Feature: Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Neville: “A lot of people ... think only hippies would do this. I see green and think black numbers. How great is it to be self-sufficient and to take care of yourself?” Naomi Vaughan
DeHaven: “We won’t just be sustainable, but regenerative.”
Merriman: “In five years these techniques won’t be optional, they will be required.”
Cowtown’s Growing Green

(And we’re not talking about St. Patrick’s Day beer.)


Fort Worth environmental activists have been struggling for years to save a few pockets of the tallgrass prairie that once covered Fort Worth, part of a living carpet that ran all the way to Canada. But who knew that the vanishing ecosystem would be extended — at least by a few hundred square yards — on a roof? On a building whose “roots” extend a couple of hundred feet into the ground? And that exists to preserve … plants?
It’s the kind of “green” confluence that might have seemed like fantasy a few years ago, at least in North Texas. But when the new home of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), just north of the Botanic Gardens, is finished in 2011, it really will feature a piece of walkable prairie on its roof, courtesy of a system developed by Texas Christian University students.
Rooftop gardens are one of the more visible ways to make a building easy on the environment, and BRIT’s new digs, possibly the greenest building in the state, will certainly draw attention here. But the truth is that all over Fort Worth, structures, parking lots, and indeed, the basic mindset of planners, developers, homebuyers, and builders are undergoing a quiet evolution. A long list of eco-friendly construction projects, like a solar-powered home that could stand for centuries, are challenging the norms of architecture in Fort Worth.
Some of the green developments are publicly owned — including, believe it or not, a new county jail. But many other projects incorporating recognized elements of green design are taking place in the private sector, far faster and with less public notice. Real estate entrepreneurs are leading the way: Office buildings, mixed-use developments, and homes currently under construction are shooting for dramatically improved energy efficiency through innovative materials and common-sense methods that have been ignored until recent years in favor of quick and easy developments. Environmentally friendly — and commercially sellable — construction practices are a key element in making Cowtown “go green” for more than a weekend every year in March. But for the city to truly lighten its impact on the environment, a lot of other things need to happen. Sprawl needs to be slowed, air pollution addressed, public transportation reinvented. A sustainability task force commissioned by Mayor Mike Moncrief is charting an eco-friendly direction for Fort Worth on a number of fronts. Its recommendations, Moncrief has promised, will lead to serious changes in the way the city will grow.
Last year, spiking energy prices made clear the dire need for rethinking the way we live on a planet whose resources are being strained. This year, a tanking economy is further nudging the country toward greener pastures, pushed by a new administration in Washington. President Barack Obama has vowed to increase tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient and planet-friendly buildings and vehicles and to train a new generation of workers in “green-collar” jobs, to revive both the economy and America’s standing on the world stage.
Local leaders say the concept of building green is taking off because it makes sense for the wallet as well as the planet. “Every project we do is the least green project we do,” said Jyl DeHaven, a green-building consultant. “Because the next one will be greener.”
Jyl DeHaven dresses in green. Her sweater is lime, her purse is olive. DeHaven runs Green Urban Development, a consulting firm, and her office is at the center of a green development, the Urban Race Street mixed-use project. To promote it, she gives away rulers made of recycled plastic and bits of U.S. currency. Green building, she said, is easy to do, though the learning curve is a challenge. She should know.
DeHaven got into green building through the back door. After years of working in real estate, she had a child and took a break, going back to school and getting a master’s degree in science. “I got interested in air quality and healthy places to live,” she said. “This was 12 years or so ago, when the [U.S.] Green Building Council got started. Doing a better job [of building with the environment in mind] is common sense, not rocket science. I thought it made too much sense, and I struggled with how we seem to build crap. And that” — building crap — “just wasn’t going to work for me.”
So she started consulting on green projects. “I was doing green development long before it was everyone’s favorite color,” DeHaven said. “I would have to guess that I was one of the first and certainly one of the first [local developers] that would only do green.”
The Urban Race Street project, located between Blandin Avenue and Retta Street in the Riverside area, is a mile from downtown and within walking distance of the Trinity River. Like other mixed-use developments that fit in with the city’s master plan, it will include offices, housing, and retail space with the aim of reducing urban sprawl and the associated pollution by developing close-in properties more densely, and putting jobs and amenities within walking distance of homes.
