No two business models are exactly the same. Each business is a unique system, and the gears of seemingly similar systems can be found to be very different when the hood is popped and the operations inspected.
In 2008, not long after we’d heard Van Jones speak about the coming Green Collar Economy at the Academy of Natural Sciences, we launched with a dual-mission to educate and install. We knew that, in order to accomplish our objective of making the rise of solar a benefit to ALL in our communities, we had to design a business model that wasn’t industry standard.
Below is a quick overview of this model, and the outputs it has produced for our diverse array of communities in the Philadelphia region. This model is impossible without long-term, healthy partnerships with local institutions and community leaders. We’ve had A LOT of help along the way.
Solar is coming. Our concern is “how will it come?”. As you’ll see below, every new installation with Solar States fuels free education programs, local hiring, outstanding employee benefits and treatment, local advocacy, and access to solar for low-moderate income residents. Our success is everybody’s success.
1. Train and hire locally
The clean energy sector needs more well-trained employees to meet the demand for new work – installers, permitters, designers, and more. We partner with organizations like the Philadelphia Energy Authority, OIC Philadelphia, and PowerCorps PHL to provide FREE solar training programs to inner-city Philadelphians. We developed a 38-class “Find Your Power” curriculum as a foundation for anyone interested in beginning a career in clean energy. Graduates are either offered job placement assistance or hired by Solar States. Below is a map of current Solar States employees who came through these free programs. The icons show the program we hired them from and the neighborhoods they currently reside in.
(below) Brief Interview with Katrell Holmes on his journey in solar Katrell is a Solar States Install Lead & PowerCorps Alum. “I didn’t know anything about solar. I’d never been on a roof before. I did the interview with him, he’s like ‘meet me at the shop 6:30, gonna be on the roof tomorrow’. And it all started from there – six years later I’m a Crew Lead now.”
(below) Clip taken from an interview with Thomas Glenn Thomas is a Solar States Master Electrician & PowerCorps Alum. He shares his experience getting started in solar, and how he came to know it was something he wanted to do long-term. “Slowly but surely I started picking up skills on the roof, I started picking up knowledge of how the install goes, and I just stuck with it – I just kept learning more and more and more about every aspect of the job. As I learned more I wanted to know more. It was just a cycle, it just kept repeating, and that’s how I knew.”
Training and hiring locally isn’t without challenges, but we’ve learned over time and adjusted our gears to produce a team and culture that our customers consistently rave about, and that reflects our hometown Philadelphia.
(below) Bonus video – Marc Shackelford-Rowell of Strawberry Mansion shares his path to Solar States, including his trip through the Philadelphia OIC program and internship with the Philadelphia Energy Authority. Marc has been a man of many trades for us, and is currently our Inside Sales Manager.
2. Treat our people well.
We measure our performance on a triple-bottom line: People, Planet, and Profit. We invest in our people with training programs and regular check-ins to make sure they’re happy, healthy, and on a path they’re excited about. All employees have access to healthcare, 401k plans, profit-sharing opportunities, PTO and an open, judgement-free line of communication with anyone at the company. We want everyone feeling like they’re in a career, not at a job.
To keep our operations honest, we chose to become a Certified B-Corporation. To meet the requirements for this certification, we are audited annually and graded on our Company Governance, Treatment of Workers, and impact to the Community and Environment. Below is a snapshot of our most recent B Impact Score. The full, most recent report can be found here.
(below) Cleo on his experience working for Solar States, taken from an episode of our Yooo Sun!!! Podcast “A lot of jobs I worked at, you know, you feel under-appreciated, you feel, just…..like this is just a job, it’s literally just a paycheck. Here, we actually have meetings every Monday on how can we better the company or, if we have gripes, we can actually speak to the CEO about it. It doesn’t feel like a chain of command like ‘if we don’t do this, we’ll get fired’. You can always talk, you can always speak, you can voice your opinion – that’s valuable. I don’t think people realize that. Just your opinion being heard is crazy.”
If a business model exploits its workers it’s not profitable, no matter what the bottom line says.
3. Make solar accessible to ALL
In order for us to reach our ambitious climate goals, solar needs to be accessible to everyone. The prices have dropped dramatically, but for low-income residents the cost is often too high, even with very small rooftops and minimal system requirements. In 2019, we installed our first LMI (low-moderate income) job in Philadelphia. We partnered with the Philadelphia Energy Authority through the Solar Savings Grant Program to create a path to solar for FIFTY low-moderate income Philadelphians. For some, this was the first solar installation in the neighborhood. We hope our work with this program can be replicated by other installers across the United States to bring solar to these residents on a far larger scale, and we’re excited to continue to develop this program beside the PEA. Below is a map of the LMI installations we have completed in Philadelphia at the time of this writing.
Below is a map of our Philadelphia installations. Our goal is to drive more installations in areas where median income is lower, like in Hunting Park, where we’re now involved in the Hunting Park Solar Initiative.
PRESS: “50 Low and Moderate Income Households from 26 Philly ZIP Codes Go Solar Through New Solar Savings Grant Program.” Read the full release.
The scene at an LMI installation as a homeowner flips the switch on her new system! “I never really expected in my life to be able to afford solar panels, and now I have twelve. I think it’s really important that everyone has access to this, and that it’s not just certain communities. I’m hoping that by having these panels other people in my neighborhood will inquire about it.”