This week I had the pleasure of traveling to New Orleans, the site of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in October. New Orleans is known for its music, cuisine, history, architecture and resilience – but I have to admit, with an economy historically driven heavily by the oil and petrochemicals industry, it is not the first city that comes to mind when I think about sustainability.

However, New Orleans changed my perception while I was there this week, and I can’t wait to go back in October to learn more about how this vibrant city is using sustainability to build community and create prosperity.

Green Rebuilding

Out of the tragic devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 came an opportunity to implement new, sustainable practices as the city began to rebuild just as green building was gaining a foothold across the country.

The Louisiana chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council was formed in 2006 with the goal of accelerating the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies and standards as the region rebuilds, creating healthier places to live, work and learn.

Brad Pitt also made headlines after Katrina with his Make it Right foundation, which was created to help build safe, sustainable affordable housing in the Lower Ninth Ward. To date, it has built over 100 LEED Platinum rated homes.

The Andrew Wilson Elementary School in the Broodmoor neighborhood was one of many school buildings destroyed by flooding. It sat crumbling for months, but a group of community activists waged a fight to convince state and local agencies to invest $30 million into completely renovating the school.

Now, the building is a LEED Gold “dream” facility—a healthy, light-filled, high-tech school that became a model for other schools in the area that followed.

Reuse and Renovation

Preservation of New Orleans’s unique architectural vernacular that gives the city so much character is also an important aspect of renovating and rebuilding. The Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has promoted the preservation and restoration of the city’s historically significant buildings since 1974.

In many cases, preservation and reuse of existing buildings is arguably the most effective form of green building. The PRC also focuses on improving communities, particularly those in low-income, historic New Orleans neighborhoods, by minimizing urban blight, offering home repairs, making historic houses available at affordable prices and even teaching home building and repair craft classes.

Incubating Innovation

The New Orleans BioInnovation Center in the business district is a technology business incubator located in a $48 million LEED Gold facility. The center is part of a statewide commitment to nurturing the biotech industry as an economic opportunity. The world class facilities include lab spaces and offices, and the center offers direct, low or no-cost business assistance, regular educational events, low cost loan programs and a commercialization team that helps entrepreneurs bring new, life-changing ventures to market.

Opportunities for Engagement

I also got the sense that there is work yet to be done. There wasn’t a lot of evidence of recycling infrastructure. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Seattle’s on-street recycling bins and trash compacting waste bins.

As my colleague and I ate lunch in a French Quarter restaurant, we also saw someone pouring bleach and Windex in the storm gutter, which presumably leads to a waterway and the fish that are a vital part of the economy. We had the opportunity to talk to a couple business owners and managers who said that the city still had a ways to go in its efforts to engage its diverse population around sustainable efforts.

A friend remarked that she suspected the rapid pace of building has accelerated the pace of gentrification and displacement of lower-income populations from formerly affordable neighborhoods.

However, I admire how the city seems to be holistically embracing the three triple top line lobes of sustainability – people, planet and prosperity – as it seeks to create a city that is not only better for the environment, but a stronger community economically and a healthier place to live.

Are you attending Greenbuild? What are you most looking forward to about visiting New Orleans? Let us know in the comments!

Green buildings USGBC 2014 Conference and Expo





Maggie Santolla is Director, Marketing & Communications, at Paladino and Company.

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