by the many green building pioneers that call West Michigan home."

Tour registration and details are available at

"Our U.S. Green Building West Michigan Chapter has existed for six years now and has spent most of our time on educating professionals in the design and construction industry," Hesselink said. "Until this project started, we had done very little to engage with the owners of LEED buildings in the area or other stakeholder groups. We realized the need was there to promote our region, especially the city of Grand Rapids, as pioneers and innovators in the green building industry, but with an all-volunteer leadership team, how would we get our arms around this?"

Hesselink said she was speaking with an MBA class at GVSU when a student wondered why more had not been done to promote the area's elite LEED standing.

"That determined me more than ever that we needed to elevate this fact and let everyone know —shout it from the rooftops."

Working with Sam Pobst, USGBC-WM co-chair and former chair of the chapter, Hesselink said an intensive effort was made to work with LEED-certified building owners to measure and analyze the performance of their buildings. Students were recruited from GVSU, Aquinas College and Kendall College of Art & Design. They are still in the midst of quantifying data collected as part of their research.

"Buildings consume a great deal of resources. We can and we are making a huge positive impact on the environment, the people who work, attend school, visit and live in these buildings," Hesselink said. "There is also a positive economic impact for those building owners when efficiencies can be achieved. Building technology and materials continue to evolve — prices continue to become more comparable to traditional products and in many cases the same or even less.

"The vision is to have everyone in a green building within a generation — a pretty aggressive goal. USGBC recognizes that if 20 percent of building owners changed their portfolio of building inventory to sustainable/LEED standards, the market would be well on its way to being transformed.

"We have been pioneers in West Michigan and especially in the city of Grand Rapids. We have many LEED 'firsts' in our area, meaning that we probably have tried new technologies when they were not even proven yet," Hesselink said. "We appreciate those that are willing to step out there and take a chance. … To remain a leader we need to push ourselves to the next level, and we believe the Green Buildings of West Michigan will get us to the next level."

Hesselink acknowledged, "More research is needed, case studies need to be written, ongoing measuring and verifying needs to happen. We are in the perfect situation to remain a leader by going down this path."

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