published Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Sustainable building initiative co-director fights for a more efficient Chattanooga

Pictured at their office on East Main Street in downtown Chattanooga, Jeff Cannon is co-director of Green|Spaces, a company involved in green building initiatives. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Pictured at their office on East Main Street in downtown Chattanooga, Jeff Cannon is co-director of Green|Spaces, a company involved in green building initiatives. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

FACT FILE


ABOUT HIM

• Occupation: Co-director of GreenSpaces.

• Age: 41.

• Hometown: Hixson.

• Family: Parents, Joe and Bobbye Cannon, sister, Kim Hunt, and brother, Terry Cannon.

Nickname:

Snake (a middle-school moniker inspired by “Escape from New York”).

The last movie he watched:

“God Grew Tired of Us.”

The last book he read:

“Columbine,” by Dave Cullen.

Favorite bands:

Journey, Prince and Duran Duran.

His dream celebrity encounter:

Natalie Portman.

Ideal vacation destination:

A cabin in the middle of Alaska cut off from computers and cell phones.

For more than three years, Jeff Cannon has been on a quest to ensure future generations can look back at Chattanooga through green-tinted glasses.

As the co-director of the Green-Spaces sustainable building initiative, Cannon, 41, has helped introduce Chattanooga architects and developers to energy-efficient, environmentally sound building practices.

Under his leadership, along with partner Anj McClain, GreenSpaces has seen the city progress from having no buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification to 39. Cannon said the number of LEED-accredited professionals here has increased from four to 150 in the same period.

Cannon originally signed on for three years with GreenSpaces but has extended his commintment through the end of the year.

QNow that Chattanooga has begun adopting sustainable building practices, how confident are you about GreenSpace’s future success?

AWhen we first started out wesaid we wanted 20 LEED buildings in the downtown footprint, which is all we were focusing on. Everyone thought, almost bar none, that we were crazy, that that was unattainable. As I look back on it now, maybe we thought that, too. I can’t say if I believed it or not, but we did it. We set out to accomplish it, and we did it.

At first, when we’d been in front of somebody, in front of the major architectural firms, they would say, “You can’t do this. Chattanooga is not going to get 20 LEED buildings.” You hear that, and you go, “Yeah, maybe you’re right,” but after you build that up, you kind of know, “We can do this.”

Q: After GreenSpaces, what’s next for you?

A: I don’t know what’s next for me. I wouldn’t have known that this was what was next for me. I would hate to say I’ll be doing “X,” because I might end up as a greeter at Walmart. I never know what’s next, and I’m fine with that.

QWould you describe flexibility or adaptability as one of your job requirements?

AWe’re a very small staff. We’re all putting in way too many hours a week. If you look at our schedule, we couldn’t take on anything else. To accomplish the things we’ve accomplished, there needs to be a level of adaptability, for sure. That’s company-wide, and maybe it is also on a personal level, too.

Q: How important is green building to maintaining the momentum of Chattanooga’s revitalization?

A: If we don’t do it now, we’ll never be able to do it. If we’re truly rebuilding a city with a 100-year vision, then by building ... buildings that are only going to last 10 years or will consume more energy than they should, you’re not sustainable.

When you stop focusing on green construction and focus on sustainability, then you can’t complete that sentence of “What should Chattanooga be and how should we do it?” It’s got to be in there.

Q: Is Chattanooga “almost there” or “just getting started” in terms of sustainability?

A: We are in our infancy. We are starting to get there.

If you go back to the late 1980s, there was a push to make Chattanooga the sustainable city. Had we done some of those things then, we might be in the middle of the pack now, but because we haven’t, we can’t rest on our laurels and take time to pat ourselves on the back because we’re still behind the curve. We’re still battling to keep up.

We are laying the groundwork for sustainability. If you don’t lay the groundwork, the train is going to go off track.

Q: Does sustainability have an end point?

A: No, there’s not. We talk about this a lot. For us, the end point is always going to be a moving target. It’s like the carrot they put in front of the mule. We always need to be striving for that point.

We’re a ways away from the next advancement point. With anything good and positive, there should never be an end point. It should never be, “This is good enough.” You should always be striving for better.

Q: What do you see going on in Chattanooga that reassures you that progress towards sustainability will continue?

A: One thing that makes me confident ... is the idea of Volkswagen coming into town and bringing with them this European mindset that “wasting energy is wasting your most important natural resources.” Just the idea of that, the concept of that, gives me a lot of hope.

Q: What is the one thing people could be doing better, as far as sustainability is concerned?

A: Engage in dialogue with their elected representatives. A lot of times, when we’re working with elected leaders, they always push back and say, “This isn’t what the constituency wants.” We hear the exact opposite.

There’s really no silver bullet, as relates to changing our environmental outlook. Recycling isn’t going to do it. Changing our land use plans isn’t going to do it. Putting up solar panels isn’t going to do that. It’s going to take a wider swath. The only way I know to make that happen is in the public discourse and talking it out.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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