Taming sprawl, a major source of pollution and inefficiency, can happen as projects like Urban Race Street continue to sprout, and public transportation options improve. However, DeHaven pointed out, sprawl is a problem that is not unique to Fort Worth. “Cities, not just Fort Worth, are all going to have to fix that broken concept,” she said. “Infrastructure expenses, traffic, air quality — I could go on and on — are seriously hitting every big city in this country in its pocketbook. We are all going to have to figure out how to push out of the industrial age of taking, making, and wasting and appreciate that the 21st century will continue to evolve into a design-based, reducing, reusing, and recycling way of growing.”
The Urban Race Street project will be certified under the LEED system. The acronym stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” as developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit trade organization. LEED standards have become the bible for builders who aspire to create environmentally-sustainable projects. Certification is a rigorous process that looks at a building’s energy efficiency and its contributions to sustainable development in a holistic way, by evaluating everything from how far the construction materials had to travel and whether they are recycled (or come from renewable sources), to whether the building’s site itself is sustainable (meaning it’s kept close to its natural state and without environmental degradation), to whether the air quality indoors is as healthy as possible for occupants. A building can be certified at one of four levels, depending on the project’s score: certified, silver, gold, or platinum.
Environmentally conscious developers have gotten as far as they have in Fort Worth without assistance from the local government, DeHaven said. “There are no real monetary incentives at a state or city level right now,” she said. “There are incentives at the federal level, like the energy tax credit.”
Even when green projects were given public backing, as with RadioShack’s downtown headquarters (a LEED silver-certified property, which will become the Trinity River Campus for the Tarrant County Community College District), the effort wasn’t well publicized, she said. Marketing helps show the public that such certification is becoming more common and being taken seriously. “People have to get past that preconceived idea that it’s too hard, that it takes too long, all those prejudices,” she said.
Her efforts, eventually, were recognized. DeHaven was appointed to the Sustainable Development Task Force created by Moncrief. “We decided that sustainability needs to be way more than just construction-driven,” DeHaven said of the task force’s agenda. “In a lot of cities the greening is just that everything will be LEED certified. We want a more sustainable vision,” and one that relies more on educating the public than on mandates.
The task force, she said, was formed at the right time; it can take advantage of the experiences of other cities, and skip some of that learning curve. “We look across the country ... and see what others have done and come up with our own manageable and successful sustainability plan.
“Fort Worth is a beautiful city,” she said. “It has a river in the middle, a little topography, the small-town feel with 700,000 people, and some beautiful historic neighborhoods. I think adding being a green city to the reasons to why people want to live here is very doable.”
If there’s an entity that can say its job is green, it’s BRIT. The nonprofit, started in 1991 after Southern Methodist University divested itself of its herbarium and botanical library, has been collecting plant specimens, many of them extremely rare, from around the state and around the world. It now has a collection of about a million plant specimens and 100,000 books dating as far back as the 1500s. Its mission, development director Cleve Lancaster said, is “to provide the history of plants, where they occur, and their uses. It’s a tremendous warehouse of scientific info with value.”
But BRIT’s collection has in recent years begun to overwhelm its space on East 4th Street. So, in 2007, the institute finished the design for its new home, a 69,000-square-foot facility next to the Botanical Gardens. When completed in 2011, it will be the non plus ultra of green buildings in Fort Worth, enough possibly to be certified LEED platinum. This will be the culmination, Lancaster said, of a design process that was itself cutting-edge.
It started with BRIT hosting an “eco charrette” (a charrette, from the French for “cart,” is a workshop where experts gather to brainstorm the best approach to a given task). “We had at least 35 experts in all areas of construction led by a team from Denton that specializes in LEED design,” Lancaster said. “They sat for an all-day seminar, considering the site, our requirements, and how best to make our facility educational.”
The attendees devised a plan for BRIT that called for more than the typical LEED accoutrements, like good insulation and efficient utility systems. It also incorporated native landscaping, not just in the green areas, but even on the roof. When Lancaster says that “the green roof is a story in itself,” he’s serious. “It’s going to mimic a prairie,” he said. “We have an identifiable ecosystem in this area, and it will be on our roof.”
The roof, the first of its kind in the region, was developed by two TCU students. “They invented a new kind of green roof that is suitable for this climate,” Lancaster said. Much of the experience with such roofs was based on replicating other landscape types, he said, “so over two years they’ve experimented with Fort Worth plants.”
A membrane covering the structural roof will provide a base for the soil for the plants. The rooftop garden will combine grasses with low-profile shrubs, and the building will include green walls — vines and plants that attach to the building and its stainless steel framework and that will grow and fade with the seasons. From above, the building will be practically indistinguishable from the surrounding gardens.
