Welcome to BTI-Greensburg, one of the nation's “greenest” dealerships — and that has nothing to do with the paint on the equipment it sells. Every inch of this John Deere dealership has been designed to achieve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Mike Estes, manager at BTI-Greensburg, expects the building to garner a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, the highest level awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED Green Building Rating System is a third-party certification program and benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

Just how BTI-Greensburg undertook its green initiative is a story that started with one horrific day two years ago.

Greensburg is nestled in Kiowa County in south-central Kansas. At one time, this city of 1,500 was probably most famous for being home to the world's largest hand-dug well. That all changed on May 4, 2007, when an EF5 tornado cut a nearly two-mile-wide swath through the center of the city, killing 11 people. Ninety-five percent of the town's buildings were destroyed, and the remaining 5% were severely damaged.

While the community began the process of cleaning up, local businesses feared the worst. With no city, no infrastructure, and no housing, there were no customers and no business. As in many small rural cities and towns across the country, the population of Greensburg had been dwindling for years. Now leaders were concerned about Greensburg's future.

“We were already having problems keeping young people in town, and the tornado compounded these problems,” Estes says. “After we started the cleanup process, we needed to tackle the issue of rebuilding.”

BTI-Greensburg was particularly hard hit. That early May, its lot had been full of combines, grain carts, draper headers, tractors and implements. “We have several custom-harvest customers,” Estes says. “We were prepping their equipment when the tornado struck.” Destroyed equipment, previously worth almost $23 million, littered the dealership's former lot, thrown around in the 200-mph winds.

When city business leaders met in the rubble that once made up the dealership's main foyer, they decided that rebuilding should take on a “green” effort. “We wanted to become a green community — not only for our own sake, but for a role model to other communities that it can be done,” Estes says. “And we were basically starting from scratch.” City leaders decided that all city buildings would be built using LEED standards.

Because the dealership was one of the largest private employers in the area, it was only natural that it should be rebuilt using the same standards, Estes explains. “We're a fourth-generation dealership, and we decided that rebuilding green would not only support our community, but be a model for other dealerships to follow,” he says.

Building green did require some additional effort and cost. Estes says green efforts needed to be practical as well. “We wanted to build green, but we also needed to ensure that our efforts would give us a return,” he says.

It took about seven months to purchase land, establish the building's design, work with an architect and choose a builder. (The dealership's previous location is now the new location of the county's hospital.)

Ground was broken on February 12, 2008, and the doors of the new dealership opened on January 9, 2009. “The LEED process added about two to three months to the building process and added about 5 to 7% to our $3 million project,” Estes says.

He estimates that most of the green initiatives will show substantial savings in three to seven years. “The building is built with a 38% energy cost savings,” he says.

Estes says many of the green initiatives in the dealership can be easily incorporated. “We're not trying to spend more money on our building,” he states. “But if you look at these green technologies as a way to save money, they can make a lot of sense. Energy saving is not just being a good steward of resources; there must be a payback.”

The tornado was a terrible event. And it could have easily wiped away Greensburg forever. “But the community is rebuilding, and rebuilding green,” Estes says. “We're becoming a showplace for how to become a green community.”