Thinking Sustainably

A Core Value

Creating local, sustainable economies is one of the core values upon which we founded The Urban Conservancy. As New Orleanians struggle to envision our city in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we are convinced that sustainability – environmental and economic – needs to be the organizing principle for our efforts.

Just and Sustainable: A Vision for New Orleans

In 10 years, New Orleans will be a model for a just and sustainable community. This is the vision that The Urban Conservancy has put forward for New Orleans.

The 2006 New Orleans BuildSmart Expo

Saturday, April 22nd & Sunday, April 23rd 10am – 4pm

An Earth Day Event promoting efficient, affordable, and healthy living. Located at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center & Barristers Gallery 1712-1724 Oretha Castle-Haley Boulevard

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, energy efficiency and modern, environmentally-responsible building materials are the key to good home investment and the answer to rebuilding New Orleans better than before. This Event is Free and Open to the Public Including:

Workshops for Homeowners & Contractors

Demonstrations of Energy Efficient Products

Technical Resources – Q & A

Fun Earth Day Activities for Kids

Email: BuildSmartExpo@all4energy.org or Phone: 504-342-4925

Or Visit: www.all4energy.org/buildsmartexpo.html

What Makes a Healthy Neighborhood?

Planning and creating healthy communities is part of a long-term strategy for sustainability. What makes a neighborhood healthy? The Prevention Research Center at Tulane University created a guide (archived) for understanding what a healthy New Orleans neighborhood might look like.

The Healthy Building Network

The Healthy Building Network (HBN) is a national network of green building professionals, environmental and health activists, socially responsible investment advocates and others who are interested in promoting healthier building materials as a means of improving public health and preserving the global environment.

If you are interested in learning about how to build healthy, sustainable buildings or what you can do to make your home more environmentally friendly, they have lots of great information on their website. While much of the discussion is aimed at professionals in the industry, they can help you understand the pros and cons of various materials and can help you understand which systems claiming to certify green products truly represent progressive standards and which are industry-sponsored green-washing.

Update 2

Jun 2020

To the Urban Conservancy community:

The disproportionate health, housing and economic impact of COVID19 on Black New Orleanians and the heinous murder of George Floyd while in police custody remind us that structural racism is built into our society. It disadvantages people of color before they are even born.

This affects every facet of our lives, in every way. Until Black people feel safe and respected in our community, New Orleans will not move forward. Until Black people are food-, health-, house- and financially secure, we cannot achieve justice or equity and the change we want to see in New Orleans will continue to elude us.

The Urban Conservancy believes that sustainability is about more than “lasting” or “maintaining.” It means “thriving.” That means economic parity and making sure people of every race are able to go about their lives freely and without fear of death or harm.

The Urban Conservancy pledges to continue to work alongside those righting the racial injustices of the past and the present so that New Orleans’ future is safer and healthier for all.  We will continue to strive to build an urban fabric that nurtures and nourishes. We vow to be thoughtful and purposeful in our strategy and actions to ensure justice beyond inclusion.

Update 1

Feb 2020

A growing number of locals are calling for a greener Mardi Gras, but weaning ourselves from cheap plastic won’t be easy.

Nathan Simpson looked at home amid the chaotic swirl of costumed revelers at the recent krewedelusion parade lineup, sporting a blue bodysuit and peering through glowing red lenses at the crowd. Tonight he was Recyclops, and he had a mission: to collect all the aluminum cans and plastic bottles he could get his hands on.

Simpson is one of about 20 members of the Trashformers, Mardi Gras’ first recycling-themed marching krewe. While recycling is the focus, the group, founded in 2019 by local architect Brett Davis, hopes to spark a broader conversation about Mardi Gras waste, including the plastic beads and throws now synonymous with the season.

The interactive recycling Krewe: The Trashformers! Photo by Matthew Hinton

Members dress in eco-pun costumes (Simpson’s Recyclops, inspired by Marvel X-Men superhero Cyclops, was joined by a Pacific Garbage Patch Kid and Oscar the Recycling Grouch), and deploy a fleet of lime-green shopping carts to collect cans and bottles directly from parade-goers.

Simpson, a New Orleans native, said he joined Trashformers to show that we can be responsible without killing the Mardi Gras fun. He grew up going to parades and loves Carnival krewes and balls, but the waste is a problem, he said.

It’s not about changing Mardi Gras, Simpson said, “it’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Simpson isn’t alone. As New Orleans faces a host of ecological threats — climate change, sinking land and flooding to name a few — a growing number of locals are calling for an environmental reboot of the city’s Carnival experience, and a break from the throw-away culture and cheap plastic beads and trinkets ubiquitous at parades.

This year, several large krewes, including Rex and Bacchus, have publicized efforts to cut back on the amount of plastic members throw. Arc of Greater New Orleans, which sorts and re-sells beads, employing adults with disabilities in the process, reports donations more than tripled to 190 tons ahead of Mardi Gras 2020. Even the City Council weighed in, approving a new ordinance that bans riders from throwing the plastic bags that beads are packaged in.

Volunteers collect beads for recycling at ARCGNO as they trail the day parades on Sunday, February 23, 2020. (Photo by Michael DeMocker)

Is a greener, plastic-free Mardi Gras possible? Sustainability advocates are optimistic, though they acknowledge it will require a major cultural shift. The answer is more complicated for krewes and riders.

“It’s about changing the culture of how we experience Mardi Gras.”

Cheap plastic trinkets underpin the economics of the season, allowing krewes to attract riders and generate revenue. Wholesalers make millions of dollars on the roughly 25 million pounds of beads imported from China every year, and parade-goers have come to expect a deluge of loot on the route.

Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are big and bountiful, and that generates a lot of money for the city and local businesses, said Dan Kelly, president of the Krewe of Endymion, whose 3,200 riders each toss 500 pounds of throws on average. Kelly also owns Beads by the Dozen, a wholesaler that imports roughly 5 million pounds of throws each year.

“If you make it too expensive for people to throw these greatest shows on Earth for free, New Orleans is going to dry up,” Kelly said. “It’s not going to be the city that we’re known for.”

At the same time, the cost of cleaning up after parades is rising and taxpayers are footing the bill. The City of New Orleans spent $1.5 million to collect 2.6 million pounds of trash during the two-week height of Mardi Gras season in 2018, according to city records. That was a 60% jump in spending from 2008.

That price doesn’t factor in the toll Chinese-made plastic throws take on our health and infrastructure, said Dana Eness, executive director of The Urban Conservancy. Researchers have found unsafe levels of lead and a range of other toxins in imported beads, which can remain in trees, yards and sewers well after parades. In 2018, city contractors pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from clogged catch basins along the St. Charles Avenue parade route. The headline shocked locals and got national attention.

“The reality is there’s a huge cost that New Orleanians bear, but tourists do not, in terms of wear and tear on the infrastructure, clogged drains, flooding. Things we’re paying for in all sorts of ways,” Eness said. Read the full article here.