The Giant Co. donates $1 million to incoming Harrisburg University agriculture center 

The Giant Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University is expected to break ground later this year. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Harrisburg University’s incoming Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability, slated to break ground later this year, received a $1 million donation from The Giant Co. 

The Carlisle-based grocery chain announced on Monday at the 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show that it will be donating funds to the center, which will now be named The Giant Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University. 

The center, a 23,000-square-foot site in downtown Harrisburg, will provide the private nonprofit university with a specialized facility for research, education and career pathing in sustainability, controlled environment agriculture and clean water initiatives, according to the university. 

“The Giant Co.’s transformative gift will enable Harrisburg University students and faculty to become a national leader in developing advanced agriculture and sustainability solutions,” said Eric Darr, president at Harrisburg University. “We are thrilled to partner with The GIANT Company to identify challenges and implement efficient, sustainable, and action-oriented solutions for our agricultural community.” 

For Giant, the gift allows the company to partner with experts, such as the faculty and students at Harrisburg University, to invest in a sustainable food future, said Nicholas Bertram, president of The Giant Co. 

Doing the right thing for our planet is a huge responsibility and also a huge opportunity,” said Bertram. “A more sustainable shopping basket helps reduce carbon emissions, improve soil health, mitigate deforestation and increase biodiversity, which in turn will heal our planet.” 

Guest view: A contractor’s trash can be another firm’s treasure

Commercial-building construction debris is a significant challenge. But this challenge also presents opportunities to achieve benefits when using a strategic and sustainable management approach.

The spectrum of commercial building debris includes, but is not limited to: concrete, wood, stone, drywall, metals, bricks, glass, plastics, doors, windows, electrical, plumbing and mechanical system components.

Commercial building construction generates a significant volume of solid waste in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that 548 million tons of construction and demolition debris were generated in the U.S. in 2015 and this was more than two times the volume of generated municipal solid waste. It is important that this debris be diverted from disposal and strategically managed into new productive uses.


One significant strategy to reduce debris sources is the preservation of existing buildings, instead of constructing totally new buildings. This also has the potential to preserve local architectural character and historic significance of some buildings.

Other related strategies of include optimizing the size of new buildings: designing new buildings for adaptability to prolong their useful lives; using construction methods that allow disassembly and facilitate reuse of materials; employing alternative framing techniques; reducing interior finishes; and purchasing recycled materials for construction.

Innovative and efficient design of buildings, building systems and materials can also enhance debris-reduction efforts by strategically purchasing materials to prevent excess materials and packaging from being delivered to the construction site.

Another strategy is deconstruction, which is the process of carefully dismantling buildings to salvage components for reuse and recycling. Deconstruction can be applied on various levels to salvage usable materials and significantly cut waste.

What it yields

Some benefits of deconstruction include: maximizing the recovery of materials; conservation of natural resources; employment and job training opportunities; allowing communities to create local economic activities around manufacturing or reprocessing salvaged materials; and diverting demolition debris headed for disposal.

The major benefit of reusing materials is saving the resource and energy that would have been expended for the production of new materials. Some commonly reused debris materials and applications include:

– Easy-to-remove items like doors, hardware, appliances, and fixtures. These can be salvaged for donation or used during the project construction or on other jobs.
– Wood can be used for lintels, and blocking to eliminate the need to cut full length lumber.
– Scrap wood can be chipped on site and used as mulch or groundcover.
– Brick, concrete and masonry can be recycled on-site as fill or subbase material for paved driveways and parking lots.
– Excess insulation from exterior walls can be used in interior walls as noise abatement material.
– Packaging materials can be returned to suppliers for reuse.

Many building components can be recycled where markets exist. Asphalt, concrete and rubble are often recycled into aggregate or new asphalt and concrete products. Wood can be recycled into engineered-wood products and also mulch and compost. Metals, including steel, copper and brass, are also valuable commodities to recycle.

