Corey Williams smiled when asked to consider the irony last week of her organization holding a press conference that would encourage residents to move toward sustainable lifestyles at a time of year when consumption is perhaps at its highest.
"It was coincidental," said Williams, executive director of Sustainable Tulsa, of the Nov. 24 event that served a variety of functions.
The first of those was an announcement that the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa had become the latest local organization to rally behind the green movement with its formation of its Green Building Council, a group intended to provide leadership in sustainable home building, remodeling and land development through voluntary, market-driven green building standards and practices.
Brandon Perkins, president of the HBAGT and a Sustainable Tulsa board member, said that development would allow his organization to put significant funds behind the council, as well as hold green building education seminars for builders and buyers and members of the general public.
"This will allow us to push the green movement in a mature process," he said, adding that the change would lead to a partnership with Sustainable Tulsa and encourage all of the players in the local sustainable movement to work together instead of staking out their own territory.
"That's what Tulsa truly needs," Perkins said. "We want to be like Austin, only better. We're called Green Country for a reason, and we need to get back to our roots."
Williams said Sustainable Tulsa was looking to form a partnership to share in the challenges of promoting green building in the Tulsa area.
"This is an opportunity to have a dialog to discuss what it takes to have a more sustainable home," she said.
Those involved in the local sustainable movement are quick to acknowledge that Tulsa has a long way to go to meet that goal. For example, Perkins said sustainable building techniques are not as important to many local home buyers as they are in other parts of the country, he said.
"It continues to get more and more important in people's minds," he said. "However, it's not as strong as I'd like it to be. Given the chance to make a decision between a granite countertop and a green countertop, most of them are still choosing granite. And that's because we've done a poor job in educating people."
Perkins said the press conference was a good opportunity to alert local home buyers of the creation of the council.
"Why today around the holiday season?" he asked. "We felt like it was the perfect time. This is an opportunity in the midst of a time of celebration to be grateful for the world around us."
One local consumer who has gotten the message, though, is Chad Burden, who recently bought an abandoned home at 3530 E. 21st Place, the site of the press conference, and is renovating it using sustainable practices. The home is believed to be the first dual green-certified remodeling project in Oklahoma and perhaps the nation, organizers of the press conference said.
According to Burden, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University's Tulsa campus, standards for rating a building's "greenness" have been established by several organizations using point systems to rate energy consumption, water use, materials, design and more.
Burden's home will be certified by the National Association of Home Builders' Model Green Building Guidelines and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The two are the largest and most widely recognized green-building codes in the country.
The home will be enveloped in spray-foam insulation, a highly efficient form of insulation, and will boast double-pane windows, which are also highly efficient. Its wooden floors have been replaned and recycled, and the house will feature LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures, and a recycled steel roof that reflects heat. Burden said there will also be a rainwater harvesting system, and the driveway will be torn up and repurposed to create a parking pad. Whenever possible, he said, the materials used in the house are being purchased from local vendors, including the cabinets, which are being built by the Jay Rambo Co. of Tulsa.
All of those features are verified by a third party, and a document certifying their sustainability will be issued to Burden upon completion of the structure, he said.
"So you don't have to take my word for it," he said. "It's all here."
Burden, who described himself as "an unlikely greenie," said the home had been abandoned for eight years before he and his wife bought it. Their original motivation for completing the deal had nothing to do with wanting to build a sustainable home, he said.
The Burdens own the home next door, he said, and the roots of a sycamore tree on the edge of the abandoned property were wreaking havoc on his driveway. Burden decided to buy the house next door largely out of self-defense, he said, realizing that if he let someone else buy it, they probably wouldn't be willing to pay to have the tree removed.
"So this started as a way to recoup the cost I had incurred for fixing my driveway," he said.
But when Burden, a Navy vet, decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and return to school, he enrolled in the environmental science graduate program at OSU-Tulsa with an emphasis in green building and sustainable construction practices. At that point, he said, it became clear he could use the renovation of the abandoned house as the focus of his master's thesis project.
But it hasn't been easy. Burden said work began on the project in February, and he hopes to have it done by January.
"These retrofits are much more labor intensive than new construction," he said.
And the documentation process for sustainability certification is cumbersome, he said.
"It takes some guts to dive into it," he said.
But Burden seems pleased with his decision to employ the sustainable features for the house, which he estimates to be $150,000 in by the time construction is finished.
"This will be more self-sufficient if it all hits the fan if oil goes up to $130 a barrel," he said. "You'll be glad to do what you did."
The extra costs associated with some green-building techniques can put some home buyers off. But both Burden and Perkins encouraged consumers to take a longer view of the issue and give more consideration to the advantages of sustainable construction practices.
For instance, Burden described green-building techniques as "the low-hanging fruit" when it comes to reducing American dependence on foreign energy sources.
While green building practices might be a little more expensive today, in the long run, they are more cost effective, they said.
"People in general have a hard time with the out-of-the-box (cost)," Perkins said. "We're so conditioned to look at the amortized return by these big, multi-national companies. But we need to bring it home. There's more to it than just the amortized cost. There's quality-of-life and other issues, not just personally, but as a nation. The actual price of oil is hugely more than you see on the market.
"It starts with me personally, and I realize I can't demand that my government make changes without me making changes," he said.
For Perkins, a longtime residential developer, that shift came eight years ago when he was dragged "kicking, fighting and screaming," he said, to his first green building meeting with his father, believing that such techniques didn't make sense from a financial standpoint. But the things he learned at that meeting led to a sea of change in his attitude.
"Once I went, I fully understood I could do a better job," he said. "I'm never going to be the most green individual out there but taking that first step is what really matters."
The press conference also served as an opportunity for Williams and Sustainable Tulsa--a local nonprofit organization that promotes responsible economic growth, environmental stewardship and quality of life for all--to introduce the group's 2010 Tulsa Area Green Directory, which offers listings of more than 700 businesses and agencies promoting sustainable living in the Tulsa area.
The directory is available at a number of area businesses, including Whole Foods Market, Ihloff Salon and Day Spa, Elote Café and Catering, Pohlenz Cucine Moderne, the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum Gift Shop, the Collaboratorium, the Cherry Street Coffee House, the Cosmo Café, the Green Building Resources Library, Café Topeca, Dwelling Spaces and Eco-baby.
Williams also was promoting a list of 12 ways consumers can go green this holiday season. She said it would be wonderful if Tulsans began mobilizing toward a more sustainable lifestyle more quickly, but "the key is to keep raising the bar for the community and for us individually."
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