Testa Produce Gives New Meaning To “Green” With Innovative Environmental Design

Testa ProduceFor the past week, I’ve been reusing the same Styrofoam cup. I think twice before printing out anything. And I’ve been a bit more diligent about recycling.

I credit my newfound commitment to the environment to a recent tour of Testa Produce (4555 South Racine Avenue). Take a stroll through the Back of the Yards wholesale food distributor, and you’ll rethink your carbon footprint, too.

Testa was one of the 150 tour sites offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation during Open House Chicago 2014. Testa is very green, and not just because of its romaine lettuce.

Testa ProduceConsider these innovative features of Testa’s 91,300 square foot facility:

  • A solar hot water system heats 100% of the building’s hot water.
  • 180 solar panels generate 5,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per year
  • Half of the 45,650-square-foot barreled roof contains vegetation
  • It has the first commercial pure water solar tube collector system

Even the toilets, which use recycled water to flush, are made out of recycled, compressed milk cartons.

Then there’s the wind turbine. It stands 238-feet tall, just outside Testa’s entrance. The day I toured Testa it was very windy. I stood directly under the turbine and couldn’t hear a thing. Each rotation of the blades means savings for Testa. And it adds up quickly. The turbine generates nearly 35% of the building’s power. It generates 880,000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power 80 homes.

Peter Testa, President of Testa Produce

Peter Testa, President of Testa Produce

“It can get up to 38 miles per hour, and we can go off the grid,” said Peter Testa, the company’s president. “We’ve done it for 10, 20 hours at a time. It freaks out ComEd, which I really don’t care about.”

Testa Produce is a 103-year-old company that once called the old South Water Market home. That area now contains condominiums and is part of University Village. The plan to create a greener Testa came after 9/11 when fuel prices skyrocketed. Diesel fuel was close to $5 a gallon, and the company’s fleet of trucks felt the financial strain.

Now, most of the Testa fleet is powered by natural gas, another move toward cleaner energy and cost savings. But mainly, it’s the Testa building that is green. In fact, it has a LEED platinum certification.

The wind turbine is a distinctive landmark for anyone driving near 46th Street between Ashland and Halsted. It didn’t come easily, though. It took Peter Testa two meetings with Mayor Richard Daley to get the approval to erect it.

One of the concessions Testa had to make was an assurance that the giant pole wouldn’t fall over and harm anything. That’s why it’s so close to the Testa building—but there’s also an electrical engineering purpose. The closer a power source is to the thing it’s powering, the more efficient it is.

Location: 4555 South Racine Avenue, Back of the Yards

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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