More than 130 business executives, entrepreneurs, and community leaders gathered for a reception in Raleigh on Nov. 29 to celebrate the launch of the North Carolina Sustainability Center. Clean energy investment fund Cherokee hosted the event at its ‘green’ headquarters in downtown Raleigh.
NCSC board chair Maria Kingery and president Katie Kross spoke about the Center’s work and goals for the coming year. “If we want North Carolina to continue to be seen as a national leader in the economy of tomorrow, we need to make our businesses and our communities more competitive through sustainability,” Kross emphasized. “Business interests do not have to be at odds with our environmental and social wellbeing. In fact, they are intertwined.”
NCSC describes sustainability as meeting the ‘triple bottom line’ of people, planet, and profit. “As a business owner, I’ve seen firsthand how sustainability can create new entrepreneurial opportunities,” said Maria Kingery, chair of the NCSC board. “Sustainability represents both new industries and the evolution of existing industries, and North Carolina has an opportunity to be a leader in those industries.” Kingery is president of renewable energy company Southern Energy Management. The 15-member NCSC board also includes representatives from Bank of America, Cisco, and the City of Charlotte, as well as nonprofits, foundations, universities, and community colleges.
Katie Kross directs NCSC’s daily operations as president of the organization. “Sustainability is not only about preserving our environmental and cultural assets,” Kross said. “It’s about making North Carolina’s businesses and communities more competitive. It’s a means for attracting top-tier companies to the state.”
Kross is not a typical environmentalist. She holds an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. It was at business school, in fact, that Kross was introduced to sustainability as an approach to corporate strategy. After her MBA, Kross managed the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at Kenan-Flagler and then helped create the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
NCSC’s aim is to make the link between sustainability and economic opportunity more explicit by showcasing success stories and market opportunities. “We want to help North Carolina industry leaders and decision-makers see sustainability as a means to growth in the global clean economy,” Kross said. The organization plans to publish industry research, hold events, and serve as a clearinghouse for sustainability news and information.
Maria Kingery (left), NCSC board chair, with president Katie Kross
At the launch event, NCSC also announced the release of a statement signed by more than 100 businesses across the state in support of North Carolina’s sustainability efforts. The statement asserts, “Sustainability has helped our state consistently rank as a leader in terms of quality of life and business opportunity.” Signatories include large corporations like Duke Energy, SAS, and Ingersoll Rand, as well as well-respected local firms like Harrington Bank, Eastern Carolina Organics, and Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels. “These companies are thinking about the long term,” Kross said. “Communities that preserve social and environmental resources are places where their employees want to work.”
“We hope to do for sustainability what the NC Biotech Center has done for biotechnology in North Carolina,” Kingery added. “This is an opportunity to really put North Carolina on the map.”