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Testa’s environmentally green building has practical foundation

CHICAGO — Peter Testa didn’t build the new warehouse and office facility of Testa Produce Inc., here, only because he wanted to demonstrate that the latest green technology could be incorporated into a viable modern facility.

“My motivation for doing this building was that I needed a new building.” In the process, he wanted to hold the company’s operating costs at a steady level over a period of time. “One way to do that is to be green.”

Mr. Testa observed that “A lot people do not spend the money because they will sell the company. In our case, family is involved. This is a long-term investment. This could take a long period of time for payback but that’s not a worry. We are in for the long haul. I am not selling my company in the future. With my family in the business, a long-term commitment was easy.” A fourth generation of Testas is coming into the business. “My grandson will be the fifth generation,” Mr. Testa noted.

Testa Produce “will be 100 years old next year and not everyone can say they have one of the greenest operations in the country.”

Compared to a conventional warehouse, the initial cost of the 91,000-square-foot building “was more, definitely. But we expect a return on investment over the years. Certainly elements of the green investment will pay back sooner. The more expensive pieces will take seven to nine years to get a return.”

Solar energy panels that are dispersed throughout the Testa Produce parking lot will payback in one to three years.

The Produce News participated in Testa’s May 10 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building.

Testa Produce, which is a large wholesale produce distributor, has the goal of gaining U.S. Green Building Council “Platinum” certification. Key to this is the installation of a 750-kilowatt wind turbine, which stands 238 feet high in front of the building’s entrance.

In mid-May Mr. Testa said that it would take eight to 12 weeks to get final “Platinum” approval. “I’m sure we will get it, but we have to submit all the information,” which goes toward building a point system for the certification.

“We’ve got enough points” for the certification but “someone has got to read our application and agree. I’m not ready to celebrate” until the certification is received at the end of July, he said.

Mr. Testa said another payback of his green building, (which is actually blue on much of the exterior), is that “every one of our customers has some type of sustainability initiative. We are dealing with companies that are green or have green practices.” The degree of customers’ green involvement “varies widely … but a lot of our customers are quite excited by the fact that they are dealing with one of the greenest companies in the United States.”

Customers, or customers’ customers, like supporting a supplier that is committed to reducing the carbon footprint. “That’s a big thing and it should be. It gives my customers a chance to point to me and say: ‘We buy from him. Look what he did!’ “

Mr. Testa went on to say, “We have great relationships with our customers. We are very competitive in the marketplace. We have to be. My customers are very supportive and they are not looking for cheapest deal. They understand that things are not free.

“I am a very fortunate guy. My customers are some of the finest hotels and restaurants in Chicago. We try to service them the best way we possibly can.”

Mr. Testa said his grandfather started selling Chicago’s Drake Hotel produce 68 years ago, and the hotel remains a customer. The company has served Hilton hotels — and other clients — in Chicago for two decades.

“We are really happy to be in the new building. ...Operation-wise it is phenomenal. We can be green and still be in business and do a good job. Our expenses going forward will not go up but will go down. There are not a lot of people can do that. You can do it right way and not have a negative impact on the environment.”

According to a Testa press release, “The wind turbine is just one of many advanced sustainability features, which also include a vegetated roof, solar panels and an extensive rainwater reclamation system.”

The turbine is expected to generate up to one million kilowatt hours of zero-emissions energy per year — enough to supply 35-40 percent of the facility’s energy needs.

A basic, but efficient, feature of the warehouse is that its coolers are racked to be five pallets high.

Despite the pressure of finishing the palatial building and the subsequent open house, which included 200 industry and city guests, Mr. Testa was upbeat, he told The Produce News.

“I am not exhausted yet. I have too many things I get involved in” to tire, he said. Within his produce business “I buy direct from California and run the daily operations and work on the company vision. And I was extremely involved in the design of the building from the ground up, to assure it was done correctly. I am able to juggle a lot of balls. I get four or five hours of sleep a night. I always focus on the job at hand and move on.”

He said that the human energy level in his business is high because “my people are kind of cut from the same cloth as me. We work very, very hard and assure we are successful. This is not just a one-man show here. There are a lot of people involved.”