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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

The Many Sustainable Faces of Southface

Southface was founded in 1978 in Atlanta as a nonprofit organization with a focus on promoting sustainable homes, workplaces and communities. Not limited to just green building practices, Southface activities are connected to a larger world of sustainability throughout the Southeast.

Chief Operating Officer Michael Halicki explains, “We educate people with classroom training and host conferences and symposia, bringing people, including researchers from different areas, together in a less academic setting.” Research activities include putting instruments in buildings such as retrofits of single-family homes to measure the efforts’ economic benefits and performance in terms of using less energy and water.

A wide range of training is a big part of the Southface mission. According to Halicki, “We have a green certification building program called EarthCraft that maintains certain standards that require projects to save money on energy and water bills, provide durable construction and protect indoor air quality and other factors. We teach Realtors to understand what the EarthCraft designation is because more of the market is becoming interested in green building techniques. EarthCraft has certified more than 24,000 homes and light commercial buildings since 1999.

“For architects and planners, Southface works with the U.S. Green Building Council, which developed the national LEED [Leadership in Environmental and Environmental Design] designation, by providing test preparation and continuing education courses for professionals to implement those standards in their selected fields.”

They also do advocacy work, Halicki states, “We do a lot of work with non-elected officials—the bureaucrats within the different agencies—to come up with policies that achieve things that they’re looking for that also advance our mission. A good example of that is affordable housing in the state. There’s a lot of money that goes to build affordable housing, largely federal money that is coming in through the different state agencies, and they wanted to have a proxy for making sure that the construction was well done.”

Technical assistance is another extension of what Southface teaches in the classroom. There are situations where they work with a builder or architect that wants to “green up” a project, and Southface provides services to for-profit businesses for a fee,” says Halicki. “Sometimes the client may be a local government that wants to put together their own approach to sustainability, and they are looking for someone that has expertise in the area and hires Southface to codify ways of evaluating their processes, activities and procedures.” When staff hours are committed to a company or project, fees are charged, but Southface also maintains a free hotline for a wide range of technical questions.

Southface hosts monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable discussions that are not always centered on green building, per se. December’s theme, It Can Happen Here: Solar Power Takes off in Georgia, drew an audience of 200 at 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Recent Roundtables have addressed urban agriculture in Atlanta and transportation and transit issues.

Halicki states, “Southface does that as a way of connecting and giving back to the larger sustainability effort, leveraging the fact that we’ve been around for 34 years and encouraging a broader, more holistic approach between a wide range of related topics.”

The January 11 Roundtable—10 Years Later: Atlanta in 2023—will be held from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., in the Ellis Hall at All Saints Episcopal Church, 634 West Peachtree Street, NW. The moderator is Atlanta Regional Commissioner Dan Reuter. Cost is $10/$20.

Tours of the Southface Eco Office, certified LEED Platinum, ENERGY STAR and EarthCraft Light Commercial, one of the world’s most sustainable buildings, are held at 10 a.m., every Wednesday. Reservations are required. Individuals, companies and non-profits can join the Southface community to receive many benefits, including invitations to special events and discounts on activities and courses.

Location: 241 Pine St. NE, Atlanta. For more information, call 404-872-3549 or visit Southface.org.

Martin Miron is the editor of Natural Awakenings Atlanta.

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