The greenery-covered walls will help insulate the building and keep the interior cool, especially the windowless herbarium where plant samples are kept. That part of the building won’t be covered by the prairie roof because of the need for strict temperature controls.
The facility will also rely on Mother Earth for help in heating and cooling. When the current structure on the site — the city’s old Public Health building — is demolished, contractors will drill hundreds of well-holes underneath the complex’s parking lot (which itself will feature a water-permeable surface and a rim of trees). Pipes inserted in the wells will take air from the facility and circulate it 250 feet below ground, where the temperature is 55 degrees year-round, thus dramatically diminishing the building’s need for artificial climate control.
All these developments cost money, in this case $38 million. But BRIT has already raised that amount and is closing in on its overall goal of $48 million, which will also fund an endowment to help pay for operating costs and teaching activities. (Help may be on the way from the federal government’s economic stimulus package — BRIT could get $6 million to build its “demonstration storm water management parking area,” which is expected to generate 74 jobs.) Lancaster attributes the fundraising success to the green gamble that BRIT took. “People will want to be part of building this,” he said.
The money came from many people and organizations, and Lancaster said the donors saw the new BRIT building as contributing to the greening of Texas’ image. “I got some insight from a national foundation,” he said. “I called to thank them for their contribution, and I asked them ‘What was it that encouraged you to help us with our funding?’ The program officer told me, ‘We get a lot of requests from the Northeast and the Northwest but almost none in the Southwest or in Texas. We want to support this.’
“We think our building will be a model for teaching about sustainability,” he said. “That is our goal.”
Change begins at home, or in Trey Neville’s case, with a home he’s building on Linden Avenue just south of Camp Bowie Boulevard. Neville has worked in real estate and has a background in finance — a combination that he said enabled him to see the potential in green building. He wants the house to achieve the highest (platinum) level of green-building certification. But he also wants it to be a lasting showcase for what can be done by rethinking how homes are built. And then, he wants it to be the house in which the child he and his wife are expecting can grow up. “It’s a big advantage for a kid to grow up here,” he said, in an environment that is healthier and in sync with future trends. “It will be a big plus in the new world.”
Four bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, and a good location primed for redevelopment and near the arts district were Neville’s original requirements for his homesite. But as he started researching, he saw that he could build something more than just a normal house. “I’ve been working in real estate for 10 years,” said Neville, as he showed his visitor around the construction site. “Four years ago, a buddy turned me onto looking at things differently. I always looked at the numbers because my background is in finance. But he showed me that if you start looking, you see how much real estate money goes into inefficient things. I tried to convince people about the need to change, and nobody was taking action. So I decided to do it on my own.”
The construction of a green home begins with choosing advanced materials for its skeleton: instead of lumber, which can rot over time, a pre-engineered light-gauge steel frame is filled with insulation panels of expandable polystyrene, the same plastic used for CDs and disposable flatware, but in foam form. The polystyrene is a hard-cell foam, meaning there is little temperature exchange from within the structure, cutting electric bills by 50 to 60 percent. Part of green building is using local materials in order to minimize transportation costs; in this case the panels come from Georgetown, just north of Austin. The exterior will be siding and cast stone.
In order to maximize natural climate control, the house faces south, providing natural ventilation via the prevailing north-south winds in this part of the country, and has no windows on its western face to minimize the exposure to the withering afternoon Texas sun.
The house will also be healthier for the people inside. Ventilation ductwork is sealed so that paint and chemicals don’t infiltrate it during construction, and a high-quality filter will sieve out allergens.
The roof of the home will collect rainwater for irrigation. A UV filter will treat it to make it adequate for laundry. Solar panels will also line the roof. These should generate enough electricity that Neville said he not only expects never to have to pay an electric bill, but also to be able to sell electricity back to the grid.
These advances mean construction workers need extra training. “It takes a more skilled crew to build this,” Neville said. “The tools are harder to use, and things are screwed together instead of being nailed.”
The workers didn’t seem to mind. “It’s something different,” one said. “I’m sick of building the normal homes.”
Neville wouldn’t say exactly how much this house is costing but admitted that it’s more expensive than a regular home. “A standard home might cost $50 per square foot,” he said. “A very nice house might cost $200 per square feet. This one costs about $150.”
But there’s a payoff in the quality and the sturdiness of the house. “This house will last,” Neville said. “A modern wood frame house will last 75 years maybe. This one will last 700 years because of the environment.” That sounds impressive — but the same house could also stand for two millennia in Iowa, where the climate is more favorable, or three centuries on the coast, where the salty, humid barrage would erode some materials in the home.
