In Memoriam: Ernie Higgins of ItSaul Natural

January 10, 2013 at 3:34 pm

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Ernie Higgins.  He died quietly at his home in north Georgia with family on December 25, 2012 of a heart attack.

I’ve known Ernie for almost 12 years, introduced by Bobby Saul of Saul Nurseries and Ernie’s co-partner in ItSaul Natural, located in  Dahlonega, GA.

Everyone who knew Ernie liked him!  You just couldn’t help it – he was always smiling, always in a good mood, and always saw the good in others and in the world. After having survived heart surgery several years ago, his zest for life was even more enhanced, if possible.

Ernie was a passionate soul about many issues, in particular creating the highest quality engineered soils – never “dirt” or anything with bio-solids.  ItSaul Natural, LLC is a soil company that came into the Saul business fold in the early 1990s when Bobby and Richard Saul partnered with Ernie Higgins, the original founder of what was then a small hen manure compost company.

The new company was named ItSaul Natural and developed a line of organic soil products under the name ‘Mr. Natural.’  These  engineered soils are available  for greenroofs and greenwalls and other  bio-retention media for LID techniques; structural soils for urban trees, turf and fire lanes; and these landscaping soil mixes:  PermaTill Soil Conditioner, Mr. Natural Complete Landscape Mix (CLM), Mr. Natural Woodland Soil Mix, Mr. Natural Hen Manure Compost, and Mr. Natural Worm Castings.

He was quite the activist, championing many environmental and social causes in the landscape industry and beyond.  He also was happy to share his knowledge with many others along the way.  Here’s he’s giving an intimate lecture to folks at the Habersham Gardens:

He was also extremely proud of many of the projects on which he worked, in particular the Atlanta City Hall Pilot Greenroof  and especially the  William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR.

In 2003  Atlanta’s $60,000 greenroof project was sponsored by the city’s Department of Watershed Management as a tool for improving air quality and for reducing stormwater runoff.  When it opened in 2004, the $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Library complex earned a Silver LEED rating – the first presidential library to do so, and in early November, 2007, it received Platinum certification for existing buildings (LEED-EB) from the USGBC.  Saul Nursery and ItSaul Natural provided plants and engineered soil for both vegetated roofs.

Ernie also loved nature and parties with music with his friends at his farm!  I’m sorry to say we were never able to make it up there to share in the festivities:

Aramis and I spent lots of fun times with Ernie  at various happenings here in Atlanta and at  CitiesAlive Conference events in Atlanta, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, and  most recently Chicago.  Here he is with Aramis and Janet Faust of JDR Enterprises in Philly in 2011:

Ernie will be sorely missed by so many people and we send our heartfelt  condolences to his  wife of 18 years, Chris Pepper, and all of  his family.  Here are Chris and Ernie at pal Bill Brigham and Beate Allio’s Greenroof Wedding in May, 2010:

Here are what some of his friends have to say about the wonderful Ernie Higgins:

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time.  For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance.  Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.” ~ Business Partner Bobby Saul of ItSaul Natural

“Where do I begin? I still remember when and where Ernie first called me on the phone eighteen years ago. Like Ernie, I have many friends, however only a handful can I really call true best friends and Ernie is and always will be one of them. It got to the point where we were like two teenage girls having to speak to each other on the phone at least once a day. The value of those “end of day phone calls” was not the business we had to conduct but how the calls would transform. No matter how stressed we were that day or what had gone wrong at work the calls ended up having both of us laughing uncontrollably into the phone, time would get away from us and we would end up being late for dinner. Not a bad way to end the work day. I’m glad we didn’t get into texting; LOL just doesn’t have the same effect as the real thing. I’m grateful I made that last call before I left the country for my Christmas vacation.

