Green Light New Orleans began with a revelation: it was after Katrina, and Andreas Hoffmann was returning home after the storm.
“The first thing I did was change my lightbulbs,” he tells Big Easy Magazine.
Hoffmann, who’d come to New Orleans via Switzerland in 1993, decided upon his return that he wanted to be a part of rebuilding the city sustainably. He switched to energy efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs and saw his energy bill shrink dramatically. He realized then that the simple switch to CFL bulbs had far-reaching impacts for his carbon footprint, and began to envision what it might be like if that change was made on a systemic, city-wide level.
At the time, Hoffmann was a touring musician. He decided that he wanted his band to be carbon-neutral—so when he was on tour, he would collect donations to buy CFL bulbs to install in the homes of New Orleanians. Once home, he would attempt to calculate the carbon footprint of the tour, and install enough CFL bulbs to offset those emissions. As time went on, his friends got involved, and his mission attracted volunteers and sponsors. To date, Green Light has installed CFL bulbs in 27,00 homes and has diverted 266 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to their estimates.
Although Green Light still installs CFLs, the organization has taken on several new projects to make New Orleans living more sustainable. In 2012, the organization began installing vegetable gardens in New Orleanians’ homes. This serves many purposes, explains Hoffmann. The gardens can increase food security, and divert storm water, and they also encourage physical activity through their care.
“Even watering your garden with a watering can for ten minutes—that’s ten minutes of activity,” he says.
In 2015, Green Light began installing rain barrels for New Orleans residents, which captures runoff from residents’ roofs. Rather than having to pump the water from the ground, thereby increasing subsidence, the water is stored during storm events and can be used at a later time—to water a homeowner’s garden on a sunny day or to wash their car perhaps.
Why should we discard water just because it is not drinkable when most of humankind uses that water to wash, and for other utilitarian purposes?
The rain barrels that Green Light installs are re-purposed industrial food barrels, those delivered to restaurants containing pickles and olives, among other things. Volunteers clean them and perform minor adjustments before installing them. Not only are the barrels useful for their recipients, but they are also beautiful as well. Local artists paint some for a small stipend, but volunteers paint most.
“Some people say, ‘oh yeah, I can paint a barrel,’ and then they paint something stunning,” says Hoffmann.
“Art is a super important piece of it,” he continues. The ethos of Green Light is that sustainability is not something that you suffer—it’s fun, and it’s beautiful.
Currently, Green Light is also involved in collaboration with SOUL (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) and the Urban Conservancy, working on the part of Central City known as the Hoffman Triangle (no relation). The project, part of the Healthy Block Initiative, which “works with blocks or whole neighborhoods to implement storm water management projects.” SOUL is planting trees there, while the Urban Conservancy is working on de-paving—reducing the impervious surface in the area. Green Light is installing their beautiful rain barrels there.
Green Light has installed 320 rain barrels to date, and have plans to place 400 more this year.
“Flooding and subsidence gets fixed as a collaboration,” says Hoffmann. “It’s all connected to make an impact within the next 10-20 years… the collaboration between all agencies, including the city, is extremely important.”
Those interested in getting rain barrels, CFL bulbs or vegetable beds can apply easily here. (You do not need to own your home to apply).
Those interested in getting involved with volunteering can apply (it’s easy!) here.
Jesse Lu Baum is a queer writer and cartoonist originally from Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Medium.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Mid-City Messenger and Preservation in Print. Aside from writing, she has also worked as a non-profit home repair person, a theater bartender, and a research assistant.