Gary Olp, Environmental Architect, LEED Fellow
Gary Olp: Hello, my name is Gary Gene Olp. I'm an environmental architect here in North Texas. We designed the building that stands behind us as an environmental education center to teach sustainable and green concepts to the community. The issues that were really before this community were with the water authority. There was too much storm water leaving this community. The other issue they were having was the landfill that they use was filling up; massive amounts of material were going into construction waste, nobody really addressed storm water. Creeks, natural creeks, are being eroded and destroyed and then lined with concrete channels.
So, out of that, we began to explore, what could we do on this site? And we decided that this building would be the first LEED platinum certified building in North Texas, so that we could actually say, “Look, hey, we just built this building and we recycled 97% of the construction waste.” The creek that flows next to it is the last open natural waterway in this community. We do know now that buildings that don't have sufficient daylight have a dramatic effect on our emotional well-being, our psychological well-being. We also know that people feel better if they have a connection with nature. You can reproduce that just with your backyard, if you have a lot of glass, properly shaded, properly insulated, and you've got that direct connection with nature, that building impacts everyone in that space. They feel less depressed, there's less anxiety and there's just, sort of, this … this sense of wonderment in that space.
Buildings are the number one source of energy consumption in the United States. Well, that energy comes from somewhere. We're still burning fossil fuels and there's a lot of waste in that process. There's a lot of carbon dioxide emitted. We're not much different than the cavemen 140,000 years ago. We're still burning something to create our energy. The good news is that this center has had a tremendous impact on this community. If you looked at this community before this center was built and you look at it now, and you look at the medians and you look at the yards, they're resplendent in native plants and they look beautiful. I think the average resident in this community comes to this building and then they learn that, “Oh, rainwater is … we're flushing the toilets with rainwater? You … it's powered by solar energy? This building has always got good daylight? Well, why can't I do that in my house?” Yes, you can do it in your own home.
Just this one little environmental education center has had a tremendous ripple effect through this whole community. That ripple effect is influencing everybody from children to residents to business owners, and surprisingly, neighboring communities, to think differently about how they build and how they relate to their natural environment, so it has a sustainable effect throughout the region.