I can say that all the times Ernie and I have spent together were very special to me and I feel that knowing him has enhanced my life greatly. I will miss him terribly and mostly around quitting time when I will feel the need to pick up the phone for a few laughs at the end of the day.” ~ Chuck Friedrich, RLA, GRP, Carolina Stalite Company

“Ernie Higgins was a man of wonderful contradictions.  Homespun but intellectual; soft spoken but intense; relaxed but hard working which shows how he found a balance in life and work that few find.  His spirit will be missed around the green roof circles and all his other social circles as well.” ~ Ed Snodgrass, Emory Knoll Farms/Green Roof Plants

“I first met Ernie while working on the ATL City Hall greenroof, from day one he was my new best friend.  He treated everyone kindly, with respect but with just a little ribbing humor.  A southern gentleman who always greeted you with a big grin and warm hug.  Wow, what a void he’s going to leave in the industry.

He and I were on the same flight coming home from Chicago (last October after CitiesAlive).  We sat and chatted the whole way home and continued on MARTA to our designated stops.  He never lacked in conversation and was always engaged to know you better.  He had my back so many times I can’t even count.  I regularly got random phone calls from people who would start the conversation “˜I was just talking with Ernie, and he says I should call you”¦’; a great team player.  I always wondered how he was privy to so many projects; I think because he knew everyone and everyone knew him and everyone liked and trusted him.  A very loyal person to call friend; a real diamond in the rough.” ~ Janet Faust, JDR Enterprises

Here’s Ernie, pre-ponytail, in green at the  Atlanta City Hall Greenroof Dedication in April, 2004.  Note his colleagues to his left: Bill  Brigham, City of Atlanta  Landscape  Architect in dark blue plaid, and ItSaul Natural partner Bobby Saul in white plaid.

“Ernie was a true Champion in the Green industry and without his knowledge, expertise and professional guidance, the Atlanta City Hall Greenroof would not be the success that it is day.  Ernie touched so many lives in the industry and will be deeply missed.  We now have a void both in our hearts and in our profession that will take a long time (if ever) to fill…” ~ Bill Brigham,  Principal Landscape Architect/Proj. Manager, Bureau of Watershed Protection,  Dept. of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta

“Ernie was always the brightest smile in any room he was in. He was a major influence on me and my decision to enter into the world of Green Roofing. And with that, he shared his bliss and made it mine, too. “  ~ Mary Ann Uhlmann, Tremco

Close friend Chuck Friedrich has shared the following with us:

Earnest “Ernie” Whatley Higgins of Gainesville, Georgia, died quickly of a heart attack at home the evening of Tuesday, December 25, 2012.  Ernie is survived by his wife, Chris Pepper; his mother, Jane Betts Higgins; his sister Betty Daniel; his brother Carl Higgins; stepdaughters Julie Sevadjian and Sara Tacket; nieces, nephews, in-laws, and a multitude of friends and close acquaintances.

Ernie was born in Rome, Georgia, March 26, 1943.  Ernie attended Darlington Academy in Rome, Georgia followed by a period at Auburn University.  After returning to Georgia from Dallas in 1988, Ernie conceived and created what would become Mr. Natural organic compost and potting soil utilizing the tons of hen manure generated in the broiler houses at the chicken farm.  Ernie leased land near Dawsonville, GA, and created a manufacturing and bagging facility he affectionately knick-named “Dookie Hill.”  In the early 1990’s Ernie partnered with Bobby and Richard Saul of Saul Nurseries to create a new company named ItSaul Natural, LLC.  ItSaul Natural, LLC, has become a leader in organic soil, engineered soil, and green roof growing media technology.  Some of their green roof projects include: Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, AR; Bridge Street Parking Decks, Huntsville, AL; Renaissance Park Pavilion, Chattanooga, TN; High Museum at Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, GA; and Atlanta City Hall, Atlanta, GA, and many more.  Ernie was a member of the Southern Nursery Association, Urban Ag Council, GGIA- Georgia Green Industry Association, and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

In 1994 he married Chris Pepper on 70 acres tucked into a bend of the West Fork of the Little River at the end of Butler Road- just South of Quillian’s Corners and Clermont, GA.  Ernie and Chris later purchased that land and have generously shared their property with friends and family on a regular basis.  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger and perhaps his greatest delight in the world was bringing his friends and family together for a good time.  He enjoyed making connections with people and seeing people connect.  He loved to learn, to hear stories, to tell stories, to listen to good music, and to help anything grow.  At just shy of 70 years old Ernie had more kid-like zest for life than many of us have ever known.  As Angus says, Ernie was a “special, unique, crazy and wonderful hippy.”  Ernie will live on in the hearts and minds of his family and friends.

