The Deep South has never been thought of as a leader in the ecology and sustainability movement, but like many things about Georgia, its progress may surprise you. Especially when it comes to urban areas and meeting and tourism facilities that are answering a call to build a sustainable future.
Atlanta-based Mother Nature Network, for example, is one of the planet’s most-visited environmental websites.
MNN’s co-founder, Grammy-winning keyboardist, pianist and vocalist Chuck Leavell, is no stranger to global attention. Recording and touring with The Rolling Stones since 1982 as their keyboardist and musical director, Leavell has also been a prolific eco-champion for decades.
“Our goal from day one was to be the go-to source for accurate, dependable and informative environmental subject matter,” said the Alabama native, who started out with the Allman Brothers in 1972. “Attracting between 5 million and 6 million hits a month, it’s been a wonderful project as we celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2019.”
When not making music, Leavell and his wife Rose Lane host nature lovers, environmentalists, artists and other groups at Charlane Plantation, their sustainable tree farm near Macon.
These same eco-friendly good vibes extend across Georgia’s main meeting centers.
Georgia’s capital, recognized by the National Forest Service as “the most heavily forested urban area in the country,” is focused on protecting its famed tree canopy and other natural environments.
“As the ‘City in the Forest,’ Atlanta takes great pride in our sustainable initiatives,” said William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta CVB.
“From our LEED Gold-certified airport, our extensive public transportation systems and the world’s largest LEED-certified convention center, Atlanta shows that a destination can grow economically and maintain environmental responsibility," he said.
Certified LEED Gold, the 3.9 million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) is also one of the planet’s 15 largest LEED-certified buildings. In June 2018, the center broke ground on its first major expansion since 2002.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta | Credit: Atlanta CVB
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with certification highlights that include capturing rainwater for tree irrigation in partnership with leading nonprofit Trees for Atlanta, is the world’s first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium.
Other Atlanta LEEDers include the following:
State Farm (formerly Philips) Arena is the nation’s first LEED-certified NBA/NHL venue.
Signature off-sites include The National Center for Civil and Human Rights and World of Coca-Cola, both LEED Gold-certified, and Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, LEED Silver-certified.
The Georgia International Convention Center, connected to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, features LEED-certified convention hotels from Marriott and SpringHill Suites.
Green Key-rated convention corridor hotels include the Grand Hyatt Atlanta and Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
Emory University’s Conference Center and Hotel, bordering a 26-acre nature preserve, has earned TripAdvisor’s “Green Leader” Gold Level Award.
Trees for Atlanta offers walking tours of the in-development Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, a pioneering 22-mile linear park featuring native trees, grasses and plants, and multi-use trails.
The LEED Gold-certified Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, flexibly hosting daytime and evening events, features one of the largest sloped green roofs in the Southeast.
Other advanced systems include reusing treated water, saving an estimated 1 million gallons of potable water annually.
The multipurpose facility also offers outdoor classrooms, hiking and ziplining.
Hotel Indigo Athens opened in 2009 as one of America’s first LEED Gold-certified hotels.
Evoking the classic Southern covered bridge, this 130-room “eco-chic” boutique arose from regionally sourced sustainable and salvaged materials.
Flexible spaces include the stylish 5,000-square-foot Rialto Club.
Hotel Indigo, Athens
Hotel Indigo, Athens | Credit: Hotel Indigo Athens
Downtown’s versatile LEED-certified Classic Center is northeast Georgia’s premier convention center and performing arts theater.
At the nearby University of Georgia, groups can tour and rent flexible spaces at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and LEED Gold-certified Georgia Museum of Art.
Nature and music make for harmonious happenings in the city known as the “Song and Soul of the South.”
Springtime agendas co-flourish at the annual 10-day International Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the blooming of Macon’s 300,000-plus historic Yoshino cherry trees every April.
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Macon’s Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center, the largest event facility outside of metro Atlanta at 102,000 gross square feet of space, is pursuing LEED certification.
Capricorn Sound Studios, the birthplace of Southern rock in 1969, is where young Chuck Leavell got his start and met his future wife, Rose Lane, then employed by the historic studio.
The studio is slated for relaunch in December 2019 as Mercer Music at Capricorn following a renovation that includes possible rooftop solar panels to power the new studio-museum, along with rentable event space.
Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon
Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon | Credit: Visit Macon
Savannah’s 22 public squares are the green heart of Georgia’s First City, from Chippewa Square, featured in Forrest Gump, to Ellis Square, bordering the restaurants and bars of hopping group-favorite City Market. Canopied by huge live oaks, these historic gardens are rentable for special events.
The Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, distinctively located on Hutchinson Island with both ferry and road access, was Georgia’s first LEED Gold-certified convention center. Ongoing discussions call for a $234 million expansion of the venue.
Eco-friendly venues in Georgia’s second-oldest city include the 372-room riverfront Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, offering 100,000 square feet of LEED-certified space.
Programmable outdoor venues include the 1,600-seat riverfront Jessye Norman Amphitheatre. The Phinizy Center for Water Sciences mixes indoor and outdoor spaces, while conferees at the versatile Snelling Center can dine outside at adjacent Edgar’s Grille, serving locally sourced fare.
Q&A with Chuck Leavell // Musician and Environmentalist
Music legend Chuck Leavell also rocks on the conservation stage.
The author of four books, including Forever Green and Growing a Better America, Leavell’s advocacy includes co-founding leading environmental website Mother Nature Network, hosting PBS’s America’s Forests With Chuck Leavell and speaking at environmental events.
When available, he and his wife Rose Lane host groups at Charlane Plantation, their sustainable forestry showcase near Macon.
For Leavell, nature is the ultimate place to meet.
Chuck and Rose Lane Leavell, Credit: Kirstin Israel Photography LLC
Chuck and Rose Lane Leavell, Credit: Kirstin Israel Photography LLC
What bonded you to the trees?
Growing up amid the environmental movement of the ’60s, my involvement deepened in the ’70s after marrying my wife, Rose Lane. Passionate land stewards for generations, her family’s ethos inspired me. To further that heritage, we decided to sustainably develop forestland bequeathed by her grandmother. Trees are the source of my career joy—the wood that creates pianos and other instruments—and it’s been deeply personal ever since.
How did you keep your dual career in key?
It was pretty intense at first. While touring with The Fabulous Thunderbirds in the early ’80s, I enrolled in a correspondence course in forestry. It took a year but provided a confident start. First managing the existing forest while planting new trees, we’ve since quadrupled our forestland holdings. It’s a long-term endeavor of equal importance to my musical career.
Music and Mother Nature feel like all-natural siblings...
Recorded music lasts forever. Treated sustainably, so does forestland. It’s more than the trees, though. The big picture is about all the flora and fauna within, down to the soil. Having some 323 million people on our soil puts heavy pressure on our environment. Beyond conserving trees, my message is about smart growth and ways we can all be kinder to the planet.
What changes when people engage with the outdoors?
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.” Our greatest reward is planting, growing and harvesting something that betters people’s lives. Forestry teaches patience and forward-thinking vision, while connecting with nature in general elevates the sense of place and purpose. With humanity’s ancient connection to the land, it’s the purest environment for sustained learning, sharing and growing.