Chicago produce distributor goes bananas saving water

By Tina Seaman, photos by Emily Cikanek.

Peter Testa is the president of Testa Produce, Inc.

As Testa Produce, Inc., a family-run, Chicago-based wholesale food distributer, celebrates its centennial, President Peter Testa and company are equally proud of the company’s latest accomplishment: receiving the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification for Testa’s new facility built in 2011. Demonstrating an unprecedented level of energy efficiency and water conservation in any green building of its kind, Testa Produce’s facility has also earned distinction as the nation’s first LEED Platinum Refrigerated Food Distribution Facility.

To build on Testa’s successful, 100-year track record in the produce business, Peter set out to build a state-of-the-art green facility that would sustainably meet the company’s needs well into the future.  The company had outgrown two smaller spaces, so Peter thought big, in more ways than one: The new, 91,300 square foot building will allow Testa to further expand its business operations – receiving and delivering quality food products in the Chicagoland area — while  becoming an industry leader in energy and resource efficiency by employing the most advanced green and blue technologies, including rainwater and wind harvesting, solar generation, and 100 percent LED lighting.

Peter went to great lengths to make Testa’s new space the greenest food distribution facility in the U.S. “On numerous occasions my project advisors told me that it couldn’t be done,” he said. “But I said, ‘We’re doing it.’ And we did.”

Often that meant developing innovative sustainable design solutions. For instance, Peter’s engineering consultant designed a first-of-its-kind barreled green roof that is 45,650 square foot — over one acre– and slopes over the façade of Testa’s building, to maximize the amount of vegetated green space soaking up rainwater. The barreled slope also allows the green roof to be visible from ground, bolstering the facility’s green identity. It was an engineering feat: Because wet soil is three times heavier than dry soil, careful attention was paid to the integrity of the steel-based roof to ensure it can support the weight of the roof when fully saturated.

Peter gave equal attention to the building and the area surrounding it, which has a total footprint of 13 acres. He was concerned about managing Testa’s stormwater runoff to prevent flooding his neighbors in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, located in the Chicago Industrial Stockyards Corridor. Green infrastructure landscape solutions include:

  • a 764,085-gallon water retention pond;
  • a 140,132-gallon bio-swales system bordering the facility;
  • the green roof; and
  • recycled granite permeable pavers.

“Roughly 3.5 million gallons of rainwater falls on the property each year, and the green infrastructure can hold about 85 percent of it on site,” said Peter. This significant amount of captured rainwater prevents flooding and also substantially reduces Testa’s demand on the public sewer system, thereby reducing costs for municipal water treatment.

However, Peter didn’t just want to retain stormwater – he also wanted to put this free resource to good use. After all, rainwater is the only water delivered to our homes and businesses free of charge, and most of the time we simply funnel it away down our sewer pipes. Instead, Peter and his team designed the landscaping so that most rainwater that falls onto the property drains into bioswales, and from there either filters into the ground or channels into the retention pond. The pond, which is connected to the building through a system of pipes, stores the surplus rainwater until it is needed for non-potable uses, such as flushing toilets in the building.

Likewise, rainwater collected by the green roof filters down through pipes into a 5,000-gallon cistern, located inside the facility on the ground-level. Peter recalls that installing the rainwater harvesting system marked another phase in the construction process when he received some push-back. After getting a variance from the Illinois Dept. of Public Health to build the rainwater harvesting system, he had to consult with the City of Chicago’s health department to make sure the system adhered to all required plumbing codes and standards. Although the city has de facto guidelines for rainwater harvesting systems, they are technically outside the purview of Illinois’ Plumbing Code. Despite some unanticipated hassles, Testa was able to install the rainwater harvesting system by engineering a special plumbing schematic.

5,000-gallon cistern that is used to collect rainwater at the facility.

“If I had my way, the cistern would have been at least twice as big so we could use it for other things beside flushing toilets,” said Peter. “That would have allowed us to further reduce the amount of drinking water we have to use for non-drinking uses, like power-hosing our large fleet of delivery trucks.”

In total, Testa’s water efficiency measures reduce the building’s water demand by 40 percent — which also means energy savings and reduced carbon emissions reductions. The connection between water and energy is not obvious to many people, but there is no doubt Peter gets it. A prime example is Testa’s solar hot water tubular system. It heats 100 percent of the building’s water and is the first commercial solar evacuated (referring to its outer glass seal) tube collector system anywhere in the world that uses only water for heating purposes.

Saving all that water and energy is not just a good thing for the environment – it also benefits Testa’s bottom line. Although the facility has been in operation less than one year, Testa is tracking performance measures to illustrate how these investments are saving energy, water and money over the long term. Water savings alone tally nearly $200 per month; but the big story is that by saving water, Testa has reduced its energy consumption by 57 percent (1,925,844 kw/hrs per year) – the equivalent demand of approximately 175 typical U.S. homes – equaling a savings of $173,000 a year.

While Testa’s facility is the first certified LEED Platinum refrigerated food distribution facility in the country, Peter believes other businesses will follow suit.

“Companies like mine will want to upgrade their facilities, if only to keep up with our competitive advantage,” he said. Indeed, Testa’s market share in the Chicago area already has grown thanks to its appealing and unique green (and blue) identity and increased marketability. Even if other companies do not see the value in making water efficiency retrofits now, as water resources become scarcer or more expensive, companies will look to Testa as a model for how they can meet their company’s future needs in the context of new environmental challenges. But, only Testa Produce will remain the true innovator and the  first of its kind.

Conservation tips

  • Learn how to be green.  Visit the Chicago Center for Green Technology and learn many different ways to make your home more “green.” Click here for more information.
  • Harvest your rainwater.  By collecting your rainwater, you not only can lessen the strain on your sewer system, but it’s also free water to use.
  • Harness the power of the sun.  Consider installing a solar water heating system, which can reduce or eliminate the need to use natural gas or electricity to heat water.

The WOWW factor


Testa’s solar hot water tubular system uses the Sun’s rays to heat 100% of the building’s water.


Through green infrastructure that saves water and energy, Testa shaves this much money off its energy bills each year.

5,000 gallons

The size of the cistern Testa uses to collect rainwater, which it reuses to flush toilets in the building.

This entry was posted in Water Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Chicago produce distributor goes bananas saving water

  1. Jay Starter says:

    Waterless urinals would be a nice touch but he is probably scared because of the issues with traditional technologies… Hopefully Mr. Testa reads my post and realizes that there is a great solution for waterless urinals…

    It is called The Green Cartridge made by LiquidBreaker ( and it truley is the savior for the waterless urinal industry, hopefully waterless urinals will still be considered in new projects moving forward now that there is a solution.

    This is an awesome article though. It is great to see people like Mr. Testa taking such ownership in how they can do their part!! #GoGreen!!!

  2. Pingback: Coca-Cola saving water, energy through corporate sustainability strategies |

  3. Pingback: Seizing the Rain in Blue Island |

  4. Pingback: How soon is now? The future of water reuse becomes reality at an Oak Park home |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>