The best Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) programmes and initiatives in the industry
Published 15th June 2022
By David Stent, Digital Producer, Climate Council
The renewables industry has enjoyed a reputation for approaching energy production with a far more considered and caring view than its oil and gas predecessors. It began with the emergence of renewables as the counter-proposition to carbon-intensive use of fossil fuels in order to slow the climate change and biodiversity loss.
However, like many ‘progressive’ movements, the sector is held to a higher standard than the oil and gas producers it seeks to replace. Questions arise about the sustainability of solar panel materials, wind blades or lithium mining for batteries – which in fairness, requires the transparency that conventional producers often lack.
One cannot rest on their environmental sustainability laurels in a bid to best fossil fuel opposition – it must be just one pillar in reforming the wider energy sector. Another is to advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DE&I) into an industry traditionally dominated by men – and frequently, men are from privileged backgrounds.
The Climate Council would like to highlight the companies that have excelled in driving progress beyond their natural commitment to a cleaner, greener climate and environment – giving a strong focus to Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity.
Solar Sister is not like many on this list, it is not a global corporate nor are they seeking to develop large-scale generation capacity. To the contrary, Solar Sister is a grassroots initiative supporting female entrepreneurs by providing small-scale residential systems. In just six years of operation Solar Sister has trained 7,000 entrepreneurs (86% of which are women) to sell 400k+ solar-powered products, in the process reaching 1.8 million ‘last mile’ customers and providing them with a basic source of power. Additionally, “Products sold by Solar Sister entrepreneurs have eliminated over 946,763 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions”.
‘Last Mile Community’ is defined by the Solar Sister initiative, “by three interconnected factors: lack of access to grid power, low-income or seasonal economies, and remote or isolated geography”. It represents a physical barrier to rural societies connectivity to the outside world.
Now Solar Sister and LivelyHoods, a Kenyan NGO supporting youth entrepreneurship, have merged to form a powerful operation that seeks to address the challenge of 600 million (and growing) without access to reliable electricity.
Africa is broadly a laggard in the promotion of gender equality across the energy sector, as such the mission of both Solar Sister and LivelyHoods Kenya to support underrepresented communities in growing their own income and supporting their community’s with life-changing electricity – should be recognised as the a true leader in Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity. The have actively diversified the workforce, given direct equity and ownership to women and youths, and sought to be inclusive of the opportunities across age, gender and nationality.
Norwegian solar developer has been making waves with their rapid deployment of projects across the world and especially supporting underdeveloped economies by effectively increasing energy access. The most recent of these are three projects green-lit by South Africa’s government, the first IPP tenders approved in four years, reflect the institutional confidence in Scatec’s approach. Also are projects still operating in Ukraine, two new projects in Pakistan and many others dotted throughout the global south.
Scatec has built up their local presence by ensuring local talent is employed across their offices, and in-line with frameworks that mitigate against age, gender or nationality discrimination. Enjoying such a global presence means they have had to adapt to a vast and diverse set of cultural practices – and implement their vision within these structures.
Moreover, the loudest criticism of the solar industry is toward the procurement of materials and purchasing practices, a concern Scatec has taken seriously by engaging with traceability audits across their supply chains in China.
Longroad Energy is one of the leading members of Renewable Forward and one of the first to access the Solar Energy Industry's Association (SEIA) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice (DEIJ) certification programme. With 3,300 MW of renewable power online across the United States, Longroad Energy has taken their pursuit of DE&I nationwide.
In 2020, following the nationwide riots against continued systemic abuses towards Americans of native, black or Hispanic heritage. The realisation was that, as a company, they could do more and they have. As a response, Londroad CEO Paul Gaynor, signed up to both the CEO Action Pledge that seeks to further DE&I within big business, and to the Renewables Forward initiative – an “open and collaborative resource for inspiring greater diversity, equity & inclusion within the renewable and clean energy industry”.
To counter any potential internal bias, Longroad focused on six areas of improvement to begin this transformation: Employee Awareness & Training, Recruitment Diversity, Mentorship, Business Partner Diversity, Internships, and Community Engagement & Outreach.
Clearway Energy controls over 5,500 MW of installed solar PV and onshore wind capacity across the United States of America. With such a continental reach requiring engagement with a range of communities, Clearway has made DE&I a central component of their business practices, focusing on three core areas: people, products and purchasing.
For people, they have frameworks for recruitment, training and engagement with employees. Each of whom are part of an Employee Inclusion Group (EIG) that works with a member of the executive leadership team to be heard at senior management level.
For products, they seek to serve a diverse range of communities and understand their needs before imposing their product. It is important these engage with the needs and wants of local communities.
For purchasing, Clearway has developed a ‘fully-fledged supplier diversity’ programme that aims to eliminate discriminatory purchasing practices – a bias often overlooked.
