Inspire Clean Energy: Achieving ambitious social impact goals
In today's video, we discuss how to achieve major social impact goals through small actions with Inspire Clean Energy. We chat with Dana Trans, Director of Sustainability and Social Impact with Inspire Clean Energy, and explore how to empower and resource employees to take action, and provide advice for companies looking to becoming a B-Corp. Finally, we look at what actions businesses and people should take to fight climate change.
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What we discussed:
So today we've got two special guests. My first guest, she's my co-host today. Her name is Erica Graham Jordan. She is the Regional Vice President here at Benevity. And our special guest today is Dana Trans, who is the director of sustainability and social impact with Inspire Clean Energy. Thank you very much, Dana, for joining us today.
Dana Trans: Of course. Really, really happy to be here and honored to be invited.
Erica Graham Jordan:
Dana, let's start with your career journey. You've had roles at fast growing companies in many cases, like you actually have seen [00:01:00] the acquisition through a larger company as well, which has probably been really exciting and part of your bigger career journey.
But even woven throughout each of these career steps has been social impact, whether it's sustainability, B Corp certification and so many more.
So maybe for those people listening, can you share a bit about this journey and then how social impact has been a critical component and part throughout your overall career growth?
Career Journey: Dana Trans
Yeah, definitely. So my career journey actually started very much in college [00:01:30] where I became infatuated with this idea of business as a force for good.
It probably started right as the B Corp movement was really gaining momentum with major certifying brands, like Seventh Generation gaining steam.
And then you saw the rise of social entrepreneurship as well around this time of TOMS and the Warby Parkers of the world, really getting big.
And so it was really clear to me as I was learning heavily about environmental science and business and sustainability, that there was a strong role that the business environment could play [00:02:00] in transforming our planet.
And that includes both the people and the environment that we all share.
So that all said, though, my career really started right out of that, doing more in the public policy space, where I did a carbon neutrality plan for the city of Hermosa Beach.
And that was probably more technically like the hard environmental science work where we're doing life cycle assessments, carbon footprinting accounting, but very great experience.
But I learned from that quickly that I wanted to move into something more fast paced, more in the realm of business and [00:02:30] sustainability.
And that's where I started really getting my feet wet in a small startup where I was a part of the founding team, a social enterprise called Soma, where I played the role as brand manager more or less, and more every hat associated with impact, their running point on things from environmental sustainability and our procurement strategy, to strategic nonprofit partnerships with Charity Water or innovation and marketing and bringing that all to life. And so that was a really, really good experience, but [00:03:00] wanted to get dive even deeper into the traditional more at the time like CSR type role.
And I ended up moving over to Plum Organics PBC, which at the time was the top organic baby food company in the United States.
And I ran their mission, which was really fun. And [inaudible 00:03:15] that we were saying, Erica, again, I was overseeing environmental sustainability, like our packaging, sustainability initiatives, our full effect program, which was all around food access for little ones, and then also our B Corp certification.
So that was a really great experience.
[00:03:30] But as I was there, there opened up opportunities for me to transfer to Campbell's where I headed up sustainable brand development and helped brands think about how they could integrate, maintain, or leverage corporate sustainability as part of their brand position.
And that was really fun in itself, again, taking it almost at macro view, starting at the base ground level.
And that's kind of where I am landed today, which is Inspire Clean Energy.
And in a similar capacity, working across us all the verticals [00:04:00] of B Corp certification, to social impact and our environmental and climate commitments for the organization.
Erica Graham Jordan:
When you think about B Corp certification, that's a big one, right? I can see there's a lot more entrance in the space now to even explore, what would that look like?
How do I get started? You've been through it so many times.
It'd be remiss for us not to even explore this with you and say, "What guidance would you think would you give for companies considering that, kind of at this stage?"
Yeah, [00:04:30] I think it, of course really depends on your size, right?
Because I've done it at so many different sizes of different organizations.
And first and foremost though, is using the assessment as a means to take action.
And even if you're not certifying right away, there is so much great institutional knowledge that the B Lab group has pulled together into this assessment that can help professionals drive their impact programs forward.
So I think [00:05:00] first and foremost is just getting really familiar with the assessment. And even if you're not actually going to certify right away, start using it as a guidepost to action against and build your program so that you know as you're building, that you're building it in the direction of using business as a force for good. And you're going in that direction.
So Dana, can you tell us a little bit about Inspire?
