Article from Natural Awakening Magazine January 2013 Issue
By Colleen Morgan
The Second Gumbo Green Games is a sustainable business competition, presented by Natural Awakenings Magazine – Southeast Louisiana and Life City LLC. For profit and nonprofit organizations compete within their own sectors to reduce their environmental impact.
Last year’s contestants reported that there were two areas in which they could make the most impact: energy and recycling. It turns out those industries are well represented among the participants.
Empowered to be energy efficient
Three Green Games contestants make their mark in the energy sector. The nonprofit Green Light New Orleans, a veteran of the Games, leads volunteers in changing out light bulbs in residential homes to more efficient bulbs. Started in 2007 by Austrian-born musician Andreas Hoffman, the organization has since worked with almost 17,000 volunteers, who have switched out approximately 400,000 bulbs, saving an estimated 152 million Kilowatts of energy over the lifetime of the bulbs and more than $17 million on utility bills. This equates to a carbon dioxide reduction of about 173 million pounds. Green Light now has 90,000 bulbs a year to use, thanks to Energy Smart, CITGO, Entergy and many other donors. Green Light also has spearheaded Tip the Block, a program that installs free backyard vegetable gardens for residents who have received energy efficient light bulbs through the organization. The program is starting to build rain barrels with volunteers, which helps divert water from the pumping system – a high energy user for the City of New Orleans.
Solar power has become very popular, especially now that the state and federal tax credits have combined with financing options to make solar panels affordable. Joule Energy, another second-year contestant, came on the scene when a group of entrepreneurs saw that available tax incentives could help them do something good for the environment, according to Marketing Manager Stephen Hawkins. As people become more accepting of solar and learn how they reduce fossil fuel use and their utility bill, the price comes down and financing gets easier. “It’s hard not to like,” Hawkins said.
The 30 percent tax credit can be rolled over to the following year if the homeowner does not have enough liability to cover it, but the state’s 50 percent tax credit results in a check to the homeowner if the liability is more than the amount of the credit. The remaining balance, which is usually between $6,000 and $8,000, can be financed, Hawkins said, and since Joule does not require a down payment and the finance companies defer payments for up to 18 months, the homeowners can use their state credit to pay down the balance.
Green Grants, a newcomer to the Games, is offering leases of solar systems to residents for $45 a month for 10 years, which allows low income residents to make the switch, said principal Aaron Dirks. Funded by U.S. Banks, one of the largest financial institutions in the state with the most investment in renewable energy projects, the company is rapidly growing and has recently hired Beth Galante, former Director of Global Green, to oversee the energy efficiency arm.
The company has a guarantee that the annual energy cost to the homeowner will not increase – that customer will have no negative cash flow on an annual basis. This is possible, Galante said, because the company does an energy audit for each homeowner and addresses basic energy efficiency issues for $10 a month and more expensive, long term solutions for a higher monthly rate. Homeowner education also helps people make smarter choices about their energy use.
“Solar panels do not improve the health of the house,” she said.
Reducing and Reusing
Several contestants from last year are continuing their march to ultimate sustainability through recycling. Strike It Green is an operation headed by Lonnie Schaffer and fueled by the burgeoning movie industry in the region. Schaffer takes props from movie sets and has filled a 15,000 sq. ft. warehouse with a variety of items that she rents out to future films. These items are usually donated, as they were previously sent to the landfill. Strike It Green now offers rental of repurposed items for private events as well as movies.
The Arc of Greater New Orleans is expanding its Mardi Gras bead recycling program. According to Vance Levesque of The Arc, the nonprofit has bins out at Rouses Supermarkets for residents to bring their beads all year long, instead of just right after Carnival, and will be pulling trailers behind at least six parades into which parade goers can “throw back” their unwanted plastic beadware. Last year The Arc recycled 100,000 beads and is on track to recycle about 120,000 this year. Margie Perez, the project’s coordinator, reports an uptick in repeat customers from krewes, even some putting in orders for entire floats. This program creates jobs for residents with intellectual disabilities, the primary mission of the organization.
Colleen Morgan, a NA Environmental Editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org