Ten Years Advocating for a Sustainable Charlotte
Mar 28, 2020 12:06PM
By Shannon McKenzie
Shannon Binns is Founder and Executive Director of Sustain Charlotte, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit whose mission is to inspire choices that lead to a healthy, equitable, and vibrant community for generations to come. 2020 is the 10th anniversary of Sustain Charlotte and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and Natural Awakenings caught up with Shannon for an update.
NA: What drove you to launch Sustain Charlotte?
SB: When I moved to Charlotte in 2007 to be closer to my family, the metro area was experiencing explosive growth, much like it is today. And I was shocked by the harm this growth was inflicting. Poorly managed growth had resulted in a 50% reduction in trees over the previous 25 years, a lack of transportation choices and dependency on cars, major air and water pollution, and neighborhoods segregated by race and income. I knew there had to be a better way for my newly adopted community to grow, but that it would take many residents speaking with one voice to overcome the status quo and entrenched interests.
NA: What would you most like to see from the general public to help you?
SB: More engagement in local politics. So many of us focus on what is happening in Washington but don't know who represents us on the City Council and County Commission. Yet every day, decisions are being made by local elected leaders that have much more of an impact on our day-to-day lives than what happens in Washington. And local decisions are much easier to impact! At Sustain Charlotte we make it easy for people to know what is happening and how they can use their voice to help better their own community. For example, we are currently asking the public to show their support for the City to invest $50M over the next two years to make the city safer for walking and biking by signing our petition at sustaincharlotte.org/action.
NA: How have the youth-led Friday protests at the Government Center in Charlotte helped promote Sustain Charlotte’s mission?
SB: They have personally inspired me tremendously to be more vocal about what is needed to address climate change. As a result, we have changed the way we talk about our work. Specifically, we are now talking more openly about how the work we are doing to change local land use decisions and our reliance on cars is critical to reducing our climate pollution at the local level. It was harder to talk about the climate benefits of our work prior to their efforts. They are my heroes and I am incredibly grateful for them. Their voices are so important and they have elevated the sense of urgency in Charlotte.
Prior to moving to Charlotte, Shannon worked at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, DC where he was part of their climate change science and policy team. He also served in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps. Shannon currently serves on the North Carolina Advisory Board for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In 2015, he was named one of Seven to Watch by the Charlotte Observer and one of the Charlotte Business Journal's 40 Under 40. In 2018, Charlotte's NPR affiliate, WFAE, named him one of The Most Powerful Voices in Charlotte. Connect with Binns at [email protected]