Thursday, March 10, 2011

NeighborWorks Green Symposium Highlights Benefits of Going Green

by Michelle Winters,
Senior Manager, Green Strategies,
NeighborWorks America

There are a number of reasons that any person or organization would support being green. Some may focus on climate change, global warming and endangered species, but it is clear that these arguments don’t influence everyone. It’s important for the community development field to look at the issue from the perspective of residents. How do residents benefit from greener, healthier homes and communities?

Low- and moderate-income residents – particularly those who pay their own utilities – benefit from green homes through reduced utility bills, improved comfort, health and well-being. They may personally want to help reduce their impact on the environment, or they may just be in it for the long-term financial benefits, which can be substantial. Or they may have a child suffering from asthma who needs a greener, healthier home to help break the cycle of hospital visits.

A community coming together to address an environmental issue locally may be interested in taking action to reduce climate change or its impacts. Or, they might be interested in reducing pollution so their children have cleaner air to breathe, improving access to local foods so they can reduce obesity and other diseases, or simply finding an important issue that brings the community together in a powerful way to address a community priority such as streetscape improvement and beautification, or reducing crime and blight.

An organization may move forward to help develop local green businesses because they want to support a growing and innovative green technology, or they might do it because of the potential to create new jobs for community residents and strengthen a weakened economy, to localize production of needed green goods and services, and to stabilize communities.

All of these themes were covered at NeighborWorks America’s “Green Choices, Green Value,” symposium held at the Los Angeles NeighborWorks Training Institute last week. 

Opening Plenary
from left: Phil Thompson, MIT;
 Dr. Anthony Iton, Calfornia Endowment;
 Cecilia Estolano, Green for All  
“If you want to see your community grow greener, plant one window box and other neighbors may catch on with similar ideas,” suggested Shanta Schachter, deputy director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation of Philadelphia, a NeighborWorks member well known for their green practices, including their Sustainable 19125 Initiative.

Panelist Anne Evens, director of CNT Energy, encouraged participants to “build your homes tight and ventilate right” as way to reduce child asthma. These and other issues connecting green buildings and healthy homes are discussed in a National Center for Healthy Housing paper, written for the symposium.

Rick Goodemann from Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership believes that he improved the competitive edge of his organization through its focus on greening and health in rehabilitation and new construction.

Panelist Tim Smith from SERA Architects presented his firm’s Civic Ecology approach, which focuses on the “software” of community planning and greening efforts. The core driver in this vision is leveraging shared community values, and creating places where active citizens can create and own sustainability.

Green jobs were also a major focus of the day. “If you can link wealth building and ownership opportunities to the creation of green jobs, then you maximize benefits to workers and you stabilize communities,” said Ted Howard, of the University of Maryland and an architect of Cleveland’s groundbreaking Evergreen Cooperatives. “Owning your own job is a beautiful thing,” said Howard.

Keynote speaker Majora Carter, speaking from green building successes in South Bronx, summed up the day’s theme: “You can solve really big problems with local solutions,” she said.

Check out the symposium papers, presentations, and Green Photo Contest winners here: 2011 Green Symposium - Excellent Times for All.