“Ernie got an early start in the organic movement and was way ahead of his time,” said one of  his partners, Bobby Saul of Atlanta.  “For 26 years Ernie stayed with the business he loved, composting and blending organic planting soils when few recognized their importance,” Saul said.  “Those who knew the man saw an endless determination to succeed, a master blender, a logistics genius and a salesman  extraordinaire.”

A memorial will be held in the Ed Cabell Theatre at the University of North Georgia (Gainesville State College), in Gainesville, Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Smithgall Woodland Botanical Garden- contact Rebekka Kuntschik- rkuntschik@atlantabotanicalgarden.org. and/or the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, 845 West Ridge Road, Gainesville, GA 30501.  Cards and correspondence may be sent to P.O. Box 434 Murrayville, GA 30564.”

Aslo read the “Ernie Higgins, 69: Made organic soils, wonderful wines”  obituary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by  J.E. Geshwiler.

Remember the part of how  Ernie Higgins never met a stranger?  Here’s proof – the photo below shows him at a CitiesAlive after-party in Philadelphia 2011 with Chilean Ignacio Espoz of Latin Green who had just met Ernie about 10 minutes prior, introduced by me:

If you’d like to share your thoughts and memories, please respond to my post or send me any quotes (and/or photos) at linda@greenroofs.com.

We’ll miss your ponytail,  kind smile, and hearty laugh, Ernie!  You will certainly never be forgotten, always remembered as the happy person and gentle soul that you are.

~ Linda V.

GPW: Southface Eco Office

June 2, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Greenroofs.com Project of the Week: 5/31/11
Southface Eco Office
Atlanta, GA, USA
2,000 sf. Greenroof

Year: 2008
Owner: Southface Energy Institute
Location: Atlanta, GA, USA
Building Type: Commercial
Type: Extensive
System: Custom
Size: 2,000 sq.ft.
Slope: 4%
Access: Accessible, By Appointment

Google Map: http://goo.gl/maps/1IDf

Project Description & Details

Southface is the U.S. Southeast’s non-profit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities. Built by a consortium of construction firms using widely available, off-the-shelf products, materials and technologies, the Platinum LEED Southface Eco Office is a three-story structure with a rooftop green roof open to the public for educational tours. Also holding an ENERGY STAR label and EarthCraft Light Commercial certification, as well as meeting The 2030 Challenge, the Eco Office is noted for its average energy cost of less than $25 per day.

The Turner Foundation Green Roof on top of the third floor expands the office space into a rooftop patio with a spectacular view of downtown Atlanta. The growing media is about 4″ deep, and was planted by staff and volunteers with a variety of Sedums, Delospermas, Talinums, and Hens and Chicks. It’s also home to a 6.4 kW photovoltaic array and a 1,750-gallon rainwater collection cistern. Waterproofing was supplied by American Hydrotech, J-DRain by JDR Enterprises, Mr. Natural growing media by ItSaul Natural, and plants by Saul Nurseries.

Designers/Manufacturers of Record

Architect: Lord, Aeck & Sargent
Landscape Architect: ECOS
Plant Supplier: Saul Nurseries
Growing Media: Mr. Natural, ItSaul Natural
Waterproofing & Green Roof System: American Hydrotech
Drainage: J-DRain by JDR Enterprises

Additional Info

For over 30 years, Southface Energy Institute has promoted sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance.  Driven by the Atlanta area’s growing need to save energy and water, and to preserve our natural resources, Southface proactively encourages responsible solutions for environmental living.  For example, all paved surfaces on the site are constructed of porous concrete to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff, and the rooftop cistern below, collects rainwater from the building’s solar photovoltaic array.

