Green and sustainable businesses make environmental sense, but their selling point is savings in dollars, not watts. Green business incubators across the country have taken in sustainability-minded startups and entrepreneurs in pursuit of the green economy. Businesses cut costs by sharing office space and using a cooperative outlay (though more suit-and-tie and less on-the-farm) inside offices resembling IP Building-esque concepts, fostering "ideas" and "projects" — but the small businesses inside have an environmentally focused edge: energy policy , green building, recycling, water management, transportation and community development organizations. Others are more traditional, but lean on their office neighbors for "green" support. The idea is a functioning hub of green business activity, both inside and outside the office.
New Orleans has The Building Block, housed in two locations (at the newly opened New Orleans Healing Center and at Mid-City's The Icehouse), with 20 businesses sharing space at both locations. Alliance for Affordable Energy program director Forrest Bradley-Wright and FutureProof director Prisca Weems co-founded the Building Block, and the organizations share offices. (The Alliance moved from its former home at the ArtEgg Studio building in Mid-City into the Healing Center.) The Building Block plans to expand by 2012 with two more locations, including one reserved for retail space.
"New Orleans is on this acceleration curve for green industries," Bradley-Wright said inside the Building Block's newest location on the third floor of the Healing Center, days before the high-profile building made its debut. The Building Block is, unlike other tenants in the center, almost full. One room housing several desks is open, save for one space. "We're already filling up," Bradley-Wright says before walking to the Building Block's additional office space inside the center overlooking St. Claude Avenue and sitting above Fatoush, an organic cafe on the center's first floor.
Tenants at the Building Block include green-job training program Louisiana Green Corps, sustainable living magazine Louisiana Green Scene, design consultants Clean Energy Solutions and more than a dozen others. They use the shared services of an office — phone, Internet, fax, copier, conference room — and they also share a client base, aiming to be a "one-stop shop" for green resources.
"The businesses in this market segment are obviously motivated by the same thing that motivates every other business: be successful, earn money, grow the company — but they're obviously motivated by more than that," Bradley-Wright says. "It's especially valuable and important to other small companies isolated in small offices or operating informally out of their home, to be able to look across the room or hall and be surrounded by people doing like-minded work. Someone doing green-minded policies, someone using recycled materials to create clothing — it just feels like you're in the right place."
Business incubators and communities have sprung up across the country. Some use different models and offer different services, whether its assisting start-ups with tax incentives, creating jobs, or simply offering a desk at low rent. Tennessee's Hamilton County Business Development Center has 30 start-ups with hundreds of employees working inside the building, and an incubator in South Carolina is testing a similar tech-based start-up program with neighboring Clemson University. Locally, the IP Building (as in "Intellectual Property") fosters several "forward-thinking" companies and organizations including the Idea Village, Launch Pad and 504ward.
The Building Block sticks mostly with green-based businesses — though a few of its tenants are not strictly in the business of sustainability. By being in the same building and sharing the same space, businesses can learn from and use the services of the "greener" companies, and hopefully incorporate them into their own. ("Part of the growth of green development is awareness of one another," Bradley-Wright says.)
The Building Block works like this: "We create a pipeline," Bradley-Wright says. The office sets a business up with a functional office space (with address and phone number), helps put out services to the green marketplace, and then helps grow the company sales-wise and with additional locations (via the Building Block's two offices and two planned offices).
The Building Block's office inside the New Orleans Healing Center serves as its flagship facility, but the organization soon may expand to another location — a more green tech-oriented space inside NASA'S former Michoud facility in eastern New Orleans. The Building Block also may add another office in the heart of the "green light" district on Magazine Street, a stretch of the Lower Garden District with sustainable retailers selling items made from recycled goods and environmentally friendly clothing, furnishings and jewelry.
Office rental at the Building Block begins at $550, with "virtual office" arrangements beginning at $250.
"Prisca and I, in founding this, are big vision people," Bradley-Wright says. "We see the direction we need to go and frankly are going, and we feel there are steps to move it along, to really be a flywheel, to make sure we're maximizing what we have and we're getting there as strong a way as possible as soon as we can."