By Jenn Ballentine

A greater awareness of environmental issues and growing energy costs has virtually every industry looking to adopt eco-friendly practices into their work. The nonprofit sector is no exception.

Going green is helping organizations reduce their environmental impact and at the same time improve their bottom line. A new community initiative, Grants to Green, has helped dozens of metro Atlanta nonprofits to do just that.

Launched in 2008, the Grants to Green Initiative provides environmentally focused knowledge and funding to strengthen nonprofits in the 23-county greater Atlanta area. A collaborative initiative between the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and Southface Energy Institute, Grants to Green gives nonprofits the opportunity to renovate or build healthier workplaces that are environmentally efficient. Nonprofits can apply for Assessment Awards to identify areas of improvement or Implementation Grants, which allow the nonprofit to receive funding to implement specific recommendations.

According to Dennis Creech, executive director of Southface, “Approximately half of all energy generated in America is used to power buildings and other aspects of the built environment. Managers of nonprofit organizations in the Atlanta region are acutely aware of the need to operate buildings that use natural resources efficiently and in environmentally sustainable ways. Long term, nonprofits can play a significant role in helping reduce Atlanta’s carbon footprint.”

In just one year, Grants to Green grantees have already seen significant reductions in their energy use and costs. Nonprofits that received Implementation Grants during the program’s first round have reduced their energy consumption by 16 percent thus far. This equates to removing 41 cars from the road, saving roughly 380,000 pounds of CO2, known for its danger to environmental and human health. As more nonprofits continue to build green and implement green practices, these savings are expected to grow.

Also noteworthy is the amount of dollars Grants to Green has helped nonprofits save. It is projected that the same cohort of grantees will save roughly $61,000 in annual operating costs. Even nonprofits receiving Assessment Awards during the first grant cycle have reduced their energy costs by as much as 8 percent, forecasting an annual cost savings of approximately $60,000. In the case of these nonprofits, considerable cost savings have come with little or even no financial investment or grant.

One such nonprofit, CARE USA was able to save over $31,000 in energy costs over the first six months of 2009 simply by adjusting its economizer operator, a no-cost recommendation that allowed CARE to more efficiently heat and cool the building. Katy Love, project officer for Emergency Capacity Building Project at CARE, noted that receipt of the assessment services was invaluable.

“We would not have been able to do an energy audit and carbon footprint analysis ourselves,” she said. “The assessment has been the catalyst for the green team at CARE. We have seen economic gains from some of the recommendations we implemented, and it has given us proof behind what we have known all along – that this is a really smart investment.”

Allen Rainwater, a board member of the Community Welcome House in Newnan, agrees. “The assessment was tremendously useful. It helped us understand where to put our efforts,” he said. The Community Welcome House received an Implementation Grant in round two of the Initiative. As a result, the organization was able to save on heating and cooling costs and use the savings to expand its programs.

Michael Flood, vice president of operations for yet another grantee, the Woodruff Arts Center, believes it is the responsibility of Grants to Green grantees to educate their clients and communities about the impact the grants have made. “I see Grants to Green as a partnership. We use the grant as intended, market the good deed and give back to our community. We are trying to be good stewards of the environment and teach kids how to be eco-responsible,” said Flood.

To that end, Woodruff has created a touch screen “green dashboard” that allows visitors to the Arts Center to learn how much energy is currently being used, read about the green efforts the Center has recently undertaken and obtain tips on how to “go green” in their own homes and workplaces. On the dashboard, visitors can see the tremendous impact that Grants to Green had on the Center’s energy use and costs.

Awarded a $40,000 grant to replace the lighting in its parking deck with energy-efficient lighting and to install a new, high-efficiency heating and cooling system at an offsite art storage facility, the Woodruff Arts Center has saved over $26,000 in energy costs alone over a six-month period.

According to Tyronda Minter, the Community Foundation’s director for regional impact and manager of the Grants to Green Initiative, the initiative has the potential to greatly impact Atlanta’s nonprofit sector. “When the Kendeda Fund approached us with this idea for our grantmaking, we were so excited,” she said. “It has been a wonderful opportunity for us to use our status as a community foundation to bring visibility to the environmental sustainability issue in the nonprofit sector through community education as well as grantmaking.”

To date, Grants to Green has awarded Assessment and Implementation grants to over 50 different nonprofits throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area. Additional grants will be awarded in 2010. For more information about Grants to Green including program guidelines, visit www.cfgreateratlanta.org or e-mail GrantstoGreen@cfgreateratlanta.org.

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