Each year, CL shines a spotlight on metro Atlanta’s boldest and brightest environmental trailblazers. From farmers to light bulb installers, sustainability gurus to Gold Dome policymakers, these six metro Atlantans understand that if we don't protect Earth, we won’t have anything left to protect at all.
Jill Johnson, Georgia Conservation Voters program director
In the Georgia General Assembly, a good piece of environmental legislation can quickly turn bad if enough lawmakers get their hands on it.
Jill Johnson knows this all too well. On the final night of the recently concluded legislative session, the program director and lobbyist for Georgia Conservation Voters watched a bill go from simple — allowing tax assessors to alert property owners if their land is in a floodplain — to cumbersome, having been all but destroyed by unfriendly amendments pushing unrelated pet projects.
“It became loaded up like a Christmas tree and ended up dying,” Johnson says.
Such is the unfortunate reality at the Capitol, where Johnson works with a handful of environmental activists who fight for clean water, healthy air, and renewable energy against more than 1,600 registered lobbyists who wine and dine lawmakers on behalf of environmentally hurtful big-business interests.
“She’s earned the nickname ‘Iron Jill’ for her tireless work as an advocate," says longtime Gold Dome lobbyist Neill Herring of the Sierra Club, who often collaborates with Johnson.
Thanks to Johnson’s past lobbying, legislators agreed to offer tax credits to property owners who conserve their land for future generations. This year, she convinced on-the-fence lawmakers to oppose a perennial piece of legislation pushed by the billboard industry that threatened trees on public land. With the help of the Garden Club of Georgia, Johnson blocked the bill.
“I’m a pretty competitive person," Johnson says. "Part of it is, I just want to win. But I [also] want to figure out how we can start playing offense, and have incremental change in terms of moving us forward with environmental protection."
Tony C. Anderson, founder of Let’s Raise A Million
Before you go into a man’s home and ask him to change, Tony C. Anderson says you first must earn enough trust to walk through his door. That’s the logic Anderson employed when he came up with an idea to help the city’s least fortunate neighborhoods make a go at being green.
During his junior year of college, Anderson, a recent political philosophy graduate of Morehouse College, installed a compact fluorescent bulb in his grandmother’s house. Months later, he says, the elderly woman who’d previously given little thought to her carbon footprint was talking about going green.
An idea hit him: Distribute the eco-friendly and money-saving devices to communities of modest means. Communities, Anderson says, which have mostly been left out of the environmental movement.
"We’ve been having the conversation about the trees, the bees, the whales, the birds," he says. "That’s important, but it’s not really registering. Our targets are these communities that haven’t been having these conversations. So we say go green by saving money, and then we connect them on the back end."
With the help of dormmates, Anderson started Let's Raise A Million. The goal: Convince people to live more sustainable lives, starting with installing a simple light bulb — 1 million of them. The organization’s currently halfway through its pilot program of 28,000 bulbs, which is focused in southwest Atlanta.
Anderson says he and his fellow staffers have an advantage over outside groups who swoop in to change behavior.
“We’re actually on the ground,” he says, “staying in and organizing in these communities.”
True to their mission, Anderson and another LRAM staffer live and work in a home on Peeples Street in southwest Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. The organization also leases another house nearby and converted the garage into a light bulb warehouse.
Anderson sees the organization growing and sharing its basic model with other colleges and communities. (Grambling State University, South Carolina State University and the University of Georgia are starting their own campaigns.) He’s also in talks with philanthropic foundations and companies for partnerships.
“When eco-equity and the green economy comes, we want to be a part of it,” Anderson says. “If not, then it’s going to be co-opted by the eco-chic and the eco-elite, and we’re gonna have eco-apartheid — and we do not want to go there."
Ciannat Howett, Emory University’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives director
Now in her third year as Emory’s sustainability initiatives director, Ciannat Howett's led a series of programs to make the esteemed school one of the greenest — if not the greenest — campuses in the country.
The university, which boasts the largest square footage of energy-efficient buildings in the nation, is nearly halfway through an ambitious 10-year plan that will reduce energy use and change behaviors about the environment.