There is a growing coalition of nonprofit sustainability practitioners rooted in communities in the American South. With the technical capacity to take national best practices and translate them for Southern policy makers, homeowners, design and construction professionals, these leaders have what it takes to achieve the sustainability results the region needs.

These organizations have unparalleled instincts for meeting communities where they are and driving forward ambitious and feasible progress. They have racially and culturally diverse staff and board leadership and often partner with frontline organizations working on equity and environmental justice. They are operating on a shoestring and leveraging volunteer resources and individual donations. They have well-rounded menus of ideas and yet must cope with a regional deficit of philanthropy, government and utility support. But that’s never stopped them. 

If you’re looking for bleeding-edge sustainability solutions, their approaches may not be for you. If you want an expensively calculated Southern strategy, you’re missing the point. If you believe state-based policy and regulation is all that is needed to “bring the South along,” your theory isn’t based in our reality. 

Our reality is deeply rooted in our communities. We move at the speed of trust. Rather than waiting for an invite, we show up at the front porch with a casserole. It’s having mud on our boots and yet knowing when to wear a suit and heels. Those interested in transformative change have a massive opportunity to get ahead of the growth coming to the South by partnering with these local practitioners. They hold the key to unlocking scalable impact in this region. 

As our spend-out was drawing near, the Kendeda Fund convened a select group of these sustainability practitioners to glean their knowledge on scaling climate and equity solutions in the South. We also invited several additional thought leaders: the leadership of the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network and the executive director of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. We were most fortunate to have Maggie Ullman, a respected regional voice, facilitate our conversations and distill them in this report. 

Our goal was to help position these groups for success after Kendeda’s sunset in 2023. These sustainability leaders felt that greater collaboration – both within their existing programs as well as on regional initiatives – could help address pressing sustainability, climate and equity challenges. This report captures some of their wisdom.