Other significant benefits can be achieved from reducing the amount of debris disposal to landfills or incinerators. Some of these benefits include: fewer disposal facilities; reduction in environmental issues associated with disposal facilities; reduction of natural resource consumption; conservation of landfill space; reduction of transportation costs to haul debris off-site; reduction of construction costs by using recycled materials; increased business opportunities and employment at recycling facilities and reduction in life-cycle material use, energy and waste generation.

There continues to be many messages of concern about our growing volume of solid waste, even beyond what is generated by commercial building construction. One of those messages provides a great take-away for this article.

“Solid wastes are the discarded leftovers of our advanced consumer society. This growing mountain represents not only an attitude of indifference toward valuable natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem.” Those were the words of Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States.

Glenn Ebersole, is a professional engineer and business development manager at CVM Professional and CVMNEXT Construction in King of Prussia. He can be reached at [email protected] or 610-964-2800, ext. 155.

Net zero construction nets attention

Interest in renewable energy is growing, particularly among nonprofits such as universities and colleges that are looking to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions.

A rendering of the net zero building under construction for Sustainable Energy Fund in North Whitehall Township. (Submitted)
A rendering of the net zero building under construction for Sustainable Energy Fund in North Whitehall Township. (Submitted)

That interest could fuel more construction of net zero buildings, so called because they produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year.

With reports on the global impact of climate change gaining more attention, some say these types of buildings will become more common. Aside from environmental concerns, proponents also cite the benefits of better productivity and a shorter payback time on the investments made by building owners in green technology.

“The number of net zero buildings in the United States is growing dramatically,” said John Costlow, president of Sustainable Energy Fund, a nonprofit in the Schnecksville section of North Whitehall Township.

The fund is developing what many believe to be the first commercial net zero energy building in the Lehigh Valley. It is under construction in North Whitehall Township.

“I believe a building like ours will spur additional buildings in the Lehigh Valley,” Costlow said.

The fund, a nonprofit that formed 20 years ago as part of Pennsylvania’s energy deregulation, is erecting the building on land it bought at 4250 Independence Drive. The nonprofit, known as SEF, plans to occupy part of the 15,000-square-foot office building and lease the remaining offices to local businesses and nonprofits. Construction is expected to wrap up in December.

Costlow said the organization’s goal is to create a net positive building, meaning the building will produce more energy through solar and thermal panels on its roof than it consumes. The excess energy would go back into the power grid.

Costlow said the average daily energy produced by the building should be around 130 percent of what it uses. On a good, sunny day, it could go as high as 200 percent.

The nonprofit invested about $5 million in the project and plans on using the building to host educational sessions about net zero technology, as well as additional sessions on general sustainability.

Among the structure’s features are solar panels designed to maximize energy production, as well as insulation that minimizes air leakage.

The building will also be a research tool.

“We have all kinds of sensors that are slated to be in the space so we know how much energy is being used right down to the individual office,” Costlow said.

‘A teaching tool’

Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem, meanwhile, recently designed a net zero building for Millersville University in Lancaster County.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center was completed in 2018 and is the first building in Pennsylvania to earn net zero energy certification from the International Living Future Institute, a Seattle-based organization that promotes sustainable construction. According to the institute’s website, it also has certified studios, offices labs and retail centers.

The Lombardo center serves as a model for how a net zero building could work, according to members of Spillman Farmer. For example, the building produced 75 percent more energy than it consumed in 2018, more than anticipated, said Russell Pacala, principal at Spillman Farmer Architects.

The project includes $829,000 worth of sustainable features, such as solar panels on the roof, a ground-mounted solar array and 20 geothermal wells outside on the lawn.

The $10 million Lombardo Welcome Center also included costs related to furniture, information technology and audiovisual items, moving costs, permit and approval fees, architectural and engineering fees and other costs.

The building also sports dashboards inside so users can see how the building is performing.

“The whole building is a teaching tool,” Pacala said.

In addition, the architects interviewed the building’s prospective users to determine how they might be comfortable in the space, but also to help educate them on how much energy they were using, said Heather Rizzetto Schmidt, project designer and manager for Spillman Farmer Architects.

