Karen Stewart worked in the profit industry for most of her career. Until she decided that making sustainable building practices commonplace and accessible was her professional calling.
Following earning her degree as an electrical engineer, places like Tyson Foods, Inc., Emerson Electric and Dayco Products allowed her to use her skills as a consultant, executive manager and in information technology.
But in 2007, she decided to take all that she had learned and put it into her own business meant to spread knowledge of sustainable building. She called it Eco-Pontential, and through it she helped secure a Gold LEED certification — a “green” building initiative — for projects like the Waste Management Innovation Center in Rogers, the Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Missouri and currently for an AART building in Watts, Okla.
However, her most important accomplishment is teaching classes based on sustainable building, made available to people that otherwise could not afford to attend.
“What I feel is my biggest accomplishment is when I see my students go out and use what I’ve taught them. They help with green schools, rain garden projects, [etc.]. I’ve got five years of students that have learned green building,” Stewart said.
She began by partnering with the Northwest Arkansas Community College in 2010 through the Arkansas Energy Sector Partnership Grant — which allowed classes that would have otherwise cost up to $600, cost only $50. That grant will expire after this year, and by creating a nonprofit side of Eco-Potential, Stewart wants to keep offering discounted classes.
“Charging people for learning about sustainability is like charging for air. It’s something everyone needs,” Stewart said.
Through this nonprofit side, she would also make consulting available at discounted costs to individuals and companies, and help make Eco-Potential a hub for sustainable initiatives.
“If someone wants to put in solar power or wind energy, they can contact us to find out what incentives are available. They’re constantly changing and we want to have a research team that’s always up-to-date on what’s out there,” Stewart said.
She thinks the only way the U.S. will move forward in a sustainable way is by getting everyone to understand how to make green building practices a part of what they do.
To help jumpstart the initiative and the nonprofit portion of Eco-Potential, their holding their first annual Tread Lightly 5K Run and 1-Mile Family Fun Walk, where all proceeds will go to helping the company in their mission. Registration will begin at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale at 8 a.m. and end at 8:45 a.m. The 5K and 1-mile walk will begin at 9 a.m.. The first 200 registered participants will receive a free t-shirt and a free reusable tote bag filled with various gift items from sponsors. The top three runners will win a cash prize. It’s $25 for early 5K registration and $30 the day of the race, and $15 for early 1-mile walk, $20 the day of. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.