How Do Our Wetlands Carbon-Clean?

September 25, 2012

We know how trees clean our air by removing carbon from the atmosphere and how, in an era of cap and trade environmental policy, industries can pay for reforestation projects to offset the carbon pollution they create. Wetlands do a similar carbon-cleaning job for the environment — in fact wetlands do the work much more efficiently than forests — and one New Orleans company has figured out how to turn the urgent task of rebuilding Louisiana wetlands into a new tool for companies looking to offset their carbon emissions.

“Louisiana has some of the fastest rates of wetlands loss in the world,” says Dr. Sarah Mack, president of Tierra Resources. “And one of our biggest issues, it’s not the science on how do we restore wetlands, it’s a lack of funding, and an ability to implement wetlands restoration in a near term, to protect us.”

The new process developed by Tierra Resources measures how wetlands restoration can combat climate change, and after more than five years of research it has recently been certified by outside experts. A pilot restoration project is now in the works.

“It allows private dollars to come in and initiate large-scale wetlands restoration at a much larger scale and in a short timeframe than what our government programs have been doing,” she says.

Mack’s work has the potential to help preserve our region’s fragile ecosystem, build back the natural hurricane buffer for coastal communities and, along the way, create local jobs, from designing and financing these wetlands restoration projects to actually building them.

It’s that potential that made Tierra Resources a winner of last year’s Water Challenge, an annual business competition from the Idea Village, a New Orleans nonprofit for local entrepreneurs.

“We believe entrepreneurship is an agent of change, and we believe that if you invest in entrepreneurs there will be economic growth within the city,” says Kevin Wilkins, chief operating officer of the Idea Village. “So Idea Village uses entrepreneurship to tackle significant issues that are facing the city. There are issues we’re trying to create into opportunities. One of the issues facing New Orleans is how do you handle with water, how do you live with water as an asset.”

The hope is that New Orleans companies developing the technology, the tools and the know-how to tackle vital water management issues can also tap a global market of communities grappling with the same concerns, all while creating more jobs at home.

“So what we’re doing is using the water challenge to challenge those individuals, to say, instead of living in fear of water, instead of looking at it as a threat, more looking at it as a huge opportunity that we could become a leader in water management in the city.”

Now, in its third year, the Water Challenge is looking for more new ideas. Entrepreneurs apply for the Water Challenge during the fall, and winners are announced in the spring. They get money, and as Sarah Mack learned, consulting and technical assistance that can really help propel their businesses.

“The Water Challenge was a huge blessing to me,” she says. “My background is a PhD scientist, so they helped me, not only advised into my business, but really trained me on how to be a businesswoman.”

Written by Ian McNulty for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about The Idea Village, click here or find out more about the work of Tierra Resources, click here.