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Heifer: Building Toward a Green Future
The plot of land that in March 2006 became the new Heifer International World Headquarters looked and sounded like any other construction site, with piles of gravel and noisy machinery.
But it wasn’t. Heifer International took a long-abandoned railroad yard in Little Rock’s old warehouse district and transformed it the “green” way — by using only socially and environmentally responsible methods and materials – into our world headquarters and the site of a future educational center. And architects, developers and environmentalists agree: this site is a model of sustainable architecture and design.
Practicing What We Preach
“If we’re going to have a lasting impact on ending world hunger, then everything we do must renew the earth and not deplete it,” said Jo Luck, Heifer’s president and CEO. “It’s true whether we’re working with people who want to be self-reliant or managing our own worldwide operations. Nurturing the environment while combating hunger have always gone hand-in-hand at Heifer.”
Which means that, when Heifer was faced with the overwhelming need for a larger headquarters and a desire to educate the public on ways to end hunger, we jumped at the chance to show the world how construction projects can – and should – remain true to the earth’s resources.
Recycling from the Ground Up
So we started with the earth itself, purposely selecting land that had once been a railroad switching yard but at that time lay dirty and dormant, with abandoned warehouses and industrial structures blighting the landscape.
We cleaned this environmentally dirty site, known as a “brownfield,” removing 75,000 tons of earth; and transformed it into a wetland area that controls, stores and reuses surface groundwater. And an innovative, permeable-surface parking lot next to the building eliminates common stormwater runoff problems.
Even the abandoned buildings nearby received a second chance: almost all of the masonry was crushed into gravel and reused, along with recycled steel, in the new construction. And instead of wood from old-growth forests, some of the building’s flooring is made of recyclable, fast-growing bamboo, and the rest is covered with recycled carpeting.
Relying on Mother Nature's Water…
Along with the wetlands’ collecting and filtering systems, the new headquarters includes a water collection tower. With the roof sloping to direct rainwater to drains and then stored in the tower, the center is able to rely on the water falling on the property, instead of on the municipal drainage system.
And the headquarters’ narrow, 60-foot-wide design and glass skin allow staff to work in natural light, with “light shelf” overhangs minimizing heat in summer and maximizing it in the winter. As darkness falls on the day, sensors adjust interior lighting to maximize energy savings. Energy-saving ductwork and modular electrical conduits and mechanical systems run beneath the floors.
Bottom line? The building uses 52 percent less energy than a conventional office building of similar use and size.
And this design has already attracted the attention of architects and builders. It was submitted for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, and featured in Architectural Record magazine.
Sound Business Decision
For Heifer’s far-flung Little Rock staff, the new building enables everyone to convene in one place, saving money spent on inhabiting three separate facilities, and permitting more efficient administration. Based on current projections, the project should pay for itself in ten years.
But perhaps best of all, the Heifer International Center will become a focal point for hunger education in America – a place where we'll host seminars, conferences and working sessions on world hunger issues. Each visitor who enters the campus will see firsthand how we can all help end hunger and poverty by becoming better stewards of the planet.
“It's important that what we profess and what we do are in agreement,” said Gerald Cound, former facilities director for Heifer. “[With this building], we are assured that we can tell our story with integrity, and that we are taking a leadership position in this important movement to decrease our footprint on the earth.”