Nonprofit talks saving by going green

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Groundswell, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, hosted a half day workshop on Wednesday to introduce the LEED and WELL systems to the community. 

The systems define what constitutes a green building and certify buildings that meet those standards. Groundswell is a nonprofit that organizes community groups to help them establish green energy. According to information provided at the workshop, those certifications can result in energy savings and increased value in buildings in addition to promoting things like employee wellness.

“The implications and the opportunity and [Groundswell’s] interest here in LaGrange means a tremendous amount, not only to our community but our individuals,” said Becca Eiland, community engagement director for Groundswell.

One of the organizer’s motivations for the event was to look at how LaGrange can remain a leader in innovating and adapting green technology in a way that benefits local budgets and the planet.

“LaGrange, Georgia, is one of the epicenters for the development of that whole global market movement,” Groundswell CEO Michelle Moore said. “It was Interface. It was Milliken. It was Kimberly Clark. It was a whole lot of people who came from here first that have dispersed around the U.S. and around the globe. Taking these ideas forward have saved untold billions of dollars in electricity and water costs and created a tremendous amount of effort to create economic value for the people.”

LEED certified buildings are proven to consume 25 percent less energy, divert more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills, use 11 percent less water and have 34 percent lower carbon emissions than standard buildings, according to the presentation. Those innovations result in lower cost for businesses and individuals, and businesses in LaGrange have been working to implement some of the central concepts behind the certification since long before LEED or WELL were established.

“LaGrange has a great legacy of innovative thinking,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said. “It occurs here on the campus of LaGrange College. It occurs in our educational institutions. It occurs in our industry. Certainly, you can single out industries like Interface and Milliken and others who have been leaders in sustainability initiatives over the past couple of decades.”

LaGrange College’s Lewis Library, where the workshop took place, is LEED certified to the silver level. The possibility of using the standards to encourage entrepreneurship and business growth was also discussed in the workshop.

“Throughout our community, there is a spirit of innovation, of entrepreneurship, of trying to embrace new ways of doing things, and today that focus is on sustainability,” Thornton said. “… There is a lot of economic activity in our community, and so I think the challenge that I would leave all of us with today is, how can we be the thought leaders? How can we be the innovators? How can we be the crucible for a lot of new ideas and projects?”

Coordination between businesses, government and individuals in the community to share information and partner for better results could make it easier to implement the measures required for the certifications and improve the community as a whole.

“Anybody who has done a building project or even renovated a bathroom knows that it takes a small army of folks that you’ve got to get moving together in the same direction in order to deliver,” Moore said. “These are tools that help people move forward in the same direction together.”

The workshop’s organizers drove home the idea of green technology as a way to save money and encourage economic development again and again throughout the workshop. They said that now that the technology is no longer in the early adoption phase. It costs about the same to build or renovate to LEED standards as it would for a standard building and could save around 20 percent over the life cycle of a building.

“It is about economic development. It is about affordability, and it is about quality of life,” Moore said. “With all the businesses that are investing in LaGrange in this industrial park — this [Georgia] International Business Park —that is rapidly growing out of the ground with investments that are coming in at $2 billion, half a billion range, that is how LaGrange’s commitment to sustainability is going to also help attract more of those businesses.”