Published: Feb. 8, 2024 By ,

In our latest alumni spotlight interview series, we spoke with Harsha Maragh, a former Urban Sustainability and Resilience (URS) student currently serving as the Senior Sustainability Planner on the Climate and Data Science team at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York City. Harsha’s journey from MENV to her current role sheds light on the dynamic intersection of sustainability and the challenges of addressing climate-related issues.

Harsha reflects on her time in MENV, noting how the program exposed her to a variety of subject areas within sustainability. As part of the first cohort, she experienced the program’s evolution and broad tracks, including renewable energy technologies, land use planning and sustainable transportation. The exposure allowed her to find her passion in the energy sector and laid the foundation for her career choices. 

Harsha underscores the importance of taking business-related courses, particularly the Energy Economics course, in her journey. Making a business case for sustainability projects, understanding return on investment (ROI), and effectively communicating a cost/benefit analysis are skills she developed during her time at MENV. She mentions that while the qualitative aspects of a project and its impacts on communities is important, it is not as effective without the supporting data or financial projections to back it up. (She even went on to open a Jamaican inspired brewery in Denver with her partner– further building on her business expertise).

Despite facing challenges with her capstone project, Harsha’s work on energy efficiency programs for low-income communities in Boulder County played a pivotal role in her career. Her experience during the capstone contributed to her growing passion for energy justice and advocating for a just transition.Harsha Maragh

Harsha’s career path includes roles in startups, nonprofits and for-profit companies, largely focused around energy and its impact on communities. It now has led her from Colorado to the heart of New York City. Her interest in sustainable transit drew her to the MTA, where she is a leader on the Climate Planning Team, focusing on implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives and creating a roadmap for the organization.

In her role, Harsha collaborates with various departments, external stakeholders, and contractors. The MTA’s resiliency team, addressing coastal flooding and storm surge, is a crucial partner in her efforts. Open communication and coordination with on-the-ground agencies and legal and funding teams are essential for addressing climate-related challenges within the expansive organization of around 80,000 people.

Harsha emphasizes the need for coordination between different teams within the MTA. As part of the headquarters team, responsible for planning, she highlights the ongoing coordination with delivery teams to align initiatives. For instance, Harsha’s most recent project initiative revolves around solar feasibility for sites undergoing roof replacements. Balancing the needs of a functioning transit system with the imperative to reduce its carbon footprint requires careful consideration, communication, and collaboration.

Harsha’s advice for recent graduates entering the sustainability field includes networking, conducting informational interviews, and researching organizations. She recommends exploring job descriptions beyond titles and stresses the significance of  diversifying your background with a variety of skills. Harsha suggests joining professional networks like the Urban Land Institute and Women in Sustainability to connect with like-minded folks. Attending events like the Sustainable Denver Summit can provide valuable networking opportunities and insights into different areas within sustainability.

As individuals explore avenues for professional growth, Harsha not only underscores the significance of networking, but also pivots the focus toward a critical aspect – diversity, equity, and inclusion. She highlights the need for diversity and equity in the sustainability space. She emphasizes the importance of representation and inclusivity within MENV and conversations, advocating for a more diverse and equitable industry. Conversations around equity and inclusion within the sustainability space at large and at MENV are increasingly essential to fight the climate crisis effectively.