Known for its raging sprawl almost as much as its Southern drawl, Atlanta might not be the first eco-city to come to mind. But with a mayor on board with environmental causes, a serious mass transit system in the works, and a bevy of nearby farmers serving up local grub, the city is on its way to greener pastures. And, just in case you need another reason — Atlanta also plays HQ to a certain online environmental magazine. (Ahem, Mother Nature Network, of course!)
Ever dreamed of having your own, personal green lifestyle coach — or at least someone to help you decide between organic and local at the supermarket and which brand of earth-friendly dish soap to buy? Green Girl Atlanta is there to help. Meanwhile, Sustainable Atlanta does for businesses and companies what Green Girl does for individuals: helps them strategize how to be their eco-best.
Thanks to the economic downturn, the construction of single-family homes in Atlanta (typically a hot homebuilders market) was reported to be down 46 percent from last year. Still, despite the slump, nearly 7,500 houses were built during 2009’s second fiscal quarter.
No wonder, then, that the local green building market is so strong. Companies like Eco Custom Homes and The Hoots Group provide green contracting for new home construction and renovations, while Conservation Mart and The Eco Emporium supply materials, solar electronics and green housewares to outfit all those new homes. Meanwhile, Southface is a nonprofit organization that educates people and businesses about how to conserve energy and save money.
The number of local farms outside (and inside!) Atlanta is too many to number — for the curious, Local Harvest has a comprehensive list. But here are a few gems: Gaia Gardens is a 5-acre, organic urban oasis tucked next to the East Lake Commons co-housing community. Outside the city, Neil Taylor runs Taylorganic, where he grows organic vegetables and fruit such as figs and blueberries. Mother Nature Network’s Farmer D also hails from The Big Peach.
Hungry for a sustainable supper? Atlanta has it covered, thanks in part to the Green Foodservice Alliance, a division of the Georgia Restaurant Association that creates and implement environmental “best practices” in food establishments. Snack on artisanal breads and baked goods at Alon’s Bakery, local seafood at Food 101, or go upscale and seasonal at Haven. Nearby in Decatur, Watershed Restaurant (founded by Indigo Girl Emily Saliers) serves up Southern favorites with a local twist. Home cooks can snatch up local goodies at the Piedmont Park green market or find a nearby CSA through Georgia Organics.
Atlanta’s shopping scene has something really special going on. In January, the intown Atlanta shopping and dining district became an official “carbon-neutral zone” — the first in the nation. How? Via a startup company called Versus Carbon Neutral Partnership, which helps businesses audit and offset their carbon footprint. Antje Kingma, who co-owns organic housewares store Eco Bella, helped sell the idea to neighboring businesses. Now Atlanta shoppers can browse with a free conscience.
Nearby, the eco-savvy kids store Idbids sells adorable and educational books and toys to help teach the little ones about the Earth.
For being a car-happy town, Atlanta has a disproportionate number of bike stores and organizations, including The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit working to improve bicycling conditions. To get a set of (two) wheels, Atlantans can head to full-service bike stores Intown Bicycle and Atlanta Pro Bicycle, or track bike boutique No Brakes. Tourists and residents alike can also take a leisurely, guided ride of the city with Bicycle Tours of Atlanta.
Public transportation fans know Atlanta’s bus and rail lines leave a lot to be desired. Still, MARTA's light rail and buses are an effective way to travel around the center of the city. Meanwhile, the much touted Beltline (still in the planning stages) has the potential to significantly improve Atlanta’s alternative transportation cred.
Wondering where to take that old toaster or stack of newspapers to give them a new life? Recycle Atlanta is an online hub with all the information you could need about reducing, reusing and recycling in the greater Atlanta area. And Keep Atlanta Beautiful (an affiliate of the national Keep America Beautiful organization) helps educate the community about litter prevention in the city.
Atlanta has a thriving community of environmental nonprofits working on everything from local habitat cleanups to global environmental awareness. True to their names, The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper keeps watch over the Upper Chattahoochee River, and Trees Atlanta has been planting and caring for the city’s trees since 1985.
On the broader scale, ECO-Action works for environmental justice, and Mothers & Others, which is housed at the Georgia Conservancy, is dedicated to improving air quality across Georgia. Let’s Raise a Million is a student-run project (so cool!) that conducts energy audits and helps retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient. In addition to Atlanta, Let’s Raise a Million has sister programs in Los Angeles and Detroit. Another kid friendly group doing good work in Atlanta is The Captain Planet Foundation — a nonprofit that works to educate and empower kids to be environmental stewards. (Watch old episodes of Captain Planet on MNN.)
Out-of-town guests can stay in sustainable style at the Emory Conference Center Hotel, which has been greened inside and out. (Don’t forget to grab a cup of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee in the morning.) Visitors also should not miss Zoo Atlanta or the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where you'll always find something beautiful in bloom, thanks to Atlanta’s warm climate. Bonus: The garden recently agreed to accept neighbors’ kitchen waste and garden scraps for their compost bins!
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