Sustainability nonprofit Southface Sarasota lost its base of operations recently when the lease on the Florida House green demonstration home and gardens ended and was not renewed. But when that door closed, another opened at New College of Florida. Southface and New College just announced a powerful new partnership anchored at the school’s bayfront campus that will blend community engagement with cutting-edge learning opportunities.
Southface Sarasota is staffed by Sarasota locals, but the nonprofit is a relative newcomer to Florida’s Gulf Coast communities. Southface Institute has been building healthier, more efficient homes, workplaces, and communities across the nation since 1978; the Atlanta-based organization was joined by the Florida House Institute to launch Southface Sarasota at the Florida House just last year.
Southface Sarasota quickly earned its keep at the demonstration home. By the end of 2021, they had hosted about 2,500 hours of job training with Suncoast Technical College students, thousands of hours of volunteer projects, hundreds of educational tours, a lecture series, a new podcast, and multiple partner showcase events. In partnership with Transition Sarasota, Southface Sarasota also donated more than 500 pounds of organic produce from the Florida House garden to the Church of the Palms food pantry.
While Southface Sarasota was leading tours of the Florida House highlighting sustainable building technologies, hosting energy advocacy workshops, and providing many other hands-on educational experiences, New College of Florida was preparing to kick off an ambitious sustainability challenge. The New College Challenge was announced March 29, 2022. Through the charrette process of intense collaboration and inclusive problem-solving, the school and broader community are working toward a long-term revitalization of the campus that addresses New College’s buildings and relationship to the surrounding environment.
Though the loss of the Florida House lease was a blow for Sarasota’s sustainability community, the silver lining that emerged was significant. Recognizing the mutual value that partnering with a leading sustainable building nonprofit could bring to students and the community, New College invited Southface Sarasota to work together toward their common goals.
Southface Sarasota will now take up residency in New College’s Caples Carriage House and the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center for at least one year. Southface Sarasota Executive Director Amber Whittle, PhD, is adding to her role; She will serve part-time as the Director of the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, liaison, and student mentor as well as a Research Scholar in Environmental Studies and Natural Sciences.
The new partnership is designed to seamlessly connect the next generation of building industry professionals and environmental scientists to job training and a robust, active network of community-serving organizations and businesses. Southface Sarasota’s technical expertise will also catalyze climate-forward progress through the New College Challenge. While the Florida House will be missed, community partnerships are proof that sustainability still has a home in Sarasota.