Color NOLA green with economic opportunity

Two programs were announced last week that might just get New Orleans smack dab in the middle of the world’s green initiatives. Both plans can have a huge impact on our economic future.

Greater New Orleans Inc., the 10-parish economic development authority responsible for creating jobs and attracting new business to the area, has launched Green N.O. to help facilitate economic growth tied to sustainable business practices in the state.

About the same time, Entergy New Orleans announced plans to install intelligent electricity meters at some of the city’s low-income housing units. While not specifically tied to renewable materials or sustainable construction, the meters allow homes and businesses to monitor their power use. That should lead to perhaps the greenest of green initiatives — less electricity consumption.

Utility companies throughout the nation have announced similar programs, including one I read about in Idaho last week. It seems intelligent utility meters are coming sooner rather than later.

If both or either of these plans work, the New Orleans area can make a name for itself that doesn’t depend on music, food or hotel rooms for success.
“Greater New Orleans has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in green and sustainable industries,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO Inc. “With our specific experience, dynamic topography and global brand, Greater New Orleans is the ideal location for sectors including water management, sustainable building, renewable energy, coastal restoration and disaster management/recovery.”

Armed with a cooperative endeavor with Southeastern Louisiana University and the Northshore Community Foundation to teach sustainability, GNO Inc. sees a brighter future for local businesses that learn how to build and sell products and services that treat the environment more kindly.

While it might be hard to imagine a place such as New Orleans tied to anything but entertainment, energy and transportation, the green movement might be a ticket that’s worth punching.

To make this plan work and to attract appropriate investment capital, the plans to integrate sustainable concepts into construction and manufacturing must be thought-provoking and full of the appropriate science.

Three generations ago, as the world’s economy was emerging from World War II, a similar revolution was taking place with great, young thinkers. It led to the creation of the petrochemical industry that created so much of our current technology and incredible wealth.

As young men and women returned from the war and went back to school and then to work, they put their energy toward the effective transformation of all the chemicals that resulted when oil and natural gas were refined into so much that is used to make our world a better place.

We use plastic to wrap stuff, protect stuff and in place of steel and wood. We use refined oil and natural gas to fuel planes, trains and automobiles.

Oil wells and petrochemical plants quickly became a part of the landscape. All throughout Louisiana, young men and women were making the world a more convenient place to live and work. Petrochemical workers and chemical engineers figured how to extract useful products from compounds that the raw materials spewed forth from the earth.

As hard as it is to imagine the world without plastic containers, gasoline and nylon, we must.

We’ve grown dependent on the lifestyle that refined petroleum has created. Now we must ask the next generation of innovators to replace fossil fuels with naturally grown, eco-friendly, sustainable products that provide the same convenience without pollution and dependence on unfriendly foreign states that hold our very existence in their oil wells and tankers.

It’s no secret the world has changed. No matter how you feel or what you believe about global warming, the overdependence on fossil fuels ultimately will change how we build, clothe and package our lives.

This is an opportunity for the Gulf South to be at the forefront of another energy revolution.

It will be nice to watch the evolution, and these two initiatives might just push us to where we need to be.