Rebuilding Green in New Orleans

Rebuilding Green in New Orleans

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since we all sat riveted to our televisions, watching almost unimaginable images of New Orleans residents scrambling to their rooftops to be plucked to safety by hovering helicopters. Last week, I was in the Crescent City for a conference, watching images of profound sadness from Haiti, and recalling my last New Orleans trip.

It was the year after the storm – 2006. We drove through the Lower Ninth Ward, where nearly 4,000 homes were simply washed away. FEMA trailers dotted the landscape. Stores, schools, churches and hospitals stood empty. As I flew over Slidell, there was nothing but blocks and blocks of bare concrete slabs where homes used to stand.

Today, there’s slow progress rebuilding the city. Sure, the French Quarter and the Garden District are in full swing, but the New Orleans Community Data Center reported last year that nearly 66,000 homes still couldn’t be occupied in the city and neighboring parishes. A handful of businesses are re-opening in the most hard-hit areas, and about 20 colorful new homes dot the landscape in the Lower Ninth.

Like Greensburg, Kansas, New Orleans is considered a laboratory for rebuilding green. Those 20 new homes – funded by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation – are all built with certified Cradle-to-Cradle carpet, wood products and fabrics. They’re built with insulated low-E windows, closed cell spray foam insulation, solar panels, ENERGY STAR appliances and metal roofing.

A 2,000 sq.ft. BuildSmart Learning Center helps builders learn the latest green construction techniques and products. City officials approved an energy efficiency program to improve 2,800 properties a year by installing insulation, weather stripping and CFLs. City buses now run on a combination of biodiesel, gasoline and electric power. Urban gardening is once again taking root in the Lower Ninth. Almost $8 billion in grants have been paid out to nearly 125,000 under-insured homeowners and there are more than 8500 applications pending. It’s a start.

What else could be done in New Orleans? What other green building techniques and trends are gaining traction? What are consumers interested in around the country?

Our Green Living Pulse research shows that 47% of respondents are interested in green homes, so there’s definite interest. A whopping 72% of Americans are interested in living in an energy efficient home. We’re also seeing pent up consumer demand for solar panels on their homes – 28% said they were interested in installing PV systems.

And they’re motivated by saving money. Protecting the environment ranks third as a reason to be more energy efficient. But in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Katrina – which some scientists say was made more dangerous by the effects of climate change – that just might be a little different.

According to research from the American Solar Energy Society, by the year 2038, three-quarters of the buildings in this country will be new or renovated. Each year, we renovate about 5 billion sq. ft. of existing buildings.

If we can take some of the energy conservation lessons we’re learning from New Orleans’ rebuilding, and apply them to the next two decades of renovations, we’ll stand a much better chance at reducing the 40% of total emissions that emanate from buildings.

As marketers, we should be watching and learning from the New Orleans experiment. Seeing what consumers embrace. What they reject. And what causes lasting behavior change.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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