I first visited Southface in the early ’00’s, when I was initially involved with the Atlanta City Hall Pilot Greenroof, and it was very green then.  They used to host the monthly Cool Communities meetings there with government, industry, academic and other non-profit stakeholders.  Then I became involved a bit with the volunteers who designed and provided materials and services for the new Eco Office.  It has always been an enlightening and rewarding place – they do great work!  Once the Eco Office was finished in 2008, it was over-the-top green!

Speaking of great work, for over 10 years now Southface has been involved with the Greenprints Conference and Trade Show.  Co-hosted by Southface and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), Greenprints is a two-day, high-impact educational event that addresses forward-thinking strategies for sustainable planning, policy, design and construction.  Living here in the Atlanta area, I’ve been several years, and spoke there in 2009 – it’s extremely informative and interactive.

Below is a view of the Southface Energy Office seen from the south at dusk, 2009:

“The Eco Office presents a striking profile against the evening sky and provides an appealing location for an evening soiree. Greenroof on right, and adjacent is the Southface Resource Center which was completed in 1996 to show off the best of residential green building design,” ~ Photo Courtesy Southface, Photo By and Copyright Jonathan Hillyer Photography

At 10,100 sf, the Southface Eco Office is the same size as about 74% of all commercial buildings in the U.S., but it uses 84 percent less potable water, primarily by using captured rainwater for all sewage conveyance and irrigation therefore significantly reducing its need for municipally provided potable water.  It also uses 53 percent less energy than a comparable building!

Fully instrumented to measure its resources on a 24/7 basis, you can check out performance results in real time daily, while it stores historic data for later analysis.  You can do this online via Lucid Design Group’s Building Dashboard, screens above and below, or at the touch screen located at their office.

Some other cool features you can learn about online are the tubular skylights on the Eco Office’s greenroof that provide natural daylighting with minimal solar heat gain eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day:

Southface has a redesigned website that’s pretty awesome, and have an amazing virtual tour showing features of the exterior, interior, and systems.  Make sure you visit it to learn more.  But if you’re in the area on Wednesdays, read here for real tours.

“The Eco Office proves that effective green building by firms like Lord, Aeck & Sargent can result in designing and constructing buildings that live up to energy efficiency expectations. The firm’s Director of Sustainability, Jim Nicolow, states “The green building movement needs to move beyond intuition to validation. A necessity of high-performance design is the use of quantitative analysis to inform design decisions.” ~ as seen in TriplePundit

In 2009, Southface received the Conserve Georgia Natural Leaders Award for Water Conservation for its LEED Platinum-certified Eco Office.  By the way, if you’re in the market, you can rent The Turner Foundation Green Roof, with its spectacular, panoramic city views and capacity for up to 50 people!

It’s a model of sustainability, new technologies, educational resources, and aesthetically striking – what more could you ask for from an eco-office?

Did we miss something?  We’d love to hear from you!  Click here to see more information about this project in The International Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database.  See how you can submit yours here.

Love the Earth, Plant a Roof!

~ Linda V.

 
 

A Historic Day in Atlanta: the First Greenroof Wedding!

May 31, 2010 at 9:46 am

On Saturday, May 22, 2010 we believe history was made in downtown ATL when Bill Brigham and Beate Allio took their wedding vows.   A traditional affair  with silk and lace, ribbons, flowers, and lovely music, this was still no ordinary wedding ceremony ~ we’ve all heard about going down to City Hall to get hitched, but our bride and groom were married in front of about 50 family and friends high above the city street on the Atlanta City Hall Pilot Greenroof!

We’re sure it was the first wedding on the Atlanta City Hall Greenroof, and believe it was the first on an ATL  living roof, maybe the southeast or even the   U.S. – if you know better, please let us know and we’ll blog about it, too.   But until then, Bill and Beate will claim the title.

