Reflecting on Our History and Journey
By: Dennis Creech, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Southface
As we approach our 18th Visionary Dinner event on Thursday, September 8 at the Georgia Aquarium, I find myself looking back at the early days of our organization and the first events that brought together volunteers who believed in transforming our energy economy into an environmentally responsible model.
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 changed the public’s perception of the environment. However, while the production and use of energy was a major driver behind many of the serious global and local environmental challenges of the day, few in the environmental community worked on energy issues.
The lack of awareness on energy led Denis Hayes, one of the leaders behind the first Earth Day, and others to organize SUN Day, an international initiative to focus attention on the importance of solar and other clean energy resources. The first SUN Day was Wednesday, May 3, 1978.
A small group of volunteers formed Georgia SUN Day and hosted dozens of events around the state ranging from a “10k Run for the Sun” to a clean energy rally in Woodruff Park on SUN Day featuring speeches, solar displays and a marching band.
Of course, it rained in Atlanta on SUN Day. This proved to be ideal weather, as the media plan for CBS News with Walter Cronkite was to cover SUN Day by focusing on a large city with rain. Atlanta was that city. The irony of rain and solar energy was too compelling for television to pass up.
Fortunately, the rain held off until the speeches were over and the TV cameras got decent footage. Afterwards, I did my first live radio interview in the rain from an outdoor payphone in Woodruff Park.
Denis Hayes went on to direct the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and now heads the Bullitt Foundation. Other SUN Day leaders diffused into government, nonprofit and private sector roles. SUN Day certainly helped influence energy issues in many ways.
There was a SUN Day committee in all 50 states. I’m not aware of any that remain other than Southface. While our name evolved, from Georgia SUN Day to Georgia Solar Coalition to Southface, our mission and values have stayed remarkably consistent. Our impact has been and remains impressive, thanks largely to partners who help expand our reach.
For example, close to 40,000 homes have been certified since 1999 under the EarthCraft program, a partnership between the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and Southface. And more than 160 Atlanta nonprofits have saved more than $2 million dollars by implementing recommendations made by Southface through Grants to Green, a program administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta with support from The Kendeda Fund. The monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable, organized by a steering committee comprised of nonprofit, academic, government and business leaders, remains the Atlanta region’s “town hall” meeting on sustainability.
Our future is equally exciting. We are adding health, wellness and safety evaluation tools to our high-performance home assessment and education programs. We are also in the early stages of planning for our Green Infrastructure and Resilience Institute, designed to help solve community-based challenges around extreme weather events while training the workforce of tomorrow. And our policy team is building upon achievements in promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions that are equitable, expand markets and create jobs.
I remain inspired by the thoughtful and committed staff, members, volunteers and supporters of Southface. My wife Callie Pendergrast and I plan on being lifelong supporters of Southface and look forward to being with you in the crowd at next year’s Visionary Dinner!
Limited tickets remain for the 2016 Visionary Dinner. Learn more at www.visionarydinner.org