By Guest Columnist SUZANNE BURNES, executive director of Sustainable Atlanta

There was a time not that many years ago when Atlanta was seen as a hub for social progress.

While we can all point to ways that we have backslid or treaded water since that shining age of engagement and leadership, one thing hasn’t changed. Critical masses of Atlantans, Decaturites, Gwinnetians, East Pointers and those who call every corner of this region home are passionate about making this region a better place and are doing their part to change it.

We are home to internationally-known non-governmental organizations, academic and public health institutions, and multi-national corporations, as well as thousands of smaller NGOs and businesses, and each and every one of these organizations can point to the do-gooders in their midst.

These are the folks who volunteer for the charity fundraising drives, who take the recyclables home with them, who rally their team to spend a Saturday cleaning up a creek or who renovate the home of someone in need.

Suzanne Burnes
Suzanne Burnes

They serve on the community center board, they plant an extra row in their garden for the food pantry; they raise money for their kid’s school fitness program; they serve the homeless at their church shelter.  They are everywhere.  They are us.

This groundswell of support for civic service that has been quietly building over the years now collides with the megatrend of corporate social responsibility and sustainability in the business world as consumers demand products that support their values.

The boomers are retiring and finding more time to give back.  The millennial generation is rising, embracing all things local, green and authentic and giving birth to a new wave of individual philanthropy and social entrepreneurship.

We sit at a time of true abundance of good will and resources in our region, yet they are so fragmented and diffused that most go unnoticed and our stories aren’t told.

We moan for lack of leaders to galvanize us, and research like the Edelman Trust Barometer  validates with resounding statistics what we all see around us.  Sources of trusted information are radically shifting, and our peers – armed with technology – are far more influential in our daily decision-making than traditional sources of leadership.  Could it be that the leaders we seek are right under our noses?

Masses are demonstrating their “social good identity” every day in metro Atlanta and the conditions are ripe for catalyzing real sustainable change – that improves quality of life and health for us and future generations; that balances stewardship of our environment with economic growth and equity for our people; that builds communities that are resilient in the face of a rapidly changing world. Perhaps part of what we need is simply a better way to connect and leverage the armies of leaders amongst us.

Every movement needs a gathering place to share, celebrate and inspire each other.  Through the philanthropic leadership of the Kendeda Fund and the UPS Foundation, Sustainable Atlanta has been working over the past year to fill this need by creating an online community to lift up the good work happening every day across the region to create a more sustainable community – Look Up Atlanta.

Look Up Atlanta is where metro Atlantans come together to strengthen communities, inspire action and enrich lives. By raising awareness about local sustainability efforts, connecting people, and sharing resources, Look Up Atlanta inspires individuals and organizations to act for good.

Whether your personal passion for making a difference plays out in your home, your work, your child’s school, your faith community, your neighborhood – you now have a place to connect that passion with others around the region, to learn from each other, support each other and amplify the good.

The real power of this community has already been realized with one exciting new partnership between two otherwise disconnected organizations – Emory University   and re:Loom.

The first has aggressive commitments to sustainability, including local sourcing and diversion of materials from landfills.  The second provides individuals a path out of homelessness by creating jobs to manufacture rugs and other woven products from scrap garments.  The real power of this community has already been realized with one exciting new partnership between two otherwise disconnected organizations – Emory University/Emory Healthcare and re:Loom.

“I have worked in the sustainability field for over 20 years and am a native Atlantan – I really thought I knew who was doing what in this space,” said Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainable Initiatives at Emory University and Emory Healthcare.

“If it weren’t for Look Up Atlanta providing re:Loom with this outlet to tell their story, I would have never known about this incredible resource right down the street from our campus,” Howett added. “Re:loom has already helped Emory divert since May over 120 pounds of athletic and custodial uniforms that were otherwise un-donatable, and we’re providing them with student interns and looking into purchasing their products for campus.”

Local assets, local leaders doing their part in the trenches to make metro Atlanta a better place.  The citizens of this region are individually building our social good identity every day.  Through Look Up Atlanta, we can see these individual stories form a collective story that can amplify our impacts and inspire others to join us.  Connection by connection, act by act, together we’re changing the landscape of metro Atlanta for good.  Come see who’s in! For more information, please visit

Sustainable Atlanta  advances the health, prosperity and quality of life for all people in metro Atlanta by nurturing a balance between environmental stewardship, economic development and social equity. As a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit, we connect and leverage the work of public, private and community organizations and create tools to facilitate engagement, accelerate progress and tell Atlanta’s sustainability story.

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