Neville and some developer friends are talking about setting up a nonprofit group. “We’d like to build green housing in lower socioeconomic levels,” he said. “It’s worth sustaining at all levels.”
Skeptics, Neville said, focus on the wrong things. “Some people are stuck in their ways. A lot of people get stuck on the word ‘green’ and think only hippies would do this,” he said. “I see green and think black numbers. How great is it to be self-sufficient and to take care of yourself? Green building is not only a huge reduction in the demands on our infrastructure. It frees up that capital for us to go in other directions.
“People used to do things right the first time in Fort Worth,” he said. “We’ve gone away from that. We’re growing fast and we need to get back to that. It’s better for the environment, and it’s better for the community.”
The city’s Sustainable Development Task Force held its first public meeting last week. Before opening up their process to citizens at large, its appointed members had to decide what objectives they would push for and how progress would be measured. At a meeting on Feb. 19, the members sat down to finalize the plan, which is long on corporate jargon and goals.
The group is chaired by Dennis Shingleton, who previously headed the City Plan Commission and the “Let’s Talk Fort Worth” town-hall events. Its recommendations include having the city promote LEED-type programs until participation by developers is increased by 20 percent. At the same time, the task force is also pushing to increase public transportation ridership and reduce vehicle-miles traveled in ordinary cars. Fresh fruit and vegetables, members said, should be available to all residents in order to improve the city’s health. In other words, the task force is taking on a vast variety of goals.
Other goals could have more immediate results in making Fort Worth a livable city for all. For example, the panel is considering having developers make a minimum commitment to “quality, accessible, affordable housing,” as well as increasing parkland in underserved areas. And permanent housing for the homeless needs to be made available.
Ask Shingleton how he defines “sustainable,” and he gives an answer from the World Commission on the Environment and Development. “It says that ‘sustainable’ is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,’ ” he said. “That’s a definition that I think sets the tone for what we’re trying to do.”
Shingleton, who is currently the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNT’s Health Science Center, said that the committee is picking 15 to 20 recommendations from its list to push for, on the basis of whether they can be achieved in the next five years. The initial recommendations focus on the private sector, because the task force “felt that private interests had the best and most achievable successes.”
The next set of priorities, he explained, would deal with things the city government can do. Educating and encouraging the public will come third.
“The city would be on the hook to implement some of these,” Shingleton said. “If I were the city, I would implement the items that are low-hanging fruit.” Several of the task force recommendations, he said, were selected because they’re easier for the city to accomplish. “We’d like to have a lot of them implemented, but we also have to be realistic with the sources that we have.”
Making this a sustainable city is an effort that is vast in scope, but with small, measurable objectives, said Fort Worth planning and development director Susan Alanis. “We want to have deliverables that show we’re making strides towards sustainable development,” she said. Looking at all the things that can be done to make the city healthier is “smart business” because it makes the city more attractive, she said. “Not only is it good for the environment, it’s the way everybody’s heading in the future.”
The city has been taking small steps to improve its own efficiency. Replacing fixtures, light bulbs and other items with more energy-efficient versions is saving the city $2.7 million a year in utility bills.
Sam Steele, Fort Worth’s conservation specialist, was at a Sustainable Communities Conference in Dallas. (He said he operates somewhat under the radar, working in the transportation and public works department.) His job is to help city departments find ways to improve their efficiencies to conserve energy. “People have great ideas throughout the city,” he said. “I try to find a way to implement those. What we’re trying to do is find ways to finance creatively these necessary projects.”
An idea Steele has been looking into recently is using methane from wastewater instead of electricity to power the Village Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Like changing light bulbs at city offices, this project can save energy and be viable because it can pay for itself over time. “The city wants to establish that this is a good way to do things,” he said. “We can use savings to pay for improvements so we don’t raise taxes.”
Beyond that, the city is looking at how it builds future projects. “We have been taking green building on a case-by-case basis,” facilities manager Glenn Balog said. “We’re looking to make LEED silver our baseline for construction going forward.”
The city’s first LEED building will be the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods on Missouri Avenue. Balog said the building, which is expected to be completed in August, won’t be certified LEED, but it will be built to silver-level standards. The same goal has been set for a new police station, to be finished next year.
But the big green initiatives happen at a larger level, through the city’s master plan, said Alanis. “I think the trend that we’ve been following is a lot of encouragement toward more compact development,” she said, including mixed-use projects like Urban Race Street that can be served by bus and rail.
