Greening Construction, Changing Minds

Cincinnati becoming focus for eco-friendly development


incinnati’s role as a national center for green progressivism gets spotlighted this week when the Greening the Heartland conference brings some 1,000 attendees and 100 exhibitors to downtown’s Duke Energy Conference Center.

The theme of the three-day conference, which starts June 22 and is sanctioned by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Midwest region, is “Breaking New Ground.” And it’s a fitting one for what’s happening here.

Those involved in the Green Building Council’s local chapter believe that Cincinnati specifically, and Ohio generally, are indeed breaking new ground in green building technology and practices. The Midwest region is the council’s largest, comprising 12 states, and competition is stiff to get the annual conference. (This is just the eighth one ever held.) The national council administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program for buildings.

“We made a strong case, focusing on the great sustainable attributes of Cincinnati,” says Chad Edwards, chair of the Cincinnati conference. “We’re definitely seen as a leader in green schools. And Cincinnati’s LEED tax abatement is one of the best in the country. We also have the most sustainable zoo in the country — they just put up a solar array.” (The zoo says that it is the largest publicly accessible urban solar array in the nation.)

The Metropolitan Sewer District, too, is in the forefront as it figures out sustainable ways to separate storm water and sewer-system run-off as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit. In South Fairmount, it plans to revive a long-removed surface creek called Lick Run to carry rainwater down to Mill Creek, separated from sewage.

“That’s getting national attention by bringing back the stream,” Edwards says.

“And to my knowledge, we have one of the first commercial net-zero energy retrofits — Melink Corp. in Milford,” he adds. “Net-zero energy means throughout the course of the year you produce as much energy as you use. It’s hard to design; even harder to retrofit.” (The headquarters for Melink, which designs HVAC, kitchen-range ventilation and solar-energy systems, was already the first LEED-Gold new office building in Ohio.)

As Edwards explains it, Melink’s devices include a specially built wind turbine that produces energy at a wind speed of just 4 mph. The company returns the excess energy produced in summertime to Duke Energy, balancing out the extra energy it needs in winter.

At the conference, attendees will hear from numerous speakers, some of whom have national and international reputations in the green movement.

One appearance is open to the public: Andrew Winston, author of Green Recovery — about the role of the green movement in helping the U.S. out of recession — will speak at 6 p.m. June 22 in the junior ballroom, following a social hour in the exhibition hall that’s also open to the public.

Otherwise, admission for the public to the exhibition hall is $20 — display hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 22 and 23; and 7-11:15 a.m. June 24. Among those with booths and tables will be green builders, recyclers, solar-energy experts and lighting and planting consultants. Besides locally owned firms like Park Vine, some major corporations also will be present including Honeywell, Siemens and Duke Energy.

“We have a different take on an exhibit hall,” Edwards says. “They’ll have their own mini-conferences and anyone in the exhibit hall can attend. Any exhibitor can sign up for a time slot to talk about a sustainable issue or product.”

The convergence of interests that has established Cincinnati in the green-movement vanguard owes much to the fact that, way back in 2006, City Council passed an ordinance allowing for tax abatements for LEED-certified new construction or rehabilitation. A little later, in 2007, Cincinnati Public Schools — which had begun a $1 billion facilities master plan in 2002, calling for system-wide new or rehabbed schools — mandated that all remaining construction meet at least LEED-Silver standards. (In 2003, voters had approved a $480 million bond issue for school construction.)

Also, Ohio now requires all new school projects receiving state funds at least meet LEED-Silver standards. “Ohio has over 21 percent of LEED-registered schools in the country,” Edwards says.

“Ohio is on the cutting edge of what hopefully will become normal activity,” says Myron Rivers, executive director of the council’s Cincinnati chapter (which also includes Dayton). “And over the past 10 years, Cincinnati has had a lot of development, and developers always are looking for ways to save money.”

Those involved in the Cincinnati chapter continue to break new ground with green building. Edwards’ firm, Norwood-based emersion DESIGN, is the first architecture/engineering firm to have a LEED-Platinum office, the highest-possible designation.

And chapter member Chuck Lohre will be using the conference to celebrate the fact that the newly renovated office of his Over-the-Rhine marketing/communications firm, Lohre & Assoc., which has a Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy division, has just received LEED-Platinum certification — the first such marketing firm to do so, he says. From 6:30-7:30 p.m. on June 22 and 23, he will hold an open house at 126-A West 14th St., 2nd floor.

Getting platinum designation takes determination.

“I shipped 11 pounds of carpet waste to Tacoma to divert it from a landfill,” Lohre says. “It’s difficult to recover carpet, you have to shave off the upper layers of nylon fibers, if that’s what they use, and shave off the foam or base layer, and then you can recycle the center layer. It’s like you have to deconstruct a sandwich.

“I had the second gray-water toilet in the city,” he adds. “There’s a little hand-washing basin I put on top of the toilet. When you flush, this little fountain feeds the hand-washing basin. You wash your hands in that water, and the wastewater from hand-washing activities becomes the water that flushes the toilet the next time it’s used.”

That’s the kind of dedication and innovation that is establishing Cincinnati’s green reputation, as the conference arrives here this week.

For more info on the GREENING THE HEARTLAND conference, go to

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