Shreveport (Goes) Green

Eighty percent of what Americans throw away is recyclable. Americans generate about 250 millions tons of trash per year. According to Environmentalists Every Day—America’s Solid Waste Industry, the U.S. maintains a recycling rate of only 34.1 percent by recycling and composting 85 million tons of this material. Were more of the United States committed to recycling, the economic and environmental savings would be huge. For example, if Americans recycled all of the newspapers printed in the United States on a typical Sunday, Americans would save 26 million trees per year.

The principle of sustainability is based on the idea that everything humans need for survival depends upon the natural environment. If humans co-exist with nature—leaving a light carbon footprint and replenishing resources—then the environment will fulfill the needs of present and future generations.

Reducing litter and building successful recycling programs are among the many goals of citizens engaged in promoting sustainability. Sustainability has emerged as a global and local issue as a result of growing concerns about population expansion and consumption of natural resources. Earth’s resources are draining so quickly that the World Wildlife Fund has suggested that humans will need two Earths to support their current lifestyle by 2030.

Sustainability initiatives benefit both global and local economies, which has led many to endorse the development of sustainable communities. In an article for The Atlantic, Kaid Benfield, the Sustainable Communities Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, explained that a sustainable community would be a place “where per capita use of resources and per capita emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants are going down, not up…where land is used efficiently, and shared parks and public spaces are plentiful and easily visited…where industry and economic opportunity emphasize healthy, environmentally sound practices.”

Shreveport-based nonprofit Shreveport Green has been leading the charge toward just such a sustainable, healthy, and economically vital community since 1990. Through hands-on stewardship and education, Shreveport Green has promoted a cleaner and greener environment. Alumna Donna Curtis ’69 has been the Executive Director of Shreveport Green since its inception. She was introduced to sustainability issues when a fellow Centenary graduate encouraged her to join the board of the Shreveport Beautification Foundation in 1985.

“My life was changed,” said Curtis. “I began to put together the puzzle of why some cities seem to flourish and why some communities seem more livable than others. I chose Shreveport as my home, and I’ve seen the tree canopy decrease; our public areas decline; and our community lag behind other cities.”

Curtis worked as a speech pathologist for seven years before focusing all her efforts on volunteering for beautification efforts, which led to Shreveport Green. She was recognized with the Keep America Beautiful Professional Leadership Award in 2001. Curtis also chaired the All-America City award efforts that resulted in the naming of Shreveport as a 1999 All-America City. A contributing member to various nonprofits, she is currently serving on the board of the National Alliance for Community Trees as Past-President.

Much of Shreveport Green’s effort has been focused on litter prevention, tree planting and outreach, beautification and community greening, and waste reduction. The group was instrumental in the education and outreach that brought curbside recycling to Shreveport in 2008. In the first 18 months of the program, 12,980 tons were recycled. Recycling programs continue to expand nationwide with 9,000 programs currently in existence, up from 8,875 programs available in 2002.

The group has planted 375,000 trees from 1990-2011. The planting of trees provides a number of economic, environmental, sociological, and aesthetic benefits to the community. According to the Sustainable Cities Institute and the National Recreation and Park Association, large trees can add 9 percent to property values and reduce temperatures by 27 degrees. Residential buildings with high levels of vegetation have over 50 percent fewer total crimes, and people are drawn to shady, green areas.

For their annual Keep America Beautiful Cleanup, Shreveport Green routinely attracts 1,000 volunteers, making it the largest city- and parish-wide one-day cleanup in America. Volunteer numbers, in general, remain strong year-to-year. Shreveport also recently received a litter rating of 1.36, down from 2.1 in 2007. A litter rating of 4 represents “extremely littered” whereas 1 represents “no litter.”

The Institute for Sustainable Communities, based in Vermont, recommends these integrated solutions as steps to becoming a sustainable community, rather than more fragmented approaches. The Institute also cites sustainable communities as ones that are continually focused on both the present and future. Shreveport Green has applied these principles to its work since its first days as a nonprofit.

However, while many green initiatives were on the organization’s radar in 1990 and remain so, the group’s interests continue to evolve.

“We have become more insistent about sustainability and health,” said Curtis.
“We continue to talk about the economic impact of cleaner and greener environments, but we also include sustainability—trees used as energy tools and recycling to reduce the amount of natural materials used. Health-wise, we aim to increase the amount of community gardens to offer citizens healthier diets; construct bike and pedestrian
paths to offer citizens the opportunity to exercise outdoors; and plant trees to clean the air naturally.”

Shreveport Green has won 17 national awards including six first place Keep America Beautiful National System Awards. But the organization still faces obstacles.

“One hurdle that remains is getting the public officials and developers to buy into the concept that trees and green spaces aren’t a luxury—they are a necessity,” said Curtis. “Every public works project should have an enhancement or environmental element and the funding for maintenance. Many of our local officials understand this and are working toward it, but the issue continues to be put on the back burner because of budgets.”

Budget issues continue to be a bump in the road toward developing sustainable communities. Dr. Steve Cohen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute believes that “the field of sustainability argues that we can manage our economy to simultaneously promote environmental protection and economic growth,” but it requires “an understanding of the important and legitimate role of an active and competent government in assuring sustainability.”
Looking toward the future, Shreveport Green plans to promote healthy lifestyles among youth. The group is part of a coalition of nonprofits that promotes healthy lifestyles. Curtis sees the initiative as imperative considering Louisiana has the second highest ranking in childhood obesity and diabetes:

“‘Nature-deficit disorder’ is a real problem that affects the self-esteem and health of young people. They are tied more and more to the over-stimulating effects of TV and computers. Participating in outdoor activities increases confidence, lengthens attention span, and encourages physical exercise. By making the outdoors more pleasant through tree plantings and green spaces, we encourage young people to get out and exercise.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council describes a sustainable community as “one that can continue in a healthy way into an uncertain future.” Shreveport Green advocates for a healthier, greener, more sustainable community so that Shreveport’s future can be a little more certain.