By Maria Saporta
Friday, July 16, 2010
Southface, ahead of its time for several decades, now is hitting its stride as the Atlanta region and the nation invest in green buildings that are as energy- efficient as possible.
In the past couple of years, the Southface Energy Institute has seen its budget increase by $1.5 million to $5.5 million, thanks to federal stimulus funds and private donations.
At the same time, the staff of Southface has had a significant increase to its current level of 70 employees.
That’s a long way from when Southface began 32 years ago as an all-volunteer organization promoting the use of solar energy. The organization’s first and only executive director, Dennis Creech, first drew a salary of $200 a month.
Over the years, Southface has become a local and national leader of green-building practices. And in the past couple of years, Southface’s skills and services have been in great demand as federal and local governments have been encouraging greater energy efficiencies through new public policies and financial incentives.
Due to the tremendous growth, Southface is hiring its first-ever chief operating officer, Michael Halicki, a senior associate with the Ahmann public relations firm who has worked with several environmental organizations during his career.
In the past several years, Southface also has been building up its senior management to respond to a growing demand for its services.
Those include Gray Kelly, director of sustainable development and communities; Sydney Roberts, director of Southface home services; Judy Knight, director of marketing and public relations; Angie Hunter, director of development; Laura Capps, director of residential green building services; Brandon Jones, director of commercial building services; and Robert Reed, director of sustainable communities design.
Creech said that when Halicki comes on board at the end of August, it is going to help Southface get to the next level. Halicki will help manage the internal operations of Southface and be the connective tissue between the various facets of the organization.
“We’ve got national programs now, and we have regional programs,” Creech said. “I do a lot of travel now. And the nice thing about Michael is that’s he’s a well-respected leader in the environmental community with a lot of experience in the public policy area.”
Halicki, who has a master’s degree in public administration with a special emphasis on nonprofit management, has worked for the Clean Air Campaign, the Georgia Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. He also has worked with Southface on its Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable and on other projects.
“I couldn’t have designed a better opportunity,” Halicki said. “It was the exact right job for me at this stage of my career, and the organization is only becoming more relevant to the issues going on.”
Southface is a major reason why Atlanta has emerged as a leader in the development of LEED-certified buildings. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, rates construction projects based on the level of their green buildings practices.
Creech said Southface also has created the Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training Center, which in the past six months has trained more than 500 people for jobs in home weatherization, green building and energy auditing.
Also, for the past 11 years, Southface has had a partnership with the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association in building energy-efficient EarthCraft homes.
“We have certified 10,000 homes in 11 years,” Creech said of the multi-state effort. “We did eight homes the first year, so the growth curve has been pretty steep. We do lots of training.”
Creech said much of Southface’s success can be attributed to its partnerships with corporations, associations and foundations. Southface can be more effective when it works with industries and the private sector, Creech said calling the organization a “market-driven nonprofit.”
Looking back on his career, Creech, 60, recalled that Southface’s origins were as a solar coalition wanting to create an annual “Sun Day.” In the late 1970s, Creech also was working on an environmental future conference focused on climate change.
“There are no new ideas,” Creech said laughingly. Southface evolved about 30 years ago after the organization bought a dilapidated home on Memorial Drive, which it renovated to demonstrate green-building practices.
“We have always been a technical and assistance provider,” Creech said. “We are science-based, solution-based. We understand that the market is a force for change.”
And Creech, who said part of his desire is to be able to have a cold beer in the summer, said the goal is to make sure there is an adequate supply of clean energy for the future by keeping jobs in the United States.
“We want to be more effective and figure out how Southface can have the best-in-class building science program,” Creech said. “We are not the same organization we were three years ago, much less 30 years ago. Michael can help us with our next change that we know is coming.”