Transit options have to be broadened to make the condensed development viable, she said. “The city has expressed support for any additional effort to control growth,” she said. It’s tough for the city’s road network to keep pace with the sprawl.
“I think years ago everybody realized that you couldn’t focus dense development [only] on the downtown area in a city like ours,” Alanis said. “We recognize that there can be multiple growth centers throughout the city. ”
More importantly for residents, the city will use the task force to pitch a unified message of conservation and smarter development and educate the public. “We found that there’s a lot going on with our programs, but not a great deal of communication to the public,” she said.
Steele, the conservation specialist, said that Fort Worth keeps a low profile for its green ambitions. “We don’t get a lot of press about it,” he said. “We could do a lot more if there were greater awareness and interest.”
If the city is looking for ideas on how to promote its green developments, it could ring up Marti VanRavenswaay, the Tarrant County commissioner who represents Arlington. The county has started pushing to build green facilities, and the recently-inaugurated Arlington sub-courthouse is the first one. With a large tempered glass façade that lets in the natural light and sparse modern décor that includes ceiling fans with lightweight acrylic blades (for energy savings), the sub-courthouse is awaiting LEED certification. A small lamp adorns each desk, slashing the amount of wasteful overhead light needed.
VanRavenswaay is clearly pleased with her new office, which she had to push for. “I’ve had an interest in keeping up with environmental issues and green building,” VanRavenswaay said. “When we decided to build a new sub-courthouse, it wasn’t approved initially to be a green building. But then I found that the county approved a green building for its northwest sub-courthouse, so I said I wanted one too. I went to the board and made the architect make changes. And now we’re the first county LEED building and the first one in Arlington.”
VanRavenswaay convinced the other commissioners by showing them how the higher cost of a LEED project would be recouped in two years.
Constituents overwhelmingly supported the green sub-courthouse, VanRavenswaay said. Only two people complained: One thought that the county was aiming low with LEED silver-certification. Another e-mail accused VanRavenswaay of not being a “true Republican” because “I was advocating useless things and spending too much on unproven benefits,” she said. She wrote back explaining her position on the issue.
The county, she believes, has to do more with green buildings to show residents that smarter construction can save money. To that end, a number of upcoming county facilities are shooting for LEED certification. “We have to get the word out to our constituents,” she said. “We feel like we have to be a role model to encourage businesses.”
Jails may not be high on many lists of inspirational buildings, but Tarrant County’s planned lockup will be LEED-certified. Kevin Crumpler, project manager for Gideon Toal, the architectural firm on the project, said that designing it is exciting. “We knew up front it’d be a challenge,” he said. “We smiled [because of the uniqueness of the project] when we got into it, but we’re almost finished with design development phase. We’ve gone through all the investigations, and we now feel comfortable we can achieve LEED certification level.” (LEED certified is just below silver.) “The shock is over and we think we can do it.”
Building a LEED-certified jail is tough because many of the things that are taken as basic in green design are untenable in a detention facility. Translucent facades that let in abundant sunlight and reduce illumination costs are out when people have to be confined. The same is true for water-conserving measures like toilets, which can’t be low-flow because inmates frequently stop them up. Natural ventilation is off the table for obvious reasons. “Things that are slam dunks in other building types are unavailable to us,” Crumpler said. “So the things that are easy to do, we don’t have that arrow in our quiver. We have to focus harder on a smaller number of opportunities.”
Mechanical efficiencies could win the day for the county jail. That means that the internal systems have to work better and last longer, said Crumpler. “The things that get us the most bang for the buck come from efficiencies in the large kitchen in the jail,” he said. “It is designed to feed almost 17,000 meals a day. That’s a lot of water usage for dishwashing and things like that.”
To that end, every drop of water must be conserved. An industrial pulper in the kitchen will wring out as much water as possible from food discards. What is the point of this seemingly disgusting operation? Extracting the water leaves behind a dry organic pulp that is easily composted as opposed to being thrown away. And these things add up.
Certification is “not an honor system,” Crumpler said. “Sometimes you don’t know for up to a year afterward if your building passed. But ... we’ve already done the check and the LEED report card, and we should get it.”
Another government agency following the county’s lead is the Tarrant Regional Water District, whose headquarters annex, on Northside Drive, is being built to LEED gold standards. When it’s finished, the agency’s engineering and information services departments will be housed under Texas’ largest solar panel roof.
