Houweling Nurseries, Delta, British Columbia, recently won an Energy Efficiency Excellence Award from the Southern California Gas Co. for the greenhouse grower’s efforts to reduce natural gas use at its Camarillo, Calif., location.

President and chief executive officer Casey Houweling is glad people are taking notice of the facility’s futuristic expansion, which cost more than $50 million to complete.

Houweling’s high-tech greenhouse wins green award

Courtesy Houweling Nurseries

Solar panels at Houweling Nurseries location in Camarillo, Calif., are part of the company’s efforts to be more energy efficient. The Delta, British Columbia-based company recently won an Energy Efficiency Excellence Award from the Southern California Gas Co.

“It’s great to get some recognition,” he said. “When you spend the time and make the effort, it’s important that the public knows what you’re doing to reduce your environmental footprint. It gives them a reason to support you. This stuff isn’t cheap, so any advantage you can find — whether it’s marketing or reducing costs — you do it.”

The expensive “stuff” includes thermal and photovoltaic solar systems that make the 4-acre expansion energy neutral.

A water collection and filtration system that cost nearly $3 million collects rain water from the roof, condensation from inside the glass greenhouse and excess water from the facility’s drip-irrigated tomatoes and cucumbers. It then filters and recirculates the water.

The system was expected to reduce water use 66 percent when the expansion opened in May 2009, but Houweling said June 16 that the company just now is closing in on that goal.

“It took some time to get to that 66 percent,” he said. “The water treatment and recycling is the most challenging of all the things we’ve done.”

But Houweling said such measures likely will be necessary in the future because of the drought California endured the past four years.

“Water consumption is a big deal here in California,” he said. “In 10 years, we wouldn’t be able to build something like this without the water system. Water availability is going to be a big issue in some areas.”

Energy costs also were a driving force in Houweling’s decision to do something different.

Other greenhouse growers have taken note — and tours. Houweling said visitors from Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico have visited the facility, and one Mexican grower has built a similar structure.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more of it,” he said. “This is the direction we’re going to have to go because of the volatility in the energy markets.”

The question remains whether buyers will be enthusiastic about partnering with growers who go to such lengths to adopt a sustainable model.

“There’s a lot of talk about that,” Houweling said, “but I don’t think it’s gone beyond talk with 90 percent of retailers. There are some that are starting to take sustainability seriously, but we have a long way to go.”

Houweling, whose product is marketed by the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group, said his company has not yet decided how to take its eco-friendly message to consumers.

“There’s more we should be doing,” he said. “We haven’t done much PR work. We’re going to try to promote it a lot more, especially here in Southern California.”