By talking to them about what they could do to avoid impacting the energy performance of the building, such as avoiding plugging in space heaters, the architects were able to create a more sustainable building while encouraging end users to adjust their behavior to enhance the energy performance of the building. A more energy efficient building that’s comfortable for employees also enhances productivity, added Rizzetto Schmidt.

Part planning, part technology

In designing a net zero building, several factors come to the forefront.

Designers have to understand who will be working in the building, what technology they need, and when they arrive at work, said Christie Jephson Nicas, director of marketing for Spillman Farmer.

“That initial planning process is so important,” Jephson Nicas said.

But so is technology.

Larry Eighmy, principal at The Stone House Group, a facilities management firm in Bethlehem, said property owners who focus on energy-saving features can make a dramatic impact on their energy costs.

Today, sensors can control the amount of air that escapes; windows can collect solar energy and make it into electricity and new heat pumps help make buildings more efficient.

And those tools can make a difference even in old buildings like South Bethlehem’s Flatiron Building, originally designed in 1910. Stone House Group has been a tenant there for 14 years. Though it’s not a net zero building, it does have some energy-efficient features.

These include smart window blinds the company manipulates as needed, as well as a concentrated solar collector on the roof, and two new high-efficiency natural gas condensing boilers.

“Even with our relatively old building, we’ve been able to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 percent compared to our base year,” Eighmy said.

It makes sense for nonprofits to become early adopters of net zero buildings, particularly as colleges and universities seek to achieve a carbon neutral status and appeal to eco-minded students, he said.

Though net zero buildings could be tougher to erect for manufacturers, hospitals and other large energy users, they are possible.

“Everything is doable, it’s just how much energy you have available,” Rizzetto Schmidt said.

For those property owners concerned about increases in energy costs, a net zero building could be an effective hedge, said Andrew Schuster, principal at Ashley McGraw Architects of Syracuse, New York, the firm that designed the net zero building for SEF.

“Net zero is pretty straightforward, you make more energy than you use,” Schuster said. “A net zero building allows you to reduce your operating expenses by investing it up front in the building costs. Your savings is what you would be spending on utility costs.”

The payback period for those savings to make up for the extra costs is about 10 to 15 years. But the window has been getting shorter.

SEF is expecting a payback in less than 10 years, Schuster said.

Mattress store with environmental focus opens in York

Harry Mahler has always been passionate about the environment and seeking eco-friendly solutions to existing problems.

In 2004, he spent four years in the lighting industry in North Carolina, which inspired him to found My Eco Lamp, which offered eco-friendly lighting solutions for businesses.

“My goal was to educate the public on the benefits of recycling ‘spent’ fluorescent lamps, ballasts, batteries and other mercury containing materials,” he said.

When Mahler decided it was time to return to his native Pennsylvania, he and his family settled in York, where he continued in the business of eco-friendly consulting.

“My wife, Sarah, and I met at Lancaster Bible College and always enjoyed the York area and decided that it was where we wanted to serve the community,” said Mahler, whose goal was to bring an environmentally conscious business to the York area.

Mahler began researching mattress recycling and when he did, he uncovered some startling statistics, including the fact that 20 million mattresses are put out for disposal annually.

“Can you imagine the impact that has on landfills?” he said. After reaching out to national mattress-recycling companies, he learned that some states, like Tennessee, for instance, provide work for prisoners by having them break down the components of the mattress for recycling.

“Pennsylvania doesn’t require mattress recycling; the counties we’re surrounded by prefer them to go to the landfill, or the incinerator,” he said.

A local solution

Harry Mahler and his wife, Sarah, own eco-friendly mattress retailer No Badger Mattress in York. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch)
Harry Mahler and his wife, Sarah, own eco-friendly mattress retailer No Badger Mattress in York. (Photo: Markell DeLoatch) 

Mahler decided that one to help make a difference in his neck of the woods was to open a retail store dedicated to selling eco-friendly mattresses. On July 6, No Badger Mattress hosted a community day to celebrate its opening at 3931 E. Market St. in Springettsbury Township.

In keeping with the eco-friendly theme, customers who buy new mattresses at No Badger can turn in their used mattresses, which are later broken down into separate components for recycling.

