“50% by 2030” – New Orleans’ Climate Action Strategy – What Could it Mean For The Local Construction Industry?

In July of this year, New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, recently released his city government’s proposed climate action plan (“N.O. Plan”) which aims to have New Orleans reduce its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.[1]

The Plan was devised in part by New Orleans’ Office of Resilience & Sustainability (“ORS”),[2] a city office that is funded and supported by 100 Resilient Cities (“100RC”),[3] a non-profit group funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that is dedicated to “helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.”[4]  100RC provides the ORS with financial and logistical resources to help fund its operations, provides expert support the development of strategies, technical assistance, and access to 100RC’s global network of cities.

2015:  New Orleans Releases Overview of Environmental Strategies going forward

ORS was formed in August 2015, after the City released its initial overview of its strategies in a document titled, “Resilient New Orleans, Strategic actions to shape our future city” (“Overview”).[5]  In the Overview the City  laid out its initial three visions; “Adapt To Thrive,” “Connect to Opportunity,” and “Transform City Systems,”[6] and the City promised to fulfill these visions by 2050 through certain actions:

  • Advancing coastal protection and restoration
  • Investing in comprehensive and innovative urban water management
  • Incentivizing property owners to invest in risk reduction
  • Creating a culture of environmental awareness at every stage of life
  • Committing to mitigating our climate impact
  • Investing in household financial stability
  • Lowering barriers to workforce participation
  • Continuing to promote equitable public health outcomes
  • Continuing to build social cohesion
  • Expanding access to safe and affordable housing
  • Redesign our regional transit systems to connect people, employment, and essential services
  • Promoting sustainability as a growth strategy
  • Improving the redundancy and reliability of our energy infrastructure
  • Integrating resilience-driven decision making across public agencies
  • Investing in pre-disaster planning for post-disaster recovery
  • Developing the preparedness of our businesses and neighborhoods[7]

In general, the Overview was overly broad and very thin on any actual specifics.  However, tucked within the vague business speak were some indicators of possible new interesting design and construction initiatives. The Overview spoke about parks and schoolyards being designed with native plants and trees to soak up water, canals and streets providing greenways for recreation and water management, and innovative designs such as water boulevards, and detaining stormwater in landscaped spaces.

In addition, the Overview noted some firm steps that had already been taken by the City of New Orleans.  For example, revisions to the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance changed to require the mitigation of runoff associated with new development or reconstruction, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority transformed some vacant city lots into rain gardens that draw runoff from the street, store it temporarily, and capture many of the pollutants it carries, and the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans had begun funding innovative green infrastructure solutions such as green roofs, tree wells, bioswales, and pervious pavements.

Establishment of Office of Resilience & Sustainability

The Overview also called for the creation and establishment of the ORS.  And, the ORS was firmly established shortly thereafter. The ORS now has the responsibility for implementing the strategy outlined in the Overview by coordinating with partners and agencies. The ORS is also tasked with advising the Mayor on policy, guide prioritization, and provide regional leadership on resilience and works with the City Planning Commission and Hazard Mitigation Office to ensure consistency with Master Plan and Hazard Mitigation Plan.  Also, since its establishment, the ORS has been assisting the City with a variety of Projects.[8]  These projects have four specific goals: (1) Reduced Risk of Flooding and Subsidence, (2) Neighborhood beautification & economic development, (3) Recreation & Health, and (4) Environmental awareness.  Most of these projects are in the late stage of design with construction on most projects expected to begin in the summer of 2018.

July 2017:  New Orleans Releases “50% by 2030” Plan

The ORS projects have, to date, mostly focused on stormwater related issues but the recently released N.O. Plan focuses much more on the reduction of New Orleans carbon footprint and boldly declares that:

In 2030, New Orleans will have reduced our annual greenhouse gas pollution by 50% from what it is today. We will use 100% low-carbon electricity, take 50% of our trips in modes other than driving, and divert 50% of our waste from landfills.[9]

The N.O. Plan describes 11 strategies, through 24 actions, in 4 distinct areas to reduce the city’s climate impact.

While most of these separate proposed actions may not have much of a direct effect on their own to the local construction industry, together these proposed actions, if successful, will cause some change in the local construction industry.

