Local Sourcing Can Save Money, Earn Green Points

by Robert Bell  on Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 12:00 am  

Phil Brandon, who started Rocktown Distillery, is using several Arkansas products, from the grains used in the liquor to barrels for aging and boxes for shipping.

The fresh brown eggs and heirloom tomatoes from old man Jones' farm just over yonder will more than likely taste better and cost a bit more than their mass-produced and shipped from who-knows-where counterparts from the mega-mart. That's fine for someone whose aim is to make a tasty omelet.

But when tasked with something a bit larger in scope - say, a multimillion-dollar building project - affordability usually trumps local flavor and environmental concerns. However, there's a good possibility that if Arkansas developers choose their ingredients wisely, they can have all three.

The yellow sandstone used on Polk Stanley Wilcox's $17 million Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock is one example of a locally sourced building material that was more affordable than something similar from out of state, said Reese Rowland, who worked on the award-winning project and is a principal with the firm.

Many building materials can be sourced in-state, Rowland said.

"You can pretty much cover all the exterior building materials with Arkansas products," he said.

Via e-mail, he cited several examples: brick from Malvern and Fort Smith; stone from several quarries; pine from south Arkansas; insulation from BioBased Technologies in Fayetteville; structural insulated panels from Noark Enterprises Inc. in North Little Rock; and several others, some of the which are not headquartered in Arkansas but have significant operations in the state.

Sandstone Source

Locally sourced building materials can also earn points for projects aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. As far as the USGBC is concerned, local means from within a 500-mile radius, and the idea behind local sourcing is to lower emissions used in transporting materials - as well as boosting the local economy.

But Rowland said that for many years, whenever possible, his firm had sought materials from closer than that. At the outset of the Arkansas Studies Institute project, the firm was looking at getting the stone from Minnesota, he said.

"Minnesota is known for that yellow stone, and we were looking at a very thin kind of, what's called a veneer system," he said. "And we figured out we could get a full, thick stone if we just changed the size of our stone pieces to smaller and laid it up like masonry [and then] we could use an Arkansas stone, which was what we needed to do and wanted to do anyway."

In addition, he said, the cost was significantly less than getting stone from out of state. He did not specify dollar figures but said that using smaller pieces of local stone was about half the cost of using out-of-state stone. 

"Until we went to Batesville and walked the quarry and found that stone, we didn't realize we were going to be able to get that yellow of a stone or in that cut here in Arkansas," Rowland said.

"We're really into trying to service the local economy," he said. "It's smart business and smart architecture. The shorter the travel distance, the less the product is going to cost."

Reuse Saves Money

That was certainly the case for the recently completed Audubon Arkansas headquarters and education center. The project involved remodeling the former Granite Mountain community center on Springer Boulevard in southeast Little Rock. One of the primary building components came from about 25 miles away.

"The greenest building is one that's being reused," said Ellen Fennell, interim director of the environmental preservation group.

Fennell's husband, Tom, was the architect on the $1.3 million project, which was begun before Ellen Fennell became interim director.

Construction was completed in September and added about 1,500 SF to the concrete block building, for a total of about 9,000 SF. Straw bales were added to the exterior walls and then covered in two inches of stucco made from a mix of mud and lime, Tom Fennell said.

This technique makes for a very energy-efficient building that is also fairly resistant to fire, because neither the stucco on the outside nor the concrete blocks on the inside will burn, he said.

"With the straw bales, it doesn't make any sense to bring in straw bales from Kansas. In fact, it doesn't make any sense to go outside of a couple-county radius," he said. "These came from Lonoke."

And the mud used in the stucco was local as well, he said.

In addition to implementing sustainable building practices that will lower operating costs, the Audubon headquarters was also a better deal financially than building a similarly sized new structure.

"We built this for about two-thirds of what a new building would cost. We had significant savings, probably $600,000 or $700,000," he said.

Fennell said his firm, Fennell Purifoy Architects, had always tried to specify that local materials be used for its projects.

"The more wood you can use in a project, the more likely you're going to use local material," he said.

In recent years, Anthony Forest Products Co. of El Dorado has seen an increase in the number of customers who are interested in locally sourced and environmentally sustainable wood, said Kerlin Drake, vice president of marketing for the lumber company.

"There's been a big demand, and mainly because wood is renewable," Drake said. "You can go replant it. You can't go replant steel."

Keith Newton is a Little Rock artist and furniture maker who primarily works with wood, which he sources very locally sometimes. He lives and works in a brick studio near the intersection of Arch and 23rd streets.

"I bought my sawmill after the tornado came through the neighborhood in '99 in order to pick up and use some of the trees that were blown down," Newton said.

He ended up using some of that lumber on the renovation of the Governor's Mansion.

"I did the kitchen of the Governor's Mansion, upstairs back in the private part. The Huckabees were there, and I used some lumber that was blown down in that tornado that crossed the Governor's Mansion," Newton said.

Local Spirits

Phil Brandon is turning to local sources for a significant amount of the products needed for his new venture. Brandon formerly worked at Alltel Corp. About the time that company was being acquired by Verizon Wireless, he decided to leave to turn a personal interest into a new business.

Rocktown Distillery recently began producing liquor, made using Arkansas grains, at its facility near the headquarters of Heifer International in downtown Little Rock.

"We are buying all our grains from Arkansas farmers through a seed dealer in Stuttgart," Brandon said. "We use yellow corn and soft red winter wheat in order to make our bourbon and vodka and gin."

Rocktown's vodka and bourbon will be made with all local ingredients, but not so with the gin, which derives its flavor from a mix of herbs and botanicals such as juniper berries, coriander, licorice root and many others. Brandon tried to find local sources for some of these ingredients, but so far to no avail.

"I talked to a guy about coriander, and it just didn't make sense for him to farm it," he said. "Some things you just can't get because of the climate or what have you. But I'm trying to do my best to get everything I can from local suppliers."

Stratton Seed Co. has so far delivered 5,000 pounds of corn and a similar amount of wheat for Rocktown, which will have the capacity to produce about 150 cases of liquor a week, Brandon said. A case of liquor is typically 12 bottles, each containing 750 milliliters.

The vodka and gin should be available in stores, restaurants and bars across Arkansas by late August, with the bourbon, which will be aged for several months in charred white oak barrels, available later, he said.

Brandon found a local source for the barrels in Gibbs Bros. Cooperage, which has been manufacturing wooden barrels in Hot Springs for more than a century. The corrugated cardboard boxes used to ship the finished product will also come from a local source, Lamb & Associates Packaging in Maumelle.

"And I'm using good Little Rock water, and natural gas," Brandon said.

The choice to use as many local products as possible was something Brandon set out to do from the beginning.

"I think it's the right thing to do and the cost isn't any higher for me and, plus, the savings in freight just really makes sense financially," he said. 



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