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Green Giant
Produce facility sets a sustainable standard in Chicago.
A wind turbine in front of Testa Produce's Chicago facility.
Courtesy Epstein

With its massive 238-foot tall wind turbine, the new Testa Produce distribution center announces its sustainable bonafides far and wide. Up close, the building has even more to show off, including photovoltaic "tree" electric car charging stations, rain gardens, and a banded green roof that meets a series of green walls with vines growing over an array of trellises. Such a public display was very much intended, according to Epstein, the building’s architects. The 90,000 square foot building is meant to be a kind of billboard for sustainable technologies and practices.

“It all started with the client, Peter Testa. His vision was to make his facility a showplace for sustainability, both for the industry and for the public,” said Rael Slutsky, the project’s senior designer at Epstein. “We gave him a building that is a visual diagram of sustainability.” The project is expected to be the first LEED Platinum industrial building in Chicago.

Visitors enter through a foliage-covered wall. “We wanted you to encounter sustainable elements as soon as you enter the property,” he said. Inside, above the distribution center floor, the mezzanine-level offices are flooded with natural light, and employees share access to outdoor terraces with dramatic city views.

Left to right: A green roof slows rainwater runoff on a radiused section of roof; Photovoltaic charging stations both provide energy to the property and can fuel electric vehicles; solar hot water heaters on the building's roof.

Daylighting is just one of the energy-saving and energy generation strategies employed at the refrigerator-filled facility, an extremely energy intensive building. With on-site power generation and energy efficient construction, Testa is able to reduce its energy consumption by more than 40 percent. The photovoltaic charging stations feed back into the grid, offsetting the building’s energy use, but could eventually fuel electric cars or trucks (the company’s fleet currently runs on biodiesel). “They’re a key part of the identity of the building,” Slutsky said. The project also features solar hot water heaters, further offsetting the company’s energy use.

Another area of particular focus was storm water management. In addition to green roofs and rain gardens, the building collects rainwater in cisterns for use as gray water. Parking areas are paved in permeable surfaces, and additional runoff is contained in a detention pond. Epstein collaborated with landscape architects Jacobs Ryan Associates on the project.

Slutsky estimates the building’s green features added 15 percent to the overall cost of the project, but given the facility’s energy intensive program, the reduced utility bills will likely more than makeup for those costs in a few years.

Alan G. Brake