The N.O.’s Plan’s proposed strategies and actions are as follows:

Area 1:  Energy

Strategy 1:       Reduce the City’s reliance on carbon-intensive fuels

Actions:

  • Implement a 100% low-carbon power standard
  • End Coal Use

Strategy 2:       Save energy and make the savings a sustainable resource

Actions:

  • Increase annual energy savings
  • Innovate regulation and integrate demand-side management into resource planning
  • Reduce the energy burden for low-income New Orleanians

Strategy 3:       Increase the resilience of New Orleans’ energy, water, and sewer infrastructure

Actions:

  • Evaluate critical utility assets and align on reliability, resilience, and climate action

Area 2:  Transportation

Strategy 1:       Transform infrastructure to reduce car dependence

Actions:

  • Design streets that are safe and useful for all
  • Redesign the regional public transportation system to increase access, capacity, and efficiency
  • Invest in safe, low-stress, and comprehensive bicycle infrastructure

Strategy 2:       Encourage active transportation

Actions:

  • Launch awareness campaigns and incentives to increase public transit ridership, biking, and walking
  • Launch bicycle and car share
  • Expand access to clean fuel and electric vehicles

Area 3: Waste

Strategy 1:       Launch a comprehensive recycling and waste reduction initiative

Actions:

  • Increase recycling rates
  • Pilot organic waste program
  • Reduce impact of waste-related transit

Strategy 2:       Generate value from waste

Actions:

  • Explore opportunities for our solid waste and wastewater
  • Develop a device donation program
  • Explore zero-waste and circular-economy opportunities

Area 4:  Culture of Awareness and Action

Strategy 1:       Grow the local low-carbon economy

Actions:

  • Promote sustainable business practices and jobs

Strategy 2:       Enable data-driven decision-making and collaboration

Actions:

  • Utilize digital climate adaptation tools to prioritize, design, and engage
  • Conduct a tree survey of New Orleans’ urban forest and plant 40,000 trees by 2030
  • Assemble and make data available for analysis and action

Strategy 3:       Connect culture and climate action

Actions:

  • Inform and engage residents and local business about action opportunities
  • Engage visitors to New Orleans in climate action

N.O. Plan Details:

While most of the strategies and “actions” presented in the Plan are broad and very light on specifics, there are also some succinct tasks in the works to achieve these actions and strategies.  For example, the adoption of a 100% low-carbon standard to reduce reliance on carbon-intensive fuels, the transition of coal to cleaner supply sources, and setting local solar goal  of 255 megawatts by 2030, has already been proposed in the New Orleans City Council.  Also, New Orleans will launch its bike share program this year and a citywide policy that prioritizes right-of-way use between walking, biking, transit, and motor vehicles is being worked on by the city council and the ORS.  Also, the ORS and the City’s sanitation department are engaged in feasibility studies for methane capture, composting at landfills and at water treatment plants.  In addition, the ORS is already inventorying and benchmarking energy use in city buildings, and overseeing the installation of solar panels on city properties.

The N.O. Plan indicates that the ORS intends to explore development of a local solar program to encourage solar development which may include incentives, financing, and adopting policies effective in other cities to spur solar growth with emphasis on program design that provides equitable access to solar benefits.   The N.O. Plan also indicates that the City will also explore requirements and incentives for new developments that encourage less driving, exploring opportunities to lower minimum parking requirements or institute maximum parking requirements for new buildings to limit the total number of parking spaces, and intends to work with local developers to encourage bicycle parking and car sharing in new developments.  Also, the N.O. Plan notes that the City plans to plant 40,000 new trees by 2030 to make up for the Katrina loss and to offset carbon emissions.

Importantly, the N.O. Plan notes that enabling more people, jobs, and services to locate near areas already well served by transit is an important goal.  The N.O. Plan notes that the City will identify those areas by creating and maintaining a transit accessibility mapping resource and establishing four to six priority areas based on potential for greater infill development and intends to work with existing non-profits, such as Housing NOLA, the Urban Land Institute, and the American Institute of Architects to facilitate workshops to identify additional barriers and incentives with representatives in the building, renovation, sale, and lease of housing.

Also, by 2019, the N.O. Plan notes that the City will develop climate action compliance guidelines for its own contracting. Currently, New Orleans relies on multiple contracts with outside agencies in order to perform essential public services.  The N.O. Plan indicates that the City will identify opportunities for energy, fuel, and waste efficiency through the development of evaluative criteria and bid requirements for prospective vendors, contractors, and service providers and will include these directives in solicitations upon their approval by 2019.

New Orleans is Moving Towards Being a Greener City.

