Today the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation are launching a report, a diversity challenge, and a number of other initiatives designed to start an important conversation about what the solar industry is doing to address diversity and inclusion.
I am proud of these organizations for recognizing the work the solar industry needs to do and providing tools to help get everyone started. Building a new kind of energy industry that values and encourages participation for people of every race, gender and life experience is not only the right thing to do, it’s something that we must do if we are going to achieve the kind of transformational change that a 100% clean energy future requires.
Since 2016, I’ve had the privilege to be part of Vote Solar’s team of All Stars. You know who they are. They are the technically and politically savvy folks who are opening new markets for solar and defending our existing strong markets from repeated attacks. They are our brilliant communications team. They are our champions behind the scenes who keep our organization running. Increasingly, our All Stars are fighting to make solar more inclusive. We’ve been building our campaigns with a more focused lens on equity, working to direct resources toward expanding solar to underserved communities while learning how to be better partners with those very communities.
It hasn’t happened all at once, and our efforts will continue to grow and develop. It’s a process. An evolution. For the past few years, Vote Solar has been undergoing a progression involving learning, reflecting, and considering what kind of organization we want to be in the future. It’s a big undertaking for such a lean organization, but one we firmly believe is necessary.
Since our founding in 2002, the name Vote Solar has been synonymous with “winning” and making solar a mainstream source of energy in the United States. Our amazing team has led victorious campaigns for solar across the country. As we go forward and build on our successes, we’re taking the time and investing the resources to make sure that how we do it from here on out is more equitable. For us, a starting point involves evaluating more deeply what diversity, equity and inclusion means for us as an organization, and making sure our work reflects our values.
We’ve all seen the research. A more diverse organization is a more successful organization. A more diverse industry will be a more successful industry. And with increasingly dire news in the headlines about the current state of our planet and what it will take to ensure future generations have a healthy place to live, we know it will take everyone working together to turn the ship around. Including everyone in this fight means ensuring everyone sees the benefits.
The Solar Foundation’s latest Solar Industry Diversity Study shows us that we have more work to do as an industry to build an inclusive workforce. And a recent study from Tufts and Berkeley adds to the data showing us we have more work to do to build an inclusive world of solar beneficiaries. Learn more from this webinar on Racial Justice in Solar.
We already knew we had a lot of work to do to ensure underserved communities are served more equitably. In the face of all this data, the challenge could seem daunting. But we have direction, and we have the ability to rise to the challenge step by step. We all have room to learn, grow, and evolve – as individuals, as organizations, and as a clean energy industry.
Achieving solar inclusiveness won’t happen overnight, but tools are available to help all solar companies plot the path forward. For example, today the Solar Energy Industries Association is partnering with The Solar Foundation to issue a new Diversity Challenge. From there, tools and resources are available to help companies consider their recruiting and hiring processes, and to help evaluate your organizational culture so that when you hire excellent diverse candidates, you keep them. SEIA’s updated Diversity Best Practices Guide for the Solar Industry and The Solar Foundation’s new Diversity Study offer excellent guidance to start.
But it’s not enough just to recruit and hire for diversity and inclusion. There are universes of untapped solar potential in Communities of Color, Environmental Justice Communities, and other underserved communities across the country. We’re proud to be working with partners like GRID Alternatives, with whom we developed our Low-Income Solar Policy Guide, the NAACP, who is leading the Solar Equity Initiative, and so many local community leaders who are working hard every day to ensure we build a more equitable clean energy movement by ensuring solar’s benefits are reaching those who need them the most.
And we know that if we hope to achieve a clean energy future, we must learn from and engage thoughtfully with communities on the front lines. To turn the tide against climate change, we need every available person rowing with us. Engagement doesn’t mean coming to frontline communities and proclaiming that solar is the solution. It means partnering with humility and respect with people on the ground who understand the challenges in ways we cannot fathom, and building processes that ensure that our work is truly informed by their perspectives, needs and vision for their own communities’ future. We’re not going to turn the tide by sitting at the front of the boat with a megaphone. We need to be rowing with our partners in underserved communities.
Most of all, I want to share that Vote Solar’s journey is still just beginning. Even though we’ve been doing the work of internal visioning and evaluating our own diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and culture for two years, we know we do not have all the solutions. We are continuing to make mistakes, learn and take iterative steps forward on a journey that is ongoing and may never be finished. It’s slow and challenging work, but work that we firmly believe will have powerful outcomes.
I’m proud to have worked with my All Star colleagues to develop the first iteration of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Vision Statement, an acknowledgement that we have to take a hard look at past and current inequities, and work with intention to build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive clean energy future.
Our Vision Statement is a living document, and as we continue to evolve I’m sure it will, too. From there, we have had internal team workshops and we are working with a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant who is helping us articulate our values and our goals, and helping us build a roadmap for achieving them. We have adjusted our recruiting and hiring practices, too, in an effort to become an organization that more fully reflects our values while at the same time becoming stronger because of the diversity of points of view informing our work.
Vote Solar should give itself a pat on the back for our work to date, while keeping our eyes clear to the ongoing work ahead. From here, the work will be ongoing. But it starts with a commitment. It starts with a pledge. It starts with accepting the #DiversityChallenge.
Get resources from GRID Alternatives, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Foundation, Vote Solar, and more partners: