Like the story line of a Brad Pitt movie, New rleans is an epic parable of man versus evironment. Last month, the twice-named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, swept into town to shine the spotlight and rev up resources for the devastated city.
What he discovered was that many areas have yet to recover even a year later. More than half of New Orleans remains empty with scores of abandoned houses, shops, offices, schools, and churches. â€œI was not prepared,â€ the actor said, describing how he drove for miles only to see street after street of devastation.
â€œThereâ€™s a big opportunity here,â€ Pitt said,
to rebuild the city using energy-efficient building materials and appliances that would improve quality of life, particularly in low-income communities.
Indeed, New Orleans is a live case study on massive re-construction and a fertile ground for reform.
Hurricane Katrina was the costliest, most deadly hurricane in the history of the United States. As it hit the Gulf Coast in August, 2005, it was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest landfalling. It flooded over 80 percent of the city.
The calamity is now an indelible chapter of knowledge, as the local debate simmers on how to effectively rebuild the city.
A massive rebuilding and far-reaching social dynamic have also made the Big Easy an inevitable focus for environmental campaigns such as green building. The timing may be ideal.
Green, energy-efficient design has begun to show economic teeth, capture marketshare, and gain serious credibility among residential builders. Momentum builds as voices from all sides of the table herald the economic and social value of green.
Hollywood celebs, like Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kate Bosworth are throwing their star power behind the rally for more green construction in the U.S. just as the ideology is trading its organic tie-dye for a mainstream collar.
Green building is on the fast track to becoming the next big thing for large-production, residential builders. Developers say they are building green because they believe in it, but they also expect to gain a competitive edge. If faced with the choice of renting or buying two similar apartments, developers say, consumers increasingly will opt for the one with green features, even if it comes at a higher price.
â€œWe think itâ€™s important to do, and we think that other buildings that donâ€™t do this will become obsolete, and our buildings will continue to maintain their value,â€ said Douglas Durst, who built 4 Times Square in New York, a pioneering green office building, in the late 1990â€™s. He is now building his second green apartment tower.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says that builders producing environmentally responsible homes rose by 20% in 2005, and that number is expected to grow by another 30% this year.
First Lady Laura Bush spoke to a gathering of National Design Award honorees last month urging them to become involved in the Gulf Coast re-build. Their legacy, she said, would be found in their efforts to improve the devastated region. She also added that Hurricane Katrina â€œgives us the chance to build green buildings and to build energy-saving buildings.â€
Once lacking architectural sophistication, fiscal feasibility and wide consumer interest, green building was attractive in principle, but a challenge to apply.
Yet, as consumer demand sets its own economic priority, so too has a spattering of green buildings evolved into entire communities sprouting up across the country.
Going green â€” energy-efficient, water-conserving buildings full of features that value natural over chemical, recycled over new and renewable over disposable â€” is firmly in play in consumersâ€™ minds and buildersâ€™ hearts.
Most are already familiar with the benefits of green building from the workplace. Having made its way into office construction years ago, corporate America began to notice less absenteeism; less time lost to asthma, allergies and other illnesses aggravated by mold, stale air and chemicals found in many conventional buildings.
Whether for health, global responsibility, or marketshare, a new affluent consumer category is building momentum in todayâ€™s market and itâ€™s pressing green building into the multi- and single-family residential markets at a rapid clip.
â€œLOHAS,â€ or Lifestyle of Health and sustainability, is one of the latest consumer groups that builders are responding to with new and renovated green product.
Thought to include over 40 million adult consumers, the value of the LOHAS market is estimated at $200 billion according to David Brotherton, a Seattle consultant in corporate responsibility. This includes goods and services ranging from eco-vacations to green homes.
There’s a lot more consumer interest. Itâ€™s starting to be a groundswell,â€ says Calli Schmidt for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington. Green building will reach a tipping point next year as two-thirds of all builders will build green homes according to a McGraw-Hill construction survey.
Environmentalism ebbs and flows within American politics, but green building has permeated the U.S. legislature.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 offers federal tax credits of $1.80 per square foot on all projects that meet ASHRAE standards (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). Other legislation gives businesses up to 10 percent tax credit for employing solar and geothermal technologies. The Department of Energy also hands out grants for businesses that experiment with new energy-efficient technologies.