A conversation with Katrina Gerber – June 1, 2005

For a different perspective Tom Bean suggested we talk to Katrina Gerber, who he credits with being the first LEED Accredited Professional in Kansas City. Kat is a proud graduate of Kansas State with a Bachelor's degree in Architectural Engineering--a systems oriented degree. She is an advocate of LEED and the USGBC within the community and at her firm BGR Consulting Engineers. http://www.bgrengineers.com

1 – What person influenced you most regarding environmental issues?

  • I first heard Bob Berkebile speak in 1996 at a US Green Building Council seminar at Bartle Hall. He's a great speaker and has such a passion for it.
  • 2 – What event opened your eyes to environmental issues?

  • After hearing Bob speak I began doing some research on my own. I was looking at all the documentation that was readily available--the numbers on energy use in the United States, our global impact, and the many alternatives that exist.
  • 3 – Name one habit or convenience you gave up for environmental reasons.

    4 – Name something you wish more people realized is harmful to the environment.

  • It's the whole decision making process. We need to be aware not only of the energy something uses but also what resources went into creating and transporting the product to us. We need to get to a kind of "global mentality" where we don't just follow regulations on which refrigerant we can use, it's not enough to just comply with the rules in place.
  • 5 – What is the most important thing you do personally to conserve natural resources?

  • Just the simple stuff: not leaving lights on, changing from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent throughout the house, adding insulation in the walls and attic. In our office we have an agreement: when the temperature outside is under 70 degrees we do not run air conditioning. When there is good sunlight we turn off the lights. I believe we all inherently want to do good things, it's just an education process to learn the simple behaviors that make a difference.
  • 6 – What alternative do you feel more people need to learn?

  • Getting away from dependence on our automobiles. Take a 5 block walk to lunch and don't circle the parking lot looking for that "perfect spot" right by the entrance. One of the biggest benefits of working downtown is being able to walk to everything, business meetings, lunches, and City Hall.
  • 7 – What contribution are you uniquely able to make toward environmental causes?

  • I am a big proponent of geothermal heating and cooling. It's one of the first things we evaluate on our projects. When it is appropriate we then educate everyone about why it makes sense. One such project under construction is the Linda Hall Library at UMKC. It's the biggest geothermal plant in a five-state area with 400-plus tons. This facility is nationally known for engineering research and they had installed a brand new physical plant in 1989. They had to question the notion of replacing the entire plant so soon. We determined the system will pay for itself in 8-1/2 years. The new Ronald McDonald house is also geothermal.
  • 8 – What do you think is the next step for Kansas City as a community at the present time?

  • A lot of it is just getting behind these issues, as with indoor air quality and the "no smoking" initiative. Different jurisdictions are trying to pass independent ordinances, which is a start. There is just a resistance to "change." This is where we as design professionals need to get involved within the community, within local councils and committees. Within the last year and a half I've started getting more involved, but time is always a precious commodity.
  • 9 – What change to your lifestyle or behavior was the hardest to adopt or maintain?

  • My car: an SUV. We decided a while ago that the next car we buy is going to be smaller. With hauling 2 kids and their gear to soccer and events, that's always been my excuse--and a lame one.
  • 10 – What do you think Kansas City has done well?

  • Getting something on the books; passing things like the LEED Silver ordinance has promoted a knowledge and dialogue that in the past wasn't readily accessible. It's forced professionals in the community to get educated about the technologies and choices. This influences other municipalities as well. It's baby steps.
  • 11 – What is your most successful green building project?

  • Perhaps the Sunset Office Building for Johnson County, though not necessarily by measurement of the building systems. It was a great example of integration of all of the entities, the owner, architect, contractor and engineer, working together to set and accomplish goals of sustainability. It was the whole design process.
  • [ note: for a good description of the sustainable technologies in this project go to the Johnson County website: http://facilities.jocogov.org ]

    12 – What is a good example of environmental design in Kansas City?

  • I took my son to the Discovery Center to show him some of the work Mom does. The living machine, photovoltaics, geothermal… it's a great place for anyone in Kansas City who wants to understand more about the choices we have available to us..
  • 13 – What is the biggest change you hope to see in society within your lifetime?

  • We joke in our office about a project that doesn't require air conditioning. I would like to see society change their view on what is "comfortable." 82 degrees is not uncomfortable. This is just a mindset that has been put on us that we define comfort as being separated from the seasons.
  • ("Green Thirteen" is a series of questions intended to explore the journey of environmental thinking, from inspiration to education to action--with a dual-focus on both individual and community perspectives. Interviewer: Scott Kevin Jones, AIA, LEED AP)

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