Special Energy: Environmental Quality Expert Lives Her PassionMay 27, 2021 02:16PM ● By Charlie Litton
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
It’s comforting that there are people in this world who are intensely passionate about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Sarah Poursharafeddin, 38-year-old owner and founder of Environmental Quality Experts, a manufacturer’s rep firm in the commercial HVAC industry, is one of them.
It’s an industry that escapes notice until something goes wrong. Passions run higher when the AC gasps its last, dying breath in the third week of August, or when the furnace grinds to a halt in late January.
But those who spend about 90 seconds with Poursharafeddin will learn about a whole new world…and want to be a part of it.
“She’s a joy to be around, and her energy is unstoppable,” said Gary Cooper, vice president and principal at Alvine Engineering with 42 years invested in the HVAC industry.
“It is a profession that’s founded in science, and technology, and things we all need to survive in this world,” Poursharafeddin said. That includes providing expertise, high-tech devices, and indoor air quality reports for places such as hospitals, data centers, and university buildings.
“These buildings are what bring us together,” she said. “They really are alive, in and of themselves, and we have to take care of them…This [is] how I became passionate. I feel like the work I do matters.”
And the work always matters. Especially during the pandemic.
“If anything it really kind of increased the urgency and importance around some of the topics and ideas that a lot of us professionals in the industry have been talking about for a long time: resiliency, sustainability, indoor air quality,” she said.
Indoor air quality is the piece that first grabbed her attention when she started working in the industry 20-odd years ago. She had graduated high school, and the then-University of Nebraska at Omaha theater major needed a job—any job.
Answering phones and organizing files for a now-defunct HVAC firm fit the bill. She didn’t have a title or even much of a job description, but that was a feature, not a fault.
“While I didn’t have a job description, I didn’t have any re-strictions,” she emphasized. “I got to explore this industry from a lot of different vantage points early on and find the ones I liked, which has been a gift to me my entire career.”
A key point of exploration set the tone for her career when she attended her first networking event hosted by the Nebraska ASHRAE chapter. Before it went global, ASHRAE stood for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers.
“When I started, I was often the only woman in the room,” she said, “and [at 18] I was just getting used to thinking of myself as a woman and not a girl. So that was a very intimidating moment.”
She was one of maybe two women in a room of nearly 100—self-conscious about her gender, about her age, and her background as the daughter of an Iranian immigrant. Still, one of the more prominent industry members enjoined her to “come meet everyone.”
She did, and reveled in the fact that this group of industry competitors were, in fact…friends.
“Even though I felt very alone in my gender and in my ethnicity in that room,” she said, “it wasn’t because people didn’t want me there. There were lots of people who did want me there, and that felt really, really good.”
Hook set, she went on to found her own company in 2012, and has since been paying it forward. Cooper has known Poursharafeddin for almost two decades. When his daughter, also named Sarah, graduated from college, she struggled with the uncertainty of what comes next.
“[Poursharafeddin] became a mentor to her and I just adored that,” Cooper said.
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.