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Building Green in the Big Easy: customer spotlight on Jackie Dadakis of Green Coast Enterprises

14 Jan 2014

Today we’re kicking off the first edition of our Green Leaders series, where we recognize the people in our client base who are doing exceptional work in their communities to make them more sustainable and energy efficient.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005, Jackie Dadakis, the Managing Director at Green Coast Enterprises, has played many roles in the effort to rebuild a more resilient and energy efficient New Orleans. From her non-profit work with Rebuilding Together to her consulting work at Clean Energy Solutions, Jackie has emerged as one of many leaders working at the local level to create a new future for the Big Easy. Aside from her position at Green Coast, she serves on the board of Ride New Orleans, an advocacy group dedicated to creating more a convenient, sustainable, and affordable transportation system in New Orleans.

Q. What is Green Coast Enterprises and what do you do there?

A. Green Coast Enterprises is a real estate development firm in New Orleans, Louisiana that was started after Katrina. They have done a number of different things throughout the city to push for more sustainable building practices. In addition, we provide consulting services to other developers, mostly on the housing side, on developing more green. Over the years, we’ve helped certify close to 500 homes in New Orleans for Enterprise Green Communities. Green Coast has also been involved in the New Orleans Better Buildings program, called NOLA Wise, providing technical assistance, contractor training, and oversight.

I joined the firm in March of this year to start what we call GCE Services. We focus on helping other property owners operate and build the most efficient buildings they can. In March, we started the City of New Orleans benchmarking project, in partnership with the NRDC, WegoWise, and the City of New Orleans. We’ve benchmarked all of the occupied buildings owned by the city. Most recently, we were hired by the Recovery School district, which is our public school district here in New Orleans, to help them with their energy management plan. That includes monitoring a number of their buildings through WegoWise.

Q. Tell us a little bit more about the NOLA Wise program.

A. The NOLA Wise multifamily program was exciting for us this summer because we had the incentive dollars from the Department of Energy to really convince people to do their retrofits. People are now paying attention because they’ve seen the success of our projects. For example, Project Lazarus, a client who we track utility cost and usage data for in WegoWise, is spending around 50% less for one of their buildings this November than they did the previous November. We’re seeing pretty dramatic savings and a lot of it has to do with the way people approach the operations of their buildings. Right now we’re seeing buildings with 30-40% savings, which is pretty crazy by industry standards.

Q. What drew you to New Orleans?

A. After I graduated from Claremont McKenna in 2005, Katrina hit. I was in that in-between phase after college graduation where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had an opportunity to come down and volunteer with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Biloxi, Mississippi. I drove down with two high school friends and was supposed to stay a week, but we all got hired to run their volunteer village.

Katrina was very much a man-made disaster. Terrible planning decisions allowed the degradation of the coastline and the deterioration of the levees. A lot of the infrastructure that was supposed to keep New Orleans safe, instead became vulnerable. When I started to think about what I wanted to do for grad school, I thought I’d like to go into city planning.

Q. How has Katrina affected New Orleans’ approach to energy efficiency and sustainability?

A. It’s jumpstarted a conversation about resiliency. Energy efficiency touches on that on a number of levels. We want to be a sustainable city in New Orleans, but we realize that we’re at the mouth of the Mississippi. If we’re going to survive, we have to be more than sustainable. We need to be resilient. We have to be smart. We have to conserve the resources we have now. We also have to be thoughtful about the way we build going forward.

I can’t speak to New Orleans prior to Katrina because I wasn’t here, but it’s quite obvious that that conversation was not happening at the level that it is now. Energy efficiency is an incredibly important part of that conversation. It touches on the conservation of our resources long-term, the maintenance and repair of our infrastructure, and makes sure that our buildings continue to get the investment that they need to be resilient to a storm. It also touches on really important socio-economic issues. We’re a state with really low electricity rates. We never really hit the costs you’ll see in the Northeast or out West for electricity. Despite that we have really high bills because of the inefficiency of our building stock. That is costing the bottom line of the residents of Louisiana every single day, so I think energy efficiency is a really important economic tool long-term to make our economy resilient as well.

Q. What kind of progress has Green Coast been able to make in improving the energy efficiency of the built environment in New Orleans?

A. Our approach right now on the ground is to go in with our clients and first address operational problems. That’s a low to no-cost investment on their part, but can deliver pretty significant savings. Through monitoring the utility bills, we show them those savings. We typically can then convince them to make larger capital investments to keep bringing down the energy bills. The thing that we’ve enjoyed most about our NOLA Wise pilot project is how the clients we’re working with have changed the way they approach their utility bills. They went from just paying their utility bills each month and not thinking about it, to now, I get emails from them when the bills come in with how excited they are with how much they were able to save the previous month. They hired me to pay attention to this for them and suddenly they’re paying attention to it themselves.