Located alongside the train tracks at the intersection of Marais and Press streets, The Green Project looks like a cross between a reclaimed warehouse and a garbage dump. It's a little of both, with a row of empty bathtubs packed with wood chips lined up next to a chain-link fence, and paint-peeled wooden window casements leaning helter-skelter along its main entrance. But then the piped-in sounds of a WWOZ jazz show become audible, and a smiling worker asks if you need any help. This is definitely not Home Depot, but as Angie Green, the Green Project's executive director, tells me, that's not really the point.
"There are two ways of looking at environmentalism," Green explains. "You can reduce energy or you can reduce waste. Not only are people not throwing things onto a landfill when they donate to a place like The Green Project, but the people who are rebuilding are buying products that are used, so they're not putting out the energy costs of buying something new."
The majority of visitors to The Green Project's warehouse and lumberyard are in search of materials ranging from furniture to raw stock wood, light fixtures, doors that have been donated in increasing abundance since Hurricane Katrina. "Our sales have been through the roof compared to where they were before the storm," says Green.
On track with local demand, the warehouse is filled with materials taken from houses through deconstruction, an alternative to demolition in which trained workers remove any reusable or recyclable parts from a house, piece by piece. This process is more expensive and time-consuming than demolition, but permits salvageable materials to be reused in different settings. The Green Project no longer participates in deconstruction, but will coordinate "skimming," a pre-demolition process where reusable windows and other nonstructural elements are removed from a house.
The Green Project's clientele ranges from homeowners undertaking rebuilding efforts to building contractors acting either on personal conviction or their clients' desire to include used materials in (re)construction projects. James Jacobs, a self-employed maintenance mechanic, who was shopping for window brackets and doors, said that it is The Green Project's "quantity and quality" that have made him a repeat shopper for the past four years.
'Look at these saw blades I just got," Jacobs says. "These would cost $12 to $15 apiece at Home Depot, but I just paid $2.50 here." Like many repeat customers who work on multiple properties, Jacobs donates almost as much material as he purchases. "I feel good about contributing to this kind of organization," he adds.
Jacobs also remarked on the salvaged units from deconstructed houses that have historic as well as aesthetic value to those who include them in their rebuilt homes. "This is the only place where you can get these old cypress window casements," he says. The peeling paint on the ornate block of wood he describes does have an artisanal feel. It's also very reasonably priced.
'We're the place that sells unique historic products," Green says. "You're not going to find anything like what you find here at Home Depot. If you want a piece of New Orleans, you come to The Green Project." But there is a caveat: "You're not going to find everything you need by shopping here one day," Green warns. "Over the course of three months or six months you will get everything you need at an incredibly reduced price but you need to be patient."
Calandthia Randall, a resident of the Seventh Ward, is a frequent shopper at The Green Project, motivated by its proximity to her home and bargain-basement prices. Randall is in the market for paint and cleaning supplies for her rebuilt home, but, she says, "You never know what you're going to find when you come here, so you always got to come."
As Green notes, "The Green Project is about small actions, small steps that can cumulatively add up to something bigger." That something bigger is the other side of what she refers to as the "green coin" reducing energy. Whatever The Green Project cannot provide in this sense is available locally in the form of instruction, public advocacy and community support by the Alliance for Affordable Energy on Broad Street.
According to Alliance founder Karen Wimpelberg, "Energy efficiency is the cheapest, quickest way to reduce utility bills" and can involve a relatively minor investment on the part of a homeowner or builder to achieve noticeable results.
Downloadable "Rebuilding Fact Sheets" on the Alliance for Affordable Energy's Web site explain how residents can caulk and weather-strip their home to reduce the loss of expensive heat and A/C power, reduce energy output by using compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and receive tax credits that are offered to people who invest in alternative energy supplies, including solar panels.
The Alliance's new BuildSmart Resource Center, run by coordinator Forest Bradley-Wright, features the same "green-design" full-size shotgun dwelling the organization originally constructed for the New Orleans Home and Garden Expo. The walk-through model is designed in a cut-away format so visitors can see the environmentally friendly materials used in its construction. The BuildSmart Center is only one of the Alliance's platforms. It also devotes a significant amount of time to regulatory efforts and activism. Like The Green Project, the Alliance for Affordable Energy is no substitute for a building contractor, but it is open to advising and occasionally aiding independent rebuilders on their personal projects.
Both organizations contribute to local awareness of the means for reducing consumption and waste and are examples of how the work that goes into such reduction creates important bonds among and within communities. While both groups have been around for more than 10 years, their public profiles have increased since the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. It is now the responsibility of citizens to take advantage of the opportunities they afford to recreate and rebuild while wasting neither materials, energy nor most important to some precious dollars.
The Green Project's warehouse includes paint, building supplies, a garden, recycled art supplies and a lumberyard.
2831 Marais St., 945-0240; www.thegreenproject.org
Alliance for Affordable Energy is composed of staff offices and the BuildSmart Resource Center. Call for hours of operation before visiting.
1001 Broad St., 208-9761; www.all4energy.org
The Habitat ReStore, run by Habitat for Humanity, sells salvaged and surplus construction material and furniture.
2830 Royal St., 943-2240; www.habitat.org
The Preservation Resource Center provides materials, instruction, and forums such as a Renovators' Happy Hour, with a focus on preservation of historic neighborhoods and buildings.
923 Tchoupitoulas St. (office), 2801 Marais St. (warehouse), 581-7032; www.prcno.org
The Old City Building Center is Mid-City's answer to the downtown-based green building organizations.
4201 Tulane Ave., 495-7904; www.mcno.org/ocbc
The Bank is a more high-end version of local recycled-material warehouses, specializing in refurbished antique doors, mantels and other furniture.
1824 Felicity St., 523-2702; www.thebankantiques.com
Greenbuilding.com is a national Web site with interactive resources and links on how to construct green buildings or make existing homes more energy efficient.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a section on green building on its Web site, including fact sheets on how to reduce energy consumption in homes.
The Department of Energy's Web site has a section on Louisiana, a good resource for keeping a finger on the pulse of national energy legislation (and tax breaks) affecting Crescent City residents.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Eric Julien, Troy Young, Austin Alward, Forest Bradley-Wright and Reginald James (kneeling) help point people toward the products and information they need at the Alliance for Affordable Energy's Build Smart Resource Center.