“We work with a company in New Jersey called Creative Recycling and they do the physical breakdown of the mattresses. Foam goes for carpet padding, the steel goes to a steel mill, the wood can be repurposed and cotton ticking can be recycled for textiles,” said Mahler.

The store, at 1,200 square feet, is deliberately small to keep customers from feeling overwhelmed, according to Mahler, who seeks to set his store apart by creating a ‘no-haggle atmosphere.’

“We consider us a gimmick-free zone,” said Mahler. Mattresses at “No Badger” can be purchased for as low as $79 for a twin and as high as $898 for a luxury queen set.

One of the main manufacturers Mahler uses is Richmond, Virginia-based Symbol Mattress, which has been in business for 58 years and is one of the largest privately owned mattress companies in the U.S., with six factories, including one in Reading.

“They have an eco-friendlier mattress when it comes to the harsh chemicals that are traditionally used by manufacturers for fire-retardant purposes. It’s also important for us to work with local businesses,” said Mahler, who keeps about 10 models on hand. “They are made to order, which we really like,” he said.

John Elliott, sales manager for No Badger, said the company is able to keep costs down due to its low advertising budget. “The savings can then be passed on to the consumer,” he said.

Mahler also allows customers to make arrangements for old-fashioned, one-on-one appointments.

“We don’t want them to feel rushed. The other night we had a lady from Harrisburg who was only available on a Sunday night and even though we aren’t usually open on Sunday nights, we met with her and she purchased a mattress,” said Mahler.

Mahler, who has five children ranging in age from 6 to 16, said he understands the predicament families face when trying to keep costs down and he hopes he can take some of the stress out of the process of purchasing a mattress while adhering to a strict budget.

“We like to say that we are planting seeds for a better tomorrow as we set out to help our community,” he said.

A Conversation With: Mark Hand

Mark Hand, second from left, accepts the Governor's Award for Excellence for his efforts in organizing and leading the Drive Electric PA Coalition. (Photo: Submitted)
Mark Hand, second from left, accepts the Governor’s Award for Excellence for his efforts in organizing and leading the Drive Electric PA Coalition. (Photo: Submitted)

Mark Hand, 41, joined the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection almost two decades ago as a geologic specialist. He is currently an energy program specialist and recently earned the Governor’s Award for Excellence for his efforts in organizing and leading the Drive Electric PA Coalition.

Hand has a bachelor’s degree in geology from Juniata College in Huntingdon.

He currently resides in Halifax and has one son, as well as his girlfriend and stepchildren and extended family living in the area.

: How did you help businesses, in particular, prepare for broader use of electric vehicles through the Drive Electric PA Coalition?

A: Creating the Drive Electric PA Coalition was a big first step for Pennsylvania. Other states have had policies and plans for years to support electric vehicles. Getting Pennsylvania to come together and get the broad-based coalition was a big first step. In the coalition we were able to facilitate the EV road map, and so the stakeholders got to participate in policy framework, the EV road-mapping process, which creates a number of strategies to move the adoption of electric vehicles in Pennsylvania.

There are about 18,000 battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in Pennsylvania and if we’re able to implement the strategies in the road map, businesses will see potential economic opportunities like having the opportunity to build stations or add electric vehicles to their fleets. Especially as EV prices come down, it’s anticipated that electric vehicles should have a lower cost of ownership compared to internal combustion vehicles. The roadmap will organize Pennsylvania and get us in position to expedite what needs to be done to make EVs happen. We also have some incentive programs, so businesses can take advantage of our Level 2 rebate program and get funding for stations and alternative fuels vehicles.

What does it mean to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence for your efforts?

It’s a great feeling to get the award. Oftentimes you get to be involved in projects and you don’t know they’ll be noticed or you don’t expect them to be noticed. In this case it’s very nice to receive affirmation that a project like this is going to have long-term benefits and value to the commonwealth and it’s nice the governor acknowledged that. It’s definitely going to be something that goes in my scrapbook and one of the highlights of my career.

You’ve seen a lot in your nearly two decades with DEP. What do you think will be the new environmental efforts businesses can prepare for?

The biggest challenge to me is climate change and climate mitigation; I think that’s probably the biggest environmental challenge of several generations. Where businesses can support sustainability or climate change mitigation, I think they’ll ultimately be viewed more favorably by investors and citizens looking to support businesses in the community. The younger generation sees this as a big challenge and that’s going to be a major part of our future.

What is your favorite nature spot in the midstate?

A few years ago someone in my office said, “Hey, you should go to Middle Creek (in Lancaster County) and see the snow geese.” I drove there that February and I was shocked by the 100,000 snow geese and swans you see out there. I didn’t even know that was in our backyard. It’s one of our treasures, really.

College effort reduces food waste, saves money

Over the last decade, Elizabethtown College has been reusing food waste while providing a learning opportunity for its students.

It began with Joe Metro, the college’s former director of facilities management and construction, said Eric Turzai, the college’s director of dining services.

Metro had been working in the mid-2000s with Brukaber Farms in East Donegal Township on a project that would have generated electricity from the college’s organic waste. It never came to fruition. But in 2009, the college was approached by a company called Somat about the possibility of field-testing a new waste pulping system that would reduce the volume of organic material and allow for reduced water consumption in the college’s main dining facility, called the Marketplace.

A waste-pulping system at Elizabethtown College helps turn food waste into fertilizer. (Photo: Submitted) –

Fast forward 10 years, and the college, Brubaker Farms and Somat are working together to collect and reuse food waste to create electricity and ancillary products.

The process has an academic component as well. Jeffrey Rood, an associate professor of chemistry at Elizabethtown College, has been teaching courses connected to it for several years.

“Just last year, I started teaching a first-year seminar about energy and I use this project as a case study/example of some local ways we can generate energy and be mindful of waste,” Rood said.

From dish room to dairy farm

Turzai said the college’s process begins in the dining hall’s dish room, where paper products are separated from organic waste such as apple cores, banana peels and pizza crust. The organic waste is dropped into a trough-like component and then conveyed to a machine that he likens to a garbage disposal in that it chews up the food waste. Water is extracted from it, leaving behind a pulp-like substance.

Elizabethtown paid an estimated $40,000 for the system eight years ago, according to Steve Eno, an engineering manager for Somat, which was founded in the Coatesville area in the 1950s but has been located in the Greenfield Industrial Park in East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County, since the early 2000s. Today it’s a subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works. The cost can rise to $300,000 depending on the complexity of the system.

Elizabethtown College takes the water and food-waste pulp to Brubaker Farms, which then feeds them into an anaerobic digester, along with cow manure.

Turzai said the methane gas produced by the digester is harvested and used to run a motor for a generator to create electricity. According to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy website, “The generator produces 200 kilowatts a day, enough to power approximately 200 local homes through the local utility grid.” The website also indicates that the system’s excess heat is also used to pre-heat water for the dairy operation.

The digester also produces a dried manure that’s used on the farm as ultra-hygienic bedding for the cows, while the liquid portion of the digested manure serves as a replacement for commercial fertilizer. Turzai said the fertilizer, which is 98 percent bacteria free, is used not only on the farm, but also shared with the college and applied to a one-acre organic garden that is on campus and tended by students. The garden produces an average of 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of vegetables annually, which he said is used in the college’s dining room and on its catering menu for summer conferences.

Turzai said that since the new pulper system was installed in 2010, overall water consumption in the dining facilities has been cut by 80 percent and annual waste-hauling charges were cut in half to $15,000. The compactor also is capable of holding 10 to 12 tons of non-recyclable waste and is now removed from the school once a month instead of every two weeks.

“This is a win-win-win,” Turzai said. “We’re doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint, but it also reduces cost. It’s also a win for Brubaker Farms and for our students, who have a hands-on learning opportunity,” Turzai said.

Rood said feedback from students about those hands-on learning opportunities tends to be positive.

“At first, students might find the idea of working food waste a bit gross, but they enjoy the process of forming a hypothesis and designing an experiment to test it. They also connect to these experiences because it is all happening right here at the college,” Rood said.