If Zandra and Dennis Chestnut have their way, urban communities in Washington D.C., will be full-fledged members of “gang green.” The couple owns the Center for Green Urbanism, an art-infused business incubator that provides office space to small to mid-sized companies, houses the Tubman-Mahan Art Gallery (an environmentally-themed art gallery) and is an energy-efficient green demonstration model for both homes and businesses. The facility’s grand opening celebration is scheduled for Oct. 15.

“We’re about making people environmentally conscious about what they’re doing in their homes and businesses,” Zandra Chestnut said. “There are some simple things that each one of us can do to lessen the impact of our carbon imprint and lower the cost of us using energy. We’re trying to be a demonstration model for those practices.”

Chestnut said the facility will teach those in the community how they can save both energy and money by being “green.” The facility itself is a testament to this desire. Located in the District’s downtown Ward 7, the 3,200-square-foot facility was environmentally renovated in April 2010. It now boasts energy-efficient lighting, flooring and appliances, solar shade window treatments, and eco-friendly wall-coverings. Chestnut said the building is working towards becoming LEED certified in the near future.

The past decade has seen a number of businesses and companies jump on the “go green” bandwagon. Chestnut, however, said this trend technically started decades ago with people who lived in the southern part of the country.

“When you think about it, if you came from the south or rural areas, you were already green—they just didn’t call themselves green,” Chestnut said. “They recycled and reused things, they traded with each other, grew their own food and ate healthy.”

The facility co-founder also said they hope to open the center’s doors to the community, giving them a place to use when needed.

“We have community groups and environmental organizations that have meetings here,” Chestnut said. “It’s really answering the call for space that we don’t have in our community. We want folk to think about us when they’re trying to have a small conference or a formal or informal meeting.”

Chestnut said she anticipates many of the people using the facility will be African American and expects they’ll develop an interest in saving energy and money.

“I’m pretty sure the center will attract African Americans to the green movement,” she said. “People are fascinated by the whole concept of the green phase. I think it is something different, and I think it’s only going to attract people. Believe it or not, there are a lot of like-minded people out there in the African-American community. People are saying ‘we need this in our community.’”

Currently, the building only has three tenants (Groundwork Anacostia River, DC Inc., Authentic Contemporary Art, and Majestic Landscaping and Designs), but Chestnut sees that number growing because of the affordability of their office space. For $950 a month, an organization can have its own office space which will be equipped with a desk, bookshelf and a file cabinet. Companies that do not mind sharing their space with another company can do so for $550 a month.

Virtual users are welcome there as well. Though they would not have their own office space and can only access the facility during business hours, virtual users only have to pay $250 a month and can use the facility’s office appliances and wireless Internet anywhere in the building.

Because it offers many innovative green features, Chestnut believes that the facility will attract those already knowledgeable of living green and those unfamiliar with the term.

“We’re looking for other like-minded green thinking people who can bring their service in, get a discount on their rent, and still have office space,” Chestnut said. “We’re bending the mold here and changing the way you think about doing business. You don’t have to be green when you come in here, but when you leave, there’s going to be something you pick up from being exposed to us.”

Kyle Taylor

Special to the AFRO