By Gregory Wallace

Southface is a nonprofit organization that for more than three decades has promoted energy, water, and resource-efficient homes, workplaces and communities throughout the Southeast. In October, Southface built on that mission with the unveiling of the Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training (SWEET) Center.

Located near the intersection of Piedmont and North avenue, the SWEET Center’s purpose is to provide practical, hands-on learning opportunities in up-to-date weatherization techniques including blower door testing, duct sealing, installing insulation, caulking and more.

Funded by both private contributions and federal grants, the Center is a collaboration between Southface and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) and has already trained more than 700 weatherization professionals in home retrofitting and energy-efficiency techniques, benefiting more than 3,500 low-income households to date.

Southface co-founder and executive director Dennis Creech likened the opening of the Center to Atlanta’s symbol, the phoenix. Like that legendary bird, Creech said, the SWEET Center was reborn from the remains of an abandoned diaper laundry facility to become an Earthcraft light commercial certification building on its way to LEED gold certification.

The building will use less energy than a traditional renovation of commercial space and about 75 percent of the construction waste from the project was recycled. “The purpose of the SWEET Center,” said Creech, “is to help thousands of homeowners and business owners become phoenixes in their own lives by saving money and protecting the planet by doing so.”

At the same time, Creech said it would be a mistake to think of the Center as a single building. Through its mobile classroom, the Center “has already trained over 700 weatherization professionals,” several of which were on hand for the unveiling.

Mayor Kasim Reed said the SWEET Center was another building block in his administrations goal to make Atlanta one of the top 10 sustainable cities in the nation.

“Achieving this goal will improve the quality of life of Atlanta’s citizens by enhancing the quality of our environment,” said Reed, “while at the same time supporting job creation and long term growth.”

Reed said Southface’s green jobs training program comes at a time when the city is rolling out its first residential energy efficient program. The Sustainable Home Initiative in the New Economy (SHINE) allows residents to receive up to a $2,000 rebate towards qualifying weatherization improvements. Creech reiterated the compelling financial incentive for energy efficient renovation SHINE provides.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bob Adams, who is the supervisor for the national weatherization program, highlighted several impressive statistics of the program. Through a $5 billion grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, Adams said the program is currently weatherizing about 1,500 homes a day, with more than 220,000 homes across the country already weatherized. More than 4,000 homes in Georgia have been weatherized. The program has created over 14,300 jobs.

For more information on the SWEET Center and Southface, visit www.southface.org