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Former Vice President Gore Brings Sustainability to Family Farm

Former Vice President Al Gore is currently pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for several buildings on the farm that his father founded in Carthage, Tenn.

Gore chose the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Platinum certification for two buildings, while all buildings on the farm are able to be “off the grid.” Among his chief goals is to generate enough electricity to equal or exceed the energy consumed on the farm.

To achieve LEED Platinum certification, the USGBC demands that design and construction teams meet several performance prerequisites, then earn top scores for energy efficiency, water efficiency, material selection, indoor air quality, and sustainable site management. On this last topic, Gore has led a land management team in converting the 400 acres from a conventional ranch to a biodynamic farm with free-range cattle, community supported agriculture, fruit trees, and a vegetable garden.

In designing the buildings, Gore worked with architects and consultants to specify both traditional and innovative materials. Instead of demolition, buildings were disassembled with their lumber milled for cabinetry in a new building. Species of wood native to the Southeast and harvested from FSC-certified forests within 500 miles reduced the air pollution associated with long-distance hauling.

Newer materials, such as Accoya and cross-laminated timber accomplished several carbon-reducing objectives. The renewable materials rely mostly on sunshine (rather than fossil fuel based energy) for their structural attributes. Both materials are using wood in new ways to create structural members that can replace the durability and function of energy-intensive concrete and steel. Lastly, wood used in construction sequesters carbon absorbed into the wood for the life of the building and possibly beyond, if salvaged and reused. Alternatively, the tree would eventually die and release its stored carbon during decomposition.

Cradle-to-cradle (C2C) products were used where applicable. C2C manufacturers “close the loop” on finished goods from raw material extraction, through use to deconstruction and reuse. This design strategy helps balance the cost and social pressures of scarce resources.

Gore leveraged a number of other common green building strategies. The net amount of energy efficient HVAC equipment was reduced with thick walls and layers of insulation. Roof water is being captured for irrigation, while interior fixtures exceed EPA’s baseline for water usage. Detailed cut lists allowed the builder to reduce framing waste by accurately planning lumber quantities and deliveries. Excess metal, concrete, wood, cardboard, and drywall were recycled locally.

Less than 10 percent of the residential areas have carpeting and more than 90 percent of it came from used carpet recycled in Northern Georgia. Carpet can harbor dust mites and allergens, while hard surfaces are easier to keep clean with fewer toxic materials.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also irritate respiratory tracts of both installers and building occupants. Fortunately, green building programs such as LEED have encouraged suppliers to offer almost every product line for interiors in “Low” or “No VOC” versions. Rather than carrying two similar product lines, many manufacturers have switched to selling low-VOC products exclusively.

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