Advancing Sustainability in New Orleans

Summary: Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Emma De Leon interned with LifeCity, a local impact organization as a Sustainability Consultant Intern. She met with more than 35 businesses and organizations in New Orleans seeking to build a more sustainable and equitable city, helping them create and maintain their Love Your City profiles to share, track, and improve their impact on the city. She also helped honor leaders in sustainability and equity at the 2023 Love Your City Awards Gala and recommended a consumer loyalty program to engage ethical consumers.

The Changemaker Catalyst Award from the Taylor Center supported my role as the Sustainability Consultant Intern at LifeCity during the fall of 2023. LifeCity is an impact management firm that is building an economy for good by advancing sustainability and equity in New Orleans. Through its local impact hub, Love Your City, LifeCity helps businesses and organizations share, track, and improve their impact. Organizations upload their impact actions in ten badges, ranging from Zero Waste and Energy to Health and Equity.

My primary responsibility involved researching and reaching out to organizations aligning with sustainability and equity values. I met with more than 35 organizations across New Orleans, introducing them to the ten badges, each of which has key impact actions such as implementing an anti-racism policy, composting, and energy-efficient lighting. I presented Love Your City as a tool for tracking progress in these areas and facilitated connections with service providers for continuous improvement. For example, I recommended Glass Half Full’s glass recycling services and EnergySmart’s various energy efficiency services.

During my internship, LifeCity also hosted its annual Love Your City awards gala, honoring leaders in sustainability and equity across the city. I recruited and coordinated volunteers and helped host the ceremony. In the weeks leading up to the event, I invited Love Your City members to the gala and helped organizations finalize their Love Your City profiles before the Regional Sustainability Committee chose the winners in each badge. I met with NOLA Artist Incubator, for instance, who won the People’s Choice Award. The organization maintains Galvez Garden, an urban growing space; teaches sustainable art practices; supports local artists; and facilitates public art and green space initiatives. I also met with Rolling Refills, a small business that provides refill services for everyday household items and home and body products to minimize waste. Rolling Refills won the zero waste award.

In my final internship presentation, I proposed a consumer loyalty program designed to engage individuals interested in ethical consumerism. Love Your City is a local impact hub where consumers can find businesses and organizations engaged in sustainable and equitable practices. I proposed that Love Your City reward consumers for engaging with such organizations by creating badges with incentives for every interaction with an organization on Love Your City. I modeled it after the current organization-oriented user interface and proposed slight changes to make a similar consumer-oriented user interface.

My proposal built on my knowledge that as a society, addressing climate change and inequality is imperative. Business as usual is not a solution, and it is crucial to intervene in company practices now. Consumers increasingly express concern for the environmental impact of businesses and a desire to shop sustainably. In addition, through my internship, I extended my knowledge of environmental justice which recognizes that people of color and low-income communities are subject to greater environmental burdens. Therefore, solutions to environmental justice problems are inseparable from equity concerns and both must be addressed together. I learned that there is no single solution to the array of environmental and social issues in one city, let alone across the world.

This internship helped me grow my network of environmental and social justice oriented individuals in New Orleans. There is a rich array of people working to solve the most pressing issues of our time, and I enjoyed working one-on-one with them. My experience with LifeCity helped me realize that I want to work with communities to address environmental justice issues, and I am thankful for the Taylor Center’s support for my experience.

Volunteering with Love Your City at a kayaking bayou clean-up!