The pursuit of smarter-designed buildings isn’t just a matter of environmental politics, VanRavenswaay said. It’s a question of creating longer-lasting facilities that will serve county residents better. “We don’t want any footprint the county leaves to be a negative footprint,” she said. “We built [the new sub-courthouse] thinking it would stand 50 years at a minimum. Our old building was planned for 20 years, and we stayed there way past that. The roof was leaky, and it wasn’t working anymore. This time, more thought was given to the future.”
Some green development is taking place near not-very-green enterprises. Wilcox Plaza at Green Oaks is a “spec” office building — intended to be rented out to tenants — located just across the highway from Ridgmar Mall and not far from the Fort Worth Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (better known as Carswell). The Air Force’s C-130 Hercules transport planes drone and the F-16 fighter jets blast over the building under construction. When finished, it will be Fort Worth’s first LEED gold-certified office building.
Graham Merriman is vice-president of business development at Wilcox Development, and he has to make sure that the numbers for the company’s projects work. To that end, Wilcox has come up with a proprietary equation to compare the cost of green building versus normal construction. The result? It’s a wash. “We can build a LEED silver-certified building for the same amount as construction with traditional building techniques,” he said.
And while the top-level platinum certification, can mean a significant additional capital expense, the cost of attaining gold is small enough that it can be recouped quickly through energy savings, he said. The secret for the formula is not complicated. Merriman said the company used its experience from other green projects to determine what points in the U.S. Green Building Council LEED scale are easiest to achieve.
Merriman said that Bill Cawley, the CEO of Wilcox, decided two years ago that every speculative office building built by his company would be LEED certified. “He wants us to be at the forefront of the LEED movement,” Merriman said. “It’s the wave of the future. You can cut operating costs significantly, so it makes sense. And these buildings are more marketable.”
Wilcox Plaza takes over the space left behind by the demolished Green Oaks Hotel. In order to retain some of the site’s heritage and to fulfill the LEED mandate to recycle materials, the hotel’s bricks form a pathway around a nearby pond. “We’re trying to salvage the nostalgia of the Green Oaks,” Merriman said. “It was a long-standing fixture in Fort Worth culture. There was community pushback to us tearing it down. We’re proud we recycled 90 percent of the building by weight.”
Like Trey Neville’s house, a lot of the Wilcox Plaza’s green features come from smarter adaptation to the elements. Material on the roof and parking spaces will reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it. The parking lot directs rainwater to places where it will irrigate the green spaces. Landscaping emphasizes plants that are drought resistant, including native grasses that don’t need to be maintained. “A lot of these principles have been around for years commercially,” Merriman said. “But city codes haven’t required them.”
John Grace, director of leasing at GVA Cawley, Wilcox’s services arm, said that the green features make the building an easier sell to tenants. “A lot of tenants are interested in the project because it is LEED certified,” he said. “A lot of energy companies and government contractors are being pushed in this direction.” Oil and gas companies, he said, have shown interest in working out of a green office as a marketing tool.
To keep Wilcox focused on sustainability, the company has a “chief green officer.” The utensils in the crew’s trailer are biodegradable: The cups are made of corn, the flatware of soybeans. “We happen to be putting our money where our mouth is,” Merriman said. “We won’t go back. All our speculative buildings will be LEED certified. In five years these techniques won’t be optional, they will be required by cities, and we want to be experts in the industry.”
Will all these things be enough to propel Fort Worth onto the list of the nation’s greenest cities? The chair of the Sustainability Task Force, Shingleton thinks so.
“I don’t know the answer to where Fort Worth ranks,” but it’s probably not at the bottom, he said. “We’d like to have a city that does not undermine its ecological and social systems. I think that’s the target: We want to conserve resources and sustain this city in the most efficient and productive way we can.”
DeHaven thinks it may not be that difficult. “There are cities that do a good job [pushing for sustainability],” she said. “Austin is recognized. Chicago does a better-than-decent job, but what they do may not work here. What we are doing is trying to appreciate the uniqueness of our city. We want to be a nationally-recognized model. Not a lot is broken here. We have water issues and air issues, but they’re manageable.”
And if Fort Worth becomes a leader in environmental practices, she said, it will happen not only because green development makes sense environmentally, but because it will be as cheap and easy as doing things the old way. Because that’s starting to happen, she said, it should be relatively easy to make the next leap, beyond develop that simply helps sustain the environment — which could be explained as simply not screwing things up more than they already are — to actually restoring what has been damaged.
“It’s driven by economics,” she said. “We are cost effective. And we’re striving to get so good at this over the next five years that we won’t just be sustainable but regenerative.”

Freelance writer Pablo Lastra can be reached at lastra.pablo@gmail.com

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