Learning and Volunteering in NOLA

Not surprisingly, Greenbuild requires many volunteers to run smoothly. The volunteers must be 25 or under, and in exchange for volunteering, they get to attend Greenbuild for free. Urban Green encourages junior staff to volunteer at Greenbuild, as it’s a very cost-effective way to learn about the industry.

Last week, Urban Green sent five junior staff members to New Orleans for Greenbuild. In addition to volunteering--including manning recycling stations in order to increase the convention center’s recycle rate from 11% to 65%--the Urban Green team attended a broad range of sessions. That the conference coincided with the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s formation over the Atlantic underscored the importance of sharing ideas about resiliency.  

“Having been impacted by both Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, I was looking forward to Wednesday’s session, NYC and NOLA: Enhancing the Resiliency of the Built Environment,” said Urban Green Education Outreach & Delivery Coordinator Sarah Palmisano. “Covering two of the costliest storms in U.S. history, we learned that a major challenge was efficiently spending federal relief dollars, and that philanthropy is really critical since it provides funding that can take greater risks.  When it came to successes, we were proud to hear a shout-out to Urban Green’s Building Resiliency Task Force and the 16 recommendations that have been implemented to date.

“The audience was challenged to really consider the meaning of the word ‘resilience’ and how it relates to our common mission of making the places we work and live better, or, as Michael Marrella of the NYC Department of City Planning put it, making the move ‘to resilience and beyond.’”

Part of understanding resilience means expanding its definition beyond buildings and to communities themselves. At the Affordable Homes & Sustainable Communities summit, Charlotte Stanley, Urban Green’s Education Development Coordinator, learned the importance of including communities in the process of neighborhood development. Some speakers observed that construction of green affordable housing helps residents feel invested in the future of their neighborhoods. “Tenants feel more ownership and pride for green homes, and ultimately greater ownership means greater resilience,” said Charlotte.

Over at Frontiers of Research: Health, Material Transparency, Social Equity, and Business Strategy, our Communications Associate, Rena Lee, learned how health fits into sustainability. “One panelist noted that until recently health has been largely a side effect, rather than focus of green building. Though LEED language includes health in almost every credit category, it often doesn’t align with public health concerns. Comfort seems to take precedence over occupant health.”

One approach to improving health is biophilic design, which seeks to incorporate nature into our daily lives. At sessions like Integrating Nature and Biophilia­ – From Theory to Practice and Launch & Iterate: Using Rapid Tests to Refine Biophilic Strategies, Rena learned approaches to measuring the impact of biophilic design and efforts to put it into use. “We learned about Japan’s shinrin yoku practice, in which doctors prescribe visits to forests or rural villages to improve health,” she said, “as well as the growing interest in ways to study whether or how these treatments are effective.” Good examples of biophilic design in practice are the San Francisco Museum at the Mint, Paley Park, and the green roof of COOKFOX’s headquarters at 641 Avenue of the Americas.

Following a week of inspiring sessions like these, Urban Green’s staff are ready to put their newfound knowledge to work improving New York’s sustainability—or, as Sarah puts it, “to Bourbon St. and beyond!” After they catch up on their sleep, of course.


About the authors

Urban Green Council
Dedicated to transforming buildings for a sustainable future.