Meet USGBC North Carolina's new director: A Q&A with Sarah Beth Harkless
As director of USGBC North Carolina, Harkless will collaborate on sustainability initiatives with local stakeholders and communities.
Get to know the new director of USGBC North Carolina, Sarah Beth Harkless, in our Q&A below. In her role, Harkless will work to advance USGBC’s mission to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated through localized engagement and outreach throughout North Carolina.
Where are you from?
I am a proud West Virginian—where most of my extended family still lives—but I’ve lived in the Carolinas since 2001, most of that time in Charlotte, NC.
Who would you want to go to dinner with—living or dead?
If it were possible, I would gather up all of my friends and family from across the globe and throw a relaxed get together where we could all catch up and they could meet one another.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
Traveling to remote areas of the Amazon at a very young age changed my worldview and challenged me to consider the effects that my actions have globally. I’ve worked with two organizations over the course of almost 20 years on various initiatives, but access to potable water became the cause nearest to my heart. Helping to lead a program to bring simple and affordable water filters to families, schools, churches and clinics in the Peruvian Amazon continues to be an important and rewarding experience to me.
Who is your favorite superhero and why?
I particularly like the Ninja Turtle Donatello. He’s caring, logical and uses his love of science to solve problems. He’s also just generally a nerd, which I can identify with!
What’s your background and what motivated you to pursue a career in sustainability?
I hold a Bachelors of Arts in Biology and Spanish from Queens College of Charlotte and a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. After a short career in private legal practice, I quickly realized I wanted to transition into a role that was focused on the sciences, particularly environmental science. Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte was seeking out a person to lead its new goal to LEED certify its homes, and I jumped at the chance to work for an organization committed to improving our community, giving voice to those who are often overlooked AND build high performance, energy efficient homes!
I’ve spent countless hours in the Amazon River Basin working with and leading humanitarian organizations, and I’ve seen the effects that unsustainable farming, logging, clearing, oil drilling and other activities can have on local populations. My parents instilled in me a sense of seeking justice, and I knew at first sight of those human and environmental injustices that my work would focus on environmental sustainability.
What impact does LEED have on the city of Charlotte and in the state?
North Carolina is a strong market for all of the LEED rating systems, and we are continuing to expand its use and influence across the state. Our state is very fortunate to have many major corporations based in Charlotte and throughout the state that are committed to green building standards including LEED and push other companies to follow their lead. With their partnership we are making great gains in the marketplace and making the voice of green building heard at the local and state levels through our strong advocacy and policy programs.
What excites you most about joining the USGBC team?
We are developing infrastructure at a rapid pace, not only in the United States, but across the globe, and the USGBC insists that we look not only at our construction practices but also at the impact that construction and maintenance has locally, nationally, and internationally. From occupant health to the health of the people and environments from which we source our materials, USGBC is making a remarkable difference on the way we build. The world and its people need infrastructure and development, and we can fulfill that need sustainably and with a focus on minimizing the impact we have on our earth. I’m excited to be a part of this positive change!
What part of the sustainability movement inspires you the most?
I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of human activity and the environment, including the role buildings play. I think it’s important to remember our role within earth’s biosphere, so I believe that we have an obligation to use the earth’s resources in a way that supports, sustains and improves human and environmental health.
What’s your favorite LEED project?
I am incredibly biased towards the accomplishments of my former organization, Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, North Carolina. Since January of 2012, Habitat Charlotte has certified 125 LEED Silver homes and one LEED Platinum home and has 72 more registered and in process. Habitat Charlotte’s commitment began with one person who questioned why LEED wasn’t being pursued and whether it was feasible for a large-scale affordable homebuilder. The answer was a resounding ‘YES,’ and we were able to transform our construction practices to achieve LEED Silver on every Habitat Charlotte home since! Building LEED Silver homes means that Habitat Charlotte has deepened its commitment to building safe, healthy, and affordable homes by reducing indoor air pollutants, maintenance and energy costs, and increasing the durability of its homes for its partner families. I am proud to have been part of the organization that is building the best homes in Charlotte!