Last month I attended a speech by an inspirational scientist who’s dedicated to exploring, explaining and sustaining life on Earth through solving global environmental problems, such as changes in ecosystems, land use, climate, food security and resource sustainability.

Understandably his talk highlighted the doom and gloom of damage humans have made to our planet, but he also provided tremendous hope based on research that we can make positive environmental change through education, individual accountability and action. The lecture made me wonder: Can New Orleanians participate individually and collectively in this effort, and who can be the catalyst to encourage this? I was pleasantly surprised after some time on Google to discover many local organizations with these goals but there was one group that really caught my attention: Green Light New Orleans.

It is a fairly simple yet highly impactful model Founder Andreas Hoffmann developed as his environmental contribution to 2006 post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding. Green Light’s mission recognizes three major environmental issues – energy, food and water – and in response offers three solutions they strive to make accessible to all: CFL’s (compact florescent light bulbs), rain barrels and backyard gardens. Fortunately, New Orleanians are enthusiastically participating in all three facets and volunteers are plentiful. However, the free programs are in high demand, making funding a constant challenge.

In the early stages, Green Light focused heavily on the CFL program, and to date has installed free light bulbs in over 27,000 households as well as provided education on the energy saving benefits of CFL’s (they use about 75 percent less energy than an incandescent light bulb and last about 10 times longer). But as Andreas ultimately recognized, their work was more complex,

“Changing light bulbs gave a glimpse into the many different cultures of our city and opened my eyes to the power of volunteering in building community.”

Green Light embarked on program expansion and has discovered the rain barrel and backyard garden initiatives equally powerful educational and environmental tools. Conserving water for gardening and managing storm water through rain barrel usage, participating homeowners are saving money, helping with stormwater management and also reducing New Orleans’ carbon footprint. But Green Light’s rain barrels aren’t just the run of the mill barrels. Each one is a unique, hand-painted work of art created by local volunteers and artists. At an installation I observed in the Broadmoor neighborhood, the couple said deciding to participate in Green Light’s rain barrel program was easy, but agreeing on which barrel was a huge challenge! Green Light’s goal for our city’s Tricentennial year is to install 300 barrels and they’re making progress, boasting 127 installations through May.

With a 10-year goal to establish 10,000 backyard gardens and 550 built by Green Light over the last few years, New Orleans is becoming a healthier, more sustainable city. “I am excited about my own garden and very grateful” says Ella Monroe. “In hard times it always helps to get a little extra help to put good food on my plate.” Individuals receive the benefit of access to fresh food but everyone receives the benefit of reduced carbon emissions associated with transportation of fruits and vegetables from long distances to local grocery stores.

What started as a purely environmental cause by one individual, Green Light has blossomed into a community building effort of many inspiring New Orleanians to take individual action so that together we can be better stewards of our Earth.

A little more …

Support Green Light New Orleans’ mission and projects by donating online: