Solar alternatives

When one of the music stages lost power Sunday at the New Orleans Earth Day Festival and Green Business Expo, a New Orleans company saved the day by hooking up a mobile solar system that kept the festival running.

Bayou St. John served as the location for the fifth annual Earth Day Festival, which featured live music, food and drinks, a kids tent, second line and most importantly, education.

Each year, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit environmental health and justice organization, has sponsored the festival, which focuses on providing a place for the community to relax and enjoy the spring weather while also engaging the attendees in a conversation about sustainable practices.

“We’re really pushing that this isn’t just a festival to come listen to music, drink beer and tune out,” said EvanMarie Allison, one of the events coordinators. “We want people to have an educational conversation while having a good time.”

The Earth Day Festival is one of the spring festivals in Louisiana that isn’t sponsored by an oil company, Allison said. The Bucket Brigade felt it was important to provide the community with a festival where people could have an honest discussion about environmental issues and the accident problem surrounding the oil industry, she said.

A 13-foot-tall oil refinery covered in Mardi Gras beads served as the festival’s art installation this year and was one of the ways the Bucket Brigade hoped to get people talking, Allison said.

Mardi Gras beads are made from petrochemicals, chemicals that are derived from petroleum, and are often imported from other countries, she said.

“There’s a large carbon footprint that comes from importing, and since they are made from petrochemicals, they don’t break down. So we have literally tons of beads that are put into landfills each year. We want people to be aware of that,” Allison said.

The theme of the festival, Rethinking Petrochemicals, was illustrated by the Rethinking Petrochemicals Tour, which featured a series of informational signs on using alternative power and sustainable practices. The signs were located outside of vendor booths and related to the green practices of each business.

“People may not know what petrochemicals are. We want to draw awareness to the fact that petrochemicals are finding their way into everything today, from makeup to the food we eat. Hopefully, the tour will help people understand what alternatives are available,” Allison said.

Everything at the event was powered by green energy, either by solar power or biodiesel fuel, and vendors were chosen based on their sustainable practices. In order to get a booth at the festival, each vendor had to meet a set of criteria, which allowed the Bucket Brigade to highlight people and businesses that are moving in the direction of incorporating sustainable practices into their business, Allison said.

Jeff Cantin, owner of Solar Alternatives, the company that fixed the broken sound stage with a mobile solar system, said that finding alternative fuel sources is important to the future.

“Renewable energy helps diversify where you get your energy, so we’re not totally dependent on things like nuclear power or gas. They’re clean, they’re free,” Cantin said. “As long as we can figure out how we can harness it, it’s a smarter way to do energy.”

The festival attracted about 5,000 people, nearly a 30-percent increase over last year, and the festival’s goal of educating people in a fun forum seemed to be a success.

“Usually this stuff doesn’t draw me in,” said Ben Kertman, 22. “I think it’s the way they designed it because I found it more fascinating. I really enjoyed the petrochemical Mardi Gras bead installation.”