I’ve known Bill Brigham, ASLA, Principal Landscape Architect/Project Manager, Bureau of Watershed Protection, Department of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta since 2001 when I was involved in the initial planning sessions for the greenroof on the Atlanta City Hall, back when then Environmental Manager Ben Taube and team were considering the old Atlanta City Hall East…   Bill eventually designed the greenroof on the new City Hall at 55 Trinity Avenue, and we’ve attended many meetings and conferences together, were on the Atlanta Local Host Committee for last year’s Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, plus we filmed him here last October (see Rooftop Hopping in Metro Atlanta, photo below), and anyone who knows Bill is immediately impressed by his extreme good nature and sense of humor (landscape architecture skills not withstanding!).Bill getting ready for his interview with Landon!Due to weight and space limitations, the guest list was very selective, so  Aramis and I  felt honored to have been included in the couple’s special day.   A second marriage for both, it was very touching to see the blended family together.   Bill’s son, Roland, was the Best Man, and Beate’s daughter, Nicole, was the Maid of Honor.   The bride’s two sons, Chris and Devon, were Groomsmen and both the Mother of the Bride, Mrs. Renate Freter, and the Mother of the Groom, Mrs. Charlotte Larsen, were part of the wedding party.

Scott Lubar was the Officiant uniting the couple, and we all enjoyed Bill Grabbe, the pianist, and Carol Smart, the soloist with their  delightful music and voice.

The colorful,  intimate setting was perfect for a man so instrumental in the design, ongoing research and maintenance of the greenroof, and fitting for a woman who was introduced to the future groom  by Lucy Smethurst, a conservationist, plantswoman, artist,  and neighbor of Saul Nurseries‘ “Swamp” location.   Bobby Saul donated all the plants for the project in 2001 along with the greenroof growing media from Ernie Higgins of ItSaul Natural – Mr. Natural  (both in attendance),  and Bobby had afterwards  introduced Bill to  Lucy, and then Lucy introduced the bride and groom!   So you could say  greenroofs and kismet played a part in the couple’s future.

“Plant love.   Leave no waste.”

That could have been the motto of the wedding.   The invitation was printed on 100% post consumer waste, on seeded, plantable paper – all we have to do now is plant the invitation in a sunny corner and  keep it moist, and we’ll have a mini wildflower field to remind us of the balmy late spring day.

And wait, it gets better!   Instead of throwing rice or bird seed during the recessional  -Bill  had said, “Heaven forbid!”   The couple opted for a safer alternative, both  environmentally conscious  and beneficial:

“We  will be using the green rice look-a-like”¦ sedum leaflets  stripped from the sedum species  already being used up on the existing roof.   (Another one of my crazy ideas.)   This way it keeps any “invasive” plant species from destroying the roof and will instead act as a “re-seed” to the existing roof’s sedums.” ~ Bill Brigham  

Regeneration at its best with pretty sedum packets  after the expression of vows, exchange of rings and announcement of marriage!   The reception followed at Lucy Smethurst’s estate, which is  nestled in a beautiful natural wooded area with  naturalistic plantings, trails and artist gallery.

Thanks to Bruce Morton of Exposure Media Photo  for sharing his photos with Greenroofs.com (which are available for purchase).  

Congratulations to  Bill and Beate and the new Brigham-Allio  family!   Perhaps  this will be just  the first of many more greenroof weddings to come  at Atlanta City Hall.

~ Linda V.

 

GPW: Westview Condos

April 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Where can you find urban rooftop sophistication that meets a native Tennessee landscape on a rehabilitated condo building?   Greenroofs.com’s Greenroof Project of the Week is the Westview Condos in Nashville, Tennessee –  a wonderful example of urban renewal by incorporating  beautiful and  much needed nature on an exclusive,  10-unit residential  building  in the heart of a bustling city.   Originally a corporate office building, the renovated property was converted to high-end, mid-rise condos in 2005.

