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Curbing the Appetite for Oil in the Fried Food Capital of the World

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the promise of the clean economy and green collar jobs. Unfortunately, in many places, there has been a lot more talk and a lot less promise. I work for an organization that is focused on developing the clean economy one project at a time. As part that, we are looking for ways to attract innovative projects to the Gulf Coast to help diversify local economies, drive local investment, and create local jobs. So we’ve spent a lot of time on the phone recently with people pioneering projects in the Gulf and elsewhere, looking for projects clever and motivated people could replicate in Gulf communities.

We knew that we would learn a lot from this process, but we were surprised at one of the biggest lessons: While we thought that a large part of our mission would be to help Gulf communities recover from the BP oil disaster, many communities are still trying to rebuild from hurricane Katrina. The sad fact is that while a lot of progress is being made in recovering from the physical damage, many places still need to rebuild their local economies.

The good news is that the ongoing struggle to rebuild has inspired exactly the kind of clever and motivated people we were looking for.

We had a conversation with one such group of people last week that are doing innovative work that they managed to inspire a group of people here who frankly pride themselves on being cynical Washingtonians. We like to think that we’re pretty clever, trying to develop projects that kill two birds with one stone: Creating local jobs and accelerating the transition to a clean economy, the people at the Gulfsouth Youth Biodeisel Project are doing us at least one better.

Like many great ideas, the Gulfsouth Youth Biodeisel Project is equal parts simple and brilliant. On the phone last week, their Chief Development Officer Hamilton Simons-Jones informed us with unabashed civic pride that New Orleans is fried food capital of the world. One day over lunch, someone wondered what the restaurant did with all the oil when they were done with it. Mostly, it got thrown away.

Hamilton and his colleagues at Operation REACH decided that they could do better. So they merged the idea of turning the oil into something useful with their organization’s mission of training local youth for  career track opportunities, and the Gulfsouth Youth Biodiesel Project was born. They collect used cooking oil from local residents, train out of school youth in biology and engineering, convert the oil into fuel, which they sell to fund their operations and start the cycle all over again. Not only are they training disconnected youth for jobs in the clean economy, they’ve gone one step further and actually created the jobs they’re training for.

I’ll let the video speak for itself.