Local Wholesale Produce Distributor Aims to Reinvent LEED Standards

By Jon Sedey

Situated in the Back of the Yards Neighborhood in Chicago’s Stockyards Corridor sits what many hope to be the pioneer in the food service distribution sector. Testa Produce, Inc., an independent wholesale produce distributor, opened its doors to their new, 91,000 square foot, $23 million facility.

On track to become the nation’s first LEED Platinum food distribution facility, everything from the parking lot to the food refrigeration system is a result of President and owner Peter Testa’s vision. “Part of being in the agricultural business is to have a responsibility to take care of the earth a bit better,” said Testa.

Family-owned and operated since its inception in 1991, Testa Produce is the descendant of Dominick Testa and Sons, a business that started in 1912. Today, Testa Produce sells fruits and vegetables to local restaurants, hotels and other food-service businesses. Since 2001, Testa Produce has shipped its goods from Blue Island. However, as the company grew and expanded, the facility could no longer contain their twenty-four hour operations. The move to their new facility nearly doubled their operating space, providing them with up-to-date office, dock and distribution areas.

Testa worked relentlessly to find a location that would be large enough for the facility and provide abundant space for future expansion. “The land was chosen not only because it met our needs,” said Testa, “but restoration and remediation of a brownfield site helped us gain LEED points, so it was a smart choice.” Prior to breaking ground, the land underwent numerous tests to verify that all contaminants were eliminated from the site.

The new facility, near 45th and Racine, is rich with history. Located in the Union Stockyards, it was part of a larger collection of industrial facilities. This area was a “Jungle,” described by Upton Sinclair where, “rats were shoved into sausage-grinder machines and animal remains were cleaned off the floor and packed as ‘ham.’”

It was a place where people (other than workers) had no desire to visit. Testa hopes to help revitalize it and show that green, renewable technology can anchor this area. “Our new facility will showcase how a brownfield site can be transformed into a thriving, energy-efficient space that adds to the urban landscape with a minimal environmental footprint,” he said.

In 2009, Testa bought the property—estimated at $1.6 million—from the city for one dollar. Shortly after the purchase, ground was broken in early 2010 and within that time frame the land went through several tests to make sure that there were no contaminants on site.

General contractor Summit Design + Build designed the facility with longevity as their key component. Testa wanted an environmentally conscious building that would last generations, reduce utility costs and be the first in this field with a LEED certification. He wanted to set a precedent, where similar companies in the food distribution industry can do the same. “Setting the bar high is fine…if a few people copy me that would be great,” said Testa. After four and a half years of planning and design, he is extremely proud of the outcome.

Throughout the construction process, Testa made sure that he lived up to the obligations of environmental stewardship. 85% of recycled construction waste was diverted from landfills and reused in the new facility. For instance, brick and granite pavers make up patios and all concrete found on-site is now used as the base of the new parking lot. In addition to that, 95% of all paper, plastic and cardboard waste is recycled. Also, all furniture from the Blue Island facility was reused in the current building and any new furniture is made partly of recycled material.

Testa Produce’s most noticeable feature is truly unique: a 238-foot tall wind turbine. Located at the entrance of the facility, it is the first freestanding wind turbine within the City of Chicago. Before installation, there were no ordinances or permitting requirements as to scale or size of this type of turbine. Testa and city representatives worked together and basically laid out the guidelines that created the permitting process for all future freestanding wind turbines in the city. Once connected, operating and at maximum capacity, the turbine will generate 750 kilowatts of power which will account for approximately 30% of the facility’s power needs.

Every effort was made to enhance the site’s water efficiency. The first step was the creation of a 765,085 gallon retention pond along with a 140,132 gallon bioswale system. This pond collects and stores water that is reused inside the facility. Permeable pavers make up the walkways and the parking lot is designed to divert water from running off. Inside the facility, a 5,000 gallon cistern filters the collected water where it is reused for non-potable uses. By collecting stormwater runoff, Testa Produce is able to provide water that is required to flush the toilets during the year. The site’s improved water efficiency will not only reduce the facility’s sewer needs but it will lead to over 40% reduction in water demand.

Atop the facility sits an impressive 45,650 square foot barreled green roof. Compared to traditional vegetated roofs, this structure rolls off the side of the building so that it can be viewed at street level. Similar to the retention pond and the bioswales, the green roof will collect water that in turn will be stored and filtered in the cistern and then reused for non-potable uses. The plant material within the structure is able to withstand minimal irrigation and is designed to endure the Midwest climate. In addition to that, this will reduce stormwater runoff, insulate the building, decrease heat waste emissions and release oxygen leading to cleaner air.

All illumination in office, freezer and outdoor fixtures are 100% LED lighting and motion sensors control electricity by shutting off power when rooms are unoccupied for periods of time. The stairwells are lit via solar tracking skylights which adjust the amount of light based upon the time of day and the sun’s location above, reducing a constant draw of electricity. There are 180 solar panels on site. Many are located above the dock doors and the remainder are attached to solar trees that will generate power and have battery charging capabilities for hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles. Of the 180, 159 are photovoltaic solar panels that produce an energy equivalence of 5,500 kilowatt hours per year. The remaining 21 are solar hot water panels which heat 100% of the building’s water for non-potable uses.

Another component to the design of the facility was transportation access for employees and goods moving around the facility. The location of the facility is accessible by public transportation or by bicycle. In the employee bathroom, Testa installed showers as well as plenty of storage space within which to keep a change of clothes. There is preferred parking on site for employees with fuel-efficient vehicles, all company cars are hybrid vehicles and delivery trucks run on biodiesel fuel. There are two biodiesel tanks stored on site; one 1,000 gallon pure biodiesel tank and one 1,000 gallon half biodiesel, half petroleum diesel. Even the pallet movers inside the refrigeration area run on methanol fuel cells.

“This building is meant to challenge and encourage other companies to go green,” said Testa. “By doing so, we hope that all of our customers and fellow business practitioners switch to more sustainable practices, for their own benefit.”

Photos: Jon Sedey

Tags: , , ,

See All Tags

Suggest an article

Send us your articles! Please email any articles or topics that you think we should feature to Editor@Sustainable-Chicago.com.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!