So what, if anything does this all mean?  Clearly, New Orleans is going down a pathway similar to other cities whereby sustainability is being encouraged and, in many cases, legislated through code enforcement. Just over two years ago, New Orleans did not engage in energy benchmarking and did not have “green” municipal buildings.  This is no longer the case.

New Orleans is moving towards being a city that embraces and rewards design and construction that will lead to a reduced carbon footprint.  In the private market, constructing (or renovating) energy efficient buildings in downtown areas that incorporate design and construction technologies that increase water-efficiency, deal with storm water runoff, and embrace non-fossil fuel transportation will be incentivized and encouraged by the municipal government.  And, it seems, sustainability measures will be incorporated into the City’s public works projects.

Local developers, designers, architects, and contractors may be well advised to be ready to embrace a multifaceted approach to building in New Orleans including measures such as the following:

(1)   Constructing or renovating buildings using “green building” concepts that aim to design and construct building that aim to be “net zero energy” (i.e., by producing as much energy as they use) though the utilization of smart designs that minimize the building’s demand for energy (e.g., siting and orientation of new buildings, design improvements to space heating,  HVAC, water heating, insulation, water fixtures, energy control systems, and lighting, and green roofs) and capturing available, often renewable, resources available on site (such as solar energy or rainwater) to supplement or replace resources imported from outside the building or city.

(2) Utilizing design and construction method to prevent stormwater runnoff and minimize water use (i.e., installing efficient plumbing fixtures, use of  non-potable water, choosing locally adapted plants, using green roofs, rain gardens, etc.).

(3) Responsible management of waste during construction by means eliminating waste where possible (e.g., use of durable modular metal form systems for use in concrete construction may be selected on the basis of being readily demountable and reusable on other projects); minimizing waste where feasible (e.g., election and use of recyclable materials and products offers potential to minimize waste); and reusing materials which might otherwise become waste (e.g.,doors and windows in good, resalable condition) through clear mandatory waste management plans.

(4) Constructing buildings that make more sense with the City’s goals of increasing the City’s walkabilty, the city’s residents use of public transportation, and the residents bicycle use (e.g., less parking space for cars, more space for bicycle storage, incorporating showers in commercial buildings, breaking up exterior facades of ground floors to allow for small stores and cafes, and smart ground floor entry/exit designs to encourage walking).

Conclusion

Many cities in the United States have detailed benchmarking and disclosure laws, which require building owners to report their buildings’ annual energy use to the local government.  These include the early adopters of Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and New York, which passed their laws in 2008 and 2009, and Portland, Ore., Atlanta, and Kansas City, Mo., all of which adopted such laws in 2015.  In addition, many cities in the U.S. have enacted “green” building codes.  For example Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., all have enacted laws or codes to mandate certain energy conservation or construction practices.[10]

New Orleans has been creating a more walkable city in recent years and has also been incentivizing private “green” development.  And, given the progress that the ORS has made in a few short years and what is implied in the N.O. Plan, New Orleans may not far behind codifying and legislating private energy use and green building construction practices.  Local developers, designers, architects, and contractors may want to consider positioning themselves to take advantage of these green building opportunities.

Adrian D’Arcy is a LEED Green Associate who regularly writes and speaks on the subject of sustainable construction.  Mr. D’Arcy strongly advises that any green building project participant seek independent advice both from a sustainability expert and a lawyer familiar with green building before executing any contract documents associated with green construction projects to make sure that their interests are protected.

 


[1]           https://nola.gov/resilience/climate-action/

[2]           https://www.nola.gov/resilience/

[3]           http://www.100resilientcities.org/

[4]           Id.

[5]           Download the pdf. Overview here: https://www.nola.gov/resilience/resilient-new-orleans/

[6]           Id. at page 29.

[7]           Id.

[8]           Gentilly Resilience District, Mirabeau Water Garden, St. Roch Drainage & Green Infrastructure, Pontilly Stormwater Network, Hagan – Lafitte Drainage & Green Infrastructure, Lakeview Drainage & Green Infrastructure, and Drainage Pump Station 01 (DPS 01: Central City, Lower Garden District, Broadmoor). For more information visit: https://www.nola.gov/resilience/projects/

[9]           https://nola.gov/resilience/climate-action/

[10]         See, The Chicago Energy Conservation Code (“CECC”), The New York City Energy Conservation Code (“NYCECC”), San Francisco’s Green Building Code, and the 2013 DC Construction Codes.