 

The first residential greenroof in Nashville,  the 8-story  structure was redeveloped to provide exclusive and luxurious loft condominiums with spectacular views of downtown.    A lobby and commercial space occupy the first floor with indoor parking on the second level, leaving six floors for residences, topped off with a lush vegetated roof used by residents as recreational space.

The eco-friendly project won the 2006 residential award for greenroof design from the  USGBC Tennessee chapter.

Developer Ron McClaron of McClaron and Associates chose to replace the  previous roof with a greenroof because he considered the Westview a prime location for launching an environmental demonstration project.   I met Ron in August, 2003 when he came to visit my first built greenroof project in downtown Atlanta, the 3TEN HauStudio.   He was starting research into the possibility of renovating  this former Southern Bell building into condos and wanted to pick my brain about costs, plants, etc.

The Nashville roof was in poor condition and as he looked at options, he desired considering greening the roof to take advantage of the environmental advantages and as a means of possibly enhancing the building’s value and marketability.   He knew that weight wasn’t a particular consideration in this application since the basic structural support was pre-stressed concrete –  the building was designed with the idea that Southern Bell might have desired to add additional floors at some point.

Yet, the process wasn’t as easy as might have been expected, given all the environmental and economic benefits of living roofs:

“…city officials had to be convinced this project’s benefits would outweigh difficult logistics associated with downtown construction and transportation of greenroof building material, and potential fire safety hazards.” ~ Southeast Watershed Forum Case Study

The Tennessee Valley Authority  (TVA) contributed funds in the form of grants in order to use this as a demonstration project of their commitment to sustainability.   You must agree that Ron’s original vision for a more sustainable redevelopment was successful – the condos range from 2,300 to 5,00 sf and all ten units were sold quickly.    In fact, many homeowners had identified the greenroof as their top reason for buying in The Westview.

The private roof top garden provides a 360 degree vista of Nashville including the State Capitol,  and homeowners entertain their guests in four separate sitting areas, including  a gazebo, while watching butterflies and listening to birds.   They even have a gas grill and wine chiller for comfortable dining al fresco, surrounded by trees, shrubs, grasses, and blooming perennials!

As you may know, Ralph Velasquez is our Sustainable Roofing Editor, but in 2005 he was the Greenroof Consultant for the Westview Condos project as president of  his previous company, Integrated Building Technologies (currently he is now Director, Sustainable Technologies  Group with Tremco Inc.).   FAMOS GmbH  greenroofing membranes and two-ply modified bitumen built up system were used, supplied  through Building Logics  (see more details in the project profile).
 

The RD Herbert Roofing Company installed the roof system and provided metal edgings and other custom metal products.   And the case study  on their website adds that “wall flashings were covered with a soy-based reflective coating for aesthetic and environmental reasons.”   Another ecological feature is the pavers, which are made of recycled tires.   Landscape architectural services were provided by Lose & Associates.
 

Landscaped with all native southeastern U.S. plants from GroWild, the  peaceful retreat  includes American Smoketree, Serviceberry, Blueberry, Prairie Dropseed, Little Bluestem and the federally endangered Tennessee Coneflower.   Owned by the husband and wife team of Mike Berkley and Terri Barnes, GroWild  is a Tennessee plant nursery specializing in native North American plants.   GroWild has over 850 species and cultivars of native perennials, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses.

The growing media from Mr. Natural contains Permatill, an expanded slate,  and  other rooftop mixtures, provided by Ernie Higgins of  ItSaul Natural, with a depth that  ranges from 6″ to 30″ .     The lightweight “Roof Planting Soil” for intensive greenroofs provides the native plantings all they need for sustained health and growth.

Metro Nashville now has many greenroofs in place, with more planned or on the boards.   I haven’t been to Nashville in many years, and would love to see this gorgeous vegetated roof, along with several others here, the next time I’m in the area.   You’ll be happy to know that this roof is available for occasional viewing, by appointment only.   To schedule a tour of the  Westview Condos greenroof, please contact Mike Berkley at GroWild, Inc. at: 615.799.1910 or growildtb@aol.com.

 ~ Linda V.