Microchips, Windmills, and Birds – Oh my!

The cohort group wound up our sustainability tour in Dallas County on Saturday.  The weather was absolutely beautiful for January and the tours provided some wonderful examples of the many faces of LEED buildings.

The day started out at Texas Instruments on Renner Road in Richardson.  Paul Westbrook, Sustainable Development Manager, led our tour.  I felt fortunate to finally meet Mr. Westbrook because his name is often mentioned in sustainability circles in North Texas.  Mr. Westbrook is clearly a visionary and has a great passion for sustainability.

We began with a presentation that covered the history of the facility. The project began in 2003 when Westbrook and other key players met with Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute (see my previous blog about Rocky Mountain Institute). The 3 day design charette helped to clarify the vision of the project and in 2004 the project was funded. Construction was completed in 2006. The goal of reducing the cost of FAB by 30% was realized and less than 1% of the costs were related to LEED certification items – thus proving that LEED does not necessarily have to cost more. 

Photo source: http://www.nctcog.org/envir/features/2007/jul/images/CLIDETIRFAB02_small.jpg

There were a number of very impressive sustainability features at the facility, but there are a few that stood out to me.  During the construction phase, a “dumpster policeman” was hired to make sure that construction waste was sorted into appropriate bins which resulted in 90% recycling of construction materials.  Secondly, the large property (92 acres) is irrigated by a pond located at the northeast corner of the property.  Instead of traditional landscaping, the majority of the land is sewn in native grasses that are mowed twice a year. The hay is sold which generates a profit for the company. Finally, the company is focusing on reducing the energy, emissions, water, and materials waste cost per unit in production.  This allows them to normalize the energy use at all facilities that will help the planet and improve their bottom line.

Even though I understand very little about the specifics of microchip production, I’m impressed with their efforts toward sustainability.  I also enjoyed viewing the manufacturing facility and, for a moment, felt that I had stepped into a science fiction movie! I truly feel that these large corporations can have a tremendous impact on other businesses and it is my greatest hope that other tech industries will embrace sustainability as well. Here is a video that explains a little more about microchips:

See www.ti.com/ccr for the annual corporate citizenship report for TI for more information about their progressive sustainability initiatives.

From TI, we traveled only a few miles to Plano, where I discovered a small model of my dream facility.  As I neared the property, I saw it – a windmill!  It was then that I knew I was going to like this building.  The Plano Environmental Education Center is a relatively small project but it beautifully demonstrates many of the components of a sustainable building.  Citizens visiting the facility can view photovoltaic panels, cisterns, a living roof, thermal solar water heater, and the wind turbine. The building features dual flush toilets, recycled products, natural lighting, an energy recovery system and structural insulated panels (SIPs) as well as insulated concrete forms (ICFs).

The landscape is still under construction but will feature native Texas landscaping and a discovery garden for children.  Unfortunately, the city is currently in Stage 4 water rationing and they are postponing some installation until water restrictions are relaxed somewhat.  The facility hosts a variety of free educational programs related to sustainable living throughout the year and is available for lease as well. This site is the perfect place for teaching Education for Sustainability across the lifespan. It is my hope that this facility will serve as a model for other local municipalities. I’m impressed with Plano’s vision and willingness to designate funds during a tight economy to invest in sustainability.

The final stop on our tour was the Trinity River Audubon Center. Dana Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator, was our guide. Ms. Wilson gave us a brief history of the project and described how the facility recently earned the LEED Gold certification. The site is located along the Trinity River on land that was once a deep woods landfill. The land was reclaimed after moving 1.5 million tons of garbage and rehabilitating the area.  The building features a vegetative roof, east Texas bamboo flooring, walls that are made from 60% concrete and 40% fly ash, reduced denim insulation, angled glass windows (to prevent bird strikes), deep overhangs, natural lighting, a 33,000 gallon cistern, cradle to cradle furniture, and solar panels.  There are educational facilities, a number of trails, ponds, and exhibitions.

The facility offers a number of classes about birding and hosts regular bird counts which draws in avid birders from around the area.  In addition to bird watching, the trails provide opportunities for people to interact with nature and observe a variety of wildlife.  On our short hike to the river, our group observed deer tracks and some unidentified tracks. Were those dog or coyote prints? The next time I visit I plan to bring my field guide so that I can identify some of the tracks.

The project was funded, in part, by: the City of Dallas, The Meadows Foundation, the Eugene McDermott Foundation, the Boone Family Foundation, Nissan North America, and the Garden Club Committee of the Junior League of Dallas.  Clearly this project had great support from the community and it is a gift to all the citizens of Dallas County.  I’m wondering how many people visit the center each year.  There were not many visitors when we were taking our tour, but it is winter.  Perhaps there are many more visitors during the warmer months.  I plan to return when school dismisses in early June and I’ll have my field guide and binoculars ready!

Photo source: www.trinityriveraudubon.org/

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About Kim Gideon

I'm an Educator, Public Speaker, and Sustainable Living and Wellness enthusiast who is seeking a more balanced way of living.
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