Shifting the spotlight, the financing of energy is an important area that requires DE&I reform – as the vast majority of financiers and investors in the sector are men. The consequence of a male-dominated sector are inherent biases and blind spots to the approaches a business should take and the purpose they serve. This is not to say men cannot recognise these issues, but rather that a diverse workforce will inherently provide a far deeper range of perspectives than a homogenous one.
Nuveen Green Capital is one of these female-led groups breaking down these barriers and driving the green economy. At the helm is Jessica Bailey, Co-Founder & CEO, and relatively speaking, a veteran in sustainable, green investing. Nuveen Capital is the manifestation of this commitment to refocus how capital considers sustainable projects.
One core focus is the certification and funding toward Commercial & Industrial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE), providing capital to induce energy efficiency within residential and commercial buildings, renewable energies or other projects – in order to secure long-term, low-interest finance on clean, green developments.
Goldman Sachs’ employees are known for their extended work hours and focus on exceptional growth within their portfolios, a tiring task to say the least. And yet, Miles Braxton, Analyst in the Renewable Power Group, still found time to develop Black Oak Collective – an advocacy network that ‘supports black and indigenous people of colour working in the sustainability sector through networking, job opportunities, mentorships, and more’.
Black Oak Collective is an NPO operating out of Washington D.C. that recognises how underrepresentation in industry can have negative systemic impacts to the communities they are meant to serve.
A report by the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) found, “Black or African American workers are underrepresented across energy technology and energy source sectors. Across all five technology sectors, the proportion of Black or African American workers is two to five points lower than the national average. In the solar and wind sub-sectors, Black or African American workers only account for eight percent each of the labour force—four points below the national average.”
And quite worryingly, “Fewer than half of surveyed energy workers across race and ethnicity were optimistic about their company’s diversity and inclusion in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and leadership roles”.
Creating the platform and pathways to support potential within underrepresented communities is a superb reflection of an initiative furthering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – and a case of leaving the ladder down for others to climb up. Situated in the capital of the USA, where better to affect change than in the belly of the beast.
The Scarlet Oak (Fagaceae Quercus coccinea) in our logo is the official tree of the District of Columbia. We chose to name ourselves after this tree because we know the importance of staying rooted while branching out opportunities for others. Our fruit is in service of Black environmental self-determination. Thus, BlackOak.
Enel Green Power is a global powerhouse in the renewables sector, having developed over 53 GW of installed renewable capacity across 21 nations. Often global energy powerhouses have battled with defining their approach and benefits to the communities they serve – not Enel Green Power.
Since their founding in 2008 as the renewables-focused branch of Italian utility, Enel – the renewables developer has approached sustainability and inclusivity at the heart of their operations. These approaches are guided by these three pillars: ‘Driver – Sustainability as the key factor and driver of inclusive growth’; ‘Approach – Sustainability as outreach and a pledge’; and, ‘Value chain – Sustainability as an opportunity for companies, suppliers and clients’.
In 2021 alone, Enel’s 1200+ sustainability and inclusion projects reached over a million people. And these projects do not only reflect Enel’s commitment but when global corporates take on these frameworks and disseminate them to suppliers or customers – the impacts of DE&I reach far and wide.
Last but definitely not least and a long-time favourite of the Climate Council, is Sonnedix. A solar development firm that lives and breathes DE&I throughout their value chain.
Sonnedix is a global, utility-scale solar independent power producer with over 350 solar projects across four continents – who don’t shy away from their environmental impacts. Their approach to the “Social” goes above and beyond superficial actions, proactively seeking to attempt transformational shifts for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion.
Across their global operations Sonnedix has sought to develop bottom-up processes that consider the range of cultural backgrounds at the heart of their organsation. Beyond this, their hiring practices, training and development frameworks actively seek to address potential bias to gender, religion, age and access to opportunities. One such project is Sonnedix's solar field in Chile's Atacama desert, initially facing extended delays due to Covid – the company rapidly developed digital capabilities to tour and assess the plant. Moreover, the Atacama plant has placed a distinct focus on developing the percentage of women employed at the site at all levels.
The result? A strengthening of their presence in Chile, where they have been awarded 903GWh/year at the public tender to build over 400MW in solar PV projects with an approximate investment of $300 million. Such a commitment will deepen the DE&I initiatives in-country and expand social mobility to Chile's underrepresented female workforce.
However, their superb work in Chile is just one project in a global portfolio of initiatives. Sonnedix has pushed their workforce to be progressive when imagining what can be achieved, embedding DE&I at the heart of each action. Among some of the highlights from their 2021 Sustainability Report reflect: 35,512 learners as part of the Sonnedix Sustainability Academy, over 10,000 training hours to employees (30 hours per employee), 42% of new hires were women and spending € 397,028 in communities in 2021 alone.
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