You've got your programmatic ways to connect employees to let's say ERGs or volunteers and tips. So how did you evolve [00:05:30] this program?
Did the employees actually ask for it and was it always core to the business?
Social impact at Inspire
Yeah, so I've only been with Inspire for about a year, and I walked into a culture that was very much already very engaged.
And that's a huge thanks to our people team and our community team.
But walking in, we had a strong baseline of employees that are really trying to build ERG programs.
So we have three ERG groups spanning from women's empowerment, BIPOC community and allies, [00:06:00] and LGBTQI community.
And as part of those ERG's programmatics, they provide monthly speakers, community bonding and volunteerism work. So that was already kind of established and started to build momentum when I first started.
And I'll circle back a little bit more on how that's evolving.
But similarly, the community team has played a really strong role, which is a part of our people team, in fostering community belonging in the workplace, which also my part of the org partners very closely with.
And [00:06:30] you alluded to volunteerism.
So before I joined, and since then too, there's been a strong historical partnership with an organization called GivePower where employees were offered an opportunity to go and build clean energy solutions in communities in the developing world, through this nonprofit.
And the clean energy solutions can help provide basic human needs like microgrids powering local hospitals or schools, or even solar water pumps, which was a really great way and had been part of the organization for four [00:07:00] years prior, simply because the founder had a keen interest in getting involved into the community too.
So I can't seek on behalf of as strongly since I haven't been at Inspire as long, but I do believe that impact has been so core to the root of this organization from what I've gathered.
And can you tell us more about your role as the director of sustainability and social impact?
So you've shared some strategic pillars like charging beyond zero, advancing on equitable [00:07:30] transitions and creating a movement to fight climate change, which are all noble and powerful.
But I think what we're all interested in hearing about, is how all these high level goals empower your employees to take small steps to achieve these goals.
Now, I've interviewed several different other organizations and we've talked to them. And I think the common theme is that you can't do everything all at once.
There's always these small steps. [00:08:00]
So how does Inspire do that in terms of just building these small steps for employees to take advantage of?
How employees take actions to achieve big goals
Yeah. And I think that's... First of all, this is a really great question.
My role is very much programmatic focused, but also I'm highly engaged with the communication side.
So it's not only about building out the programs for these things, but how are we distributing back through our channels?
So to your point, employees are one of the stakeholders that we think about [00:08:30] consistently in that plan.
So to answer your question about empowering them through small actions, though, first and foremost is building a social impact in sustainability into the heartbeat of the mission-driven culture.
And like I alluded to before, the culture has already been really built up before I even started here, and engagement from employees into our community is very strong.
So that's a really strong base foundation for us to then leverage to engage our employees in [00:09:00] sustainability.
But through that, we're able to have touchpoints for them throughout their year.
Whether that's employees can participate in quarterly sustainability speaker series. So we have professionals come in and talk and share more about the industry.
Actively participating in sustainable office practice improvements in the office and sharing those and making it part of the culture, or the food choices that we make, or hosting employee fundraisers.
For example, we recently held a Distance for Donations, which think about [00:09:30] it kind of like a turkey chart for the holiday season, where we used this fundraiser to not only engage employees in community action, but also got them outside and with their families and with their community to raise money individually, wherever they were in the United States.
During the holidays to per for every dollar, sorry, for every mile or for every minute they meditated or ran or walked, we would donate a certain amount of money to nonprofits that were local grassroots environmental nonprofits [00:10:00] based in our two main hubs in Philly and Los Angeles.
Building culture by embedding sustainability and social impact
And so that's just like a good example of us really trying to build culture.
And a big part of that is embedding sustainability and social impact as one of those key pillars that we focus on in that process of building culture.
And I think in that same vein though, transparently communicating about sustainability programs.
So we put a very high emphasis on communicating sustainability regularly to the employees at the organization [00:10:30] so that they feel connected and they start to learn.
That's been a big theme for this year, is employees learning about how their role, how they see themselves in the mission, in sustainability, in social impact.
So we provide, at our bi-monthly huddles, we share updates on the key sustainability initiatives where they're free to ask any questions they want.
Also, we provide climate news so that we're educating the organization on what's happening in the world today around climate and impact.
And then also have an impact channel, which is very, very [00:11:00] active in Slack, where people are engaging, asking questions, sharing news, all these things. And then finally, I think to put the little cherry on top is the transparency.
We share all our strategy decks with the team, and it's actively available in this notion database where they can click through and trainings, onboardings, strategies, documents, copy documents.
So they feel like they have the tools they need to apply it into where they are.
But to really like, I [00:11:30] think the biggest thing, and one of my key mentors actually told me this, that the most important thing to allow for employees to take small actions, is to embed it into their objectives or embed it into the company scorecard.
And I will never forget that, but one of my mentors shared that with me years ago.
And it's so true that you see some of the best organizations out there, and the way they've done it is by embedding it into really performance of the organization.
And so that's something inspire is starting to roll out this next year with our performance driven culture [00:12:00] and embedding impact and ESG into our corporate scorecard, into our individual contributor performance objectives.
So that way you're not only holding them accountable for meeting with their manager every a quarter or every half a year around those objectives, but you also are tying your performance bonus against that.
And that's really when the real work happens, is when people are being held accountable to getting the work done.
the most important thing to allow for employees to take small actions, is to embed it into their objectives or embed it into the company scorecard.
So I think we've been taking it into steps as we've been building this program, but I think this implementation of [00:12:30] building impact and ESG into our corporate performance is really what's going to game change and transform employees feeling connected.
You know what's really interesting, is a lot of the other guests that I've talked to, and I'm pretty new to the corporate social responsibility and social impact space, is that, yeah, that is the most recurring advice is to tie your social impact goals with the goals of the business, and tie it back to the goals of the individual. So that's really awesome to hear.
And I think just [00:13:00] to follow up on what are some of the, I guess, resources you would provide to employees to really take advantage or take those small steps?
What resources to provide to employees to take action?
Yeah, I think, and this is all brand new, Karl, so we're launching this as we speak. But one of the things that we're working on is creating training.
So every department is going to have a different role or have different opportunities to engage in key strategic pillars of our impact.
Whether that's in our growth team, [00:13:30] our commercial operations team, but we have major objectives, whether it's environmental, social, community, DE&I, B Corp, and I'm creating trainings to go through with each of these departments to help them understand what they can do as a department, and what key things they can do as a department to move the needle on the business and move the needle on our mission and impact.
But also to help them understand what are some of the small things they can just do, like volunteer on their own.
That if you care about [00:14:00] that specific thing as an in individual contributor, you can feel connected to the organization in any way that feels best for you.
So there's like really a plethora.
There's more of a strategic business way of what is really important for that specific function, and then there's also just this opportunity for employees to engage in things that feel meaningful for them.
And our trainings are getting built right now and we're rolling that out at the end of this month.
Erica Graham Jordan:
I mean, that last point is so what we live and breathe at Benevity too, right?
The idea and the notion that people feel [00:14:30] even more connected when you empower them to make those personal choices. Where do I want to give my time?
What cause is important to me?
You said a couple times in terms of local grassroots organization that focus on sustainability, what does that look like for me locally?
And how do I bring that to life?
So that's, I mean, that's great to hear that in practice, right, to hear those actual programs in place?
Grassroots focus on sustainability
Yeah. And I think to underscore that too, I keep talking about our amazing ERGs, but they really are such a heartbeat in our culture.
And we're not that big of an organization, [00:15:00] less than 200 employees full-time.
And so having these really strong ERG groups that are actively engaging with the bulk of our employee base and getting them involved in some of these key topics, is really amazing to see.
We had, for our women's ERG recently, there was like probably over 50% of our organization showed up for one of these events.
And even though it was a women's event, a bunch of our male colleagues showed up, which was just awesome to see. And people brought their children into it too.
So I think [00:15:30] there's a little bit of something for everyone, whether you want to be very specific in your company objectives, whether you want to feel good and connect to yourself to the ERGs.
And hopefully as we move and build this program in the coming years, we're able to do more things like fundraisers and individual time for employees to volunteer, et cetera. So there's a lot more opportunity for us to build on that, but I think this is just really the start and that's what's most exciting.
Erica Graham Jordan:
And starting somewhere and starting with the voice of your employees [00:16:00] in mind. So it's not top down, but it really is grassroots up.
Dana Trans: Yes.
Erica Graham Jordan:
It's a billion times better than just doing a survey, right?
You're actually getting that information from the ERGs.
Another kind of theme that I'm hearing throughout is just that top, like the concept of just the learning and development, right?
And so we know that, I mean, I personally know that sustainability and climate change is important to you, right?
And so when we think about the earth, sustainability, climate change, some of what you said is like the learning component, how do we educate the employees about this?
And what does [00:16:30] that look like? How do we embed it in all aspects of functions?
But even just with current events and news, knowing what's in the space and the recent climate change reports.
What do you think that people and companies should be doing?
So there's some small actions that we can be taking. What are some bigger actions that might be an area focus as well?
What actions should companies and people be doing to fight climate change?
Yeah, I think, yes, I want to talk about bigger actions, definitely.
And I'll get there in just a moment.
But I want to underscore what you said about small actions and just starting, because I think it can feel so overwhelming with reports [00:17:00] that we hear and news' that we hear, news that's happening constantly to even start, right?
People, you almost freeze up. And you're like, "I don't even know where to start. Is it even going to mean anything?"
And the answer is, yes.
People need to begin somewhere, even if that is small. And it's really a progress, not perfection.
And so I just wanted to underscore that point, Erica, that starting is so important. But when we think about bigger things, and this is something that I am really, really, I'm such an advocate on is just like walk the walk.
Whether [00:17:30] you're a business or a person, get involved with organizations that align with your values.
Put your money where your mouth is and your time and your resources.
For too long, organizations just threw a random person into a sustainability role.
And I think now is the time for us to invest our resources personally, as individuals.
Whether that's supporting the brands that we want to support, purchasing from brands that we believe are aligned with our values, or work for companies that are prioritize impact and [00:18:00] sustainability.
And then same goes for the organization.
From a company perspective, we need to really double down on the resource and time and effort that's put into this because that's really when the work comes to life.
And so that's one big thing I think that we just need to continue to do, is just focus and invest the same amount of time that we do, or resources into impact as we do into so many other things.
And then finally too, I think this is more uncomfortable for many folks, is to actively participate in our political system [00:18:30] because as individuals, we can do a lot with our dollar and how we spend, businesses, we can control our sphere of influence.
But I think that other third area and big stakeholder that we can't forget about is being active participants in our government and this democracy that we live in.
And so standing up for the things that you care about, writing letters, calling legislators, and just being present and understanding what's happening in the world around us, is going to be ever even more important as we move [00:19:00] closer to 2030 and some of these kind of daunting things that we hear will happen in coming years.
So I think those are kind of the two big things, is walking the walk and really being an active participant in our government.
Erica Graham Jordan:
And I also hear kind of an underscore of like, and also track progress, right? Because 2030 is not that far away.
And so how are we going to continue to evolve and know that we're making progress?
And that positive reinforcement loop for people of like, okay, I'm taking the action, now I can do more action because it's having bigger impact [crosstalk 00:19:30]
Exactly. [00:19:30] And I think one of the smaller things I wanted to talk about too, is just like educating yourself, right?
And to that point, is tracking progress, but also educating yourself, stay in the loop, whether you're reading books, like Regeneration by Paul Hawken, or listening and following documentaries that are being released.
There's so much great content out. I mean, this podcast and this interview, there's another one, there's so much great content out there nowadays for people to learn and engage and find ways that they can themselves in their world and their day-to-day get involved.
And [00:20:00] so to that point, Erica, I think it's tracking what's happening in the world and being conscious about what is going on around us so that we can then react as appropriate.
Erica Graham Jordan:
Yeah. I think you're right. Some people just need like, let's start the momentum and let it just keep it going.
Yeah. Yeah. Because once you even slide that foot in the door by starting to pay attention, then you can start to make active changes in how you show up, right?
And I think that's something that flows into my [00:20:30] personal life too.
It's like this whole idea of being mindful and aware of what our actions are personally.
And from there, if you have an awareness, then you're able to then change and improve.
And so I think that same thing can apply into the business world where, or our personal life, where like, if we're just taking note of things, first and foremost, we're just watching what our actions are and taking small steps.
Then to your point, there's going to be this snowball effect that over time you find more and more connections that you're able to then put together and make bigger and bigger impact.
Erica Graham Jordan:
[00:21:00] Dana, before we head out here, we've talked a lot about your career, about your role at Inspire. I think we've probably least scratched the surface.
Anything else you'd like to share with us, make sure that we know as we head out today?
Yeah. So we are actually just launching this month in January, a new program called the Brighter World Project, which is deepening our partnership with GivePower and expands to our members.
So it's really exciting for us.
For every year someone is an Inspire member, we will provide clean energy solutions to one person in critical [00:21:30] need for one year.
And so not only in addition to your membership and helping to support climate action, we are also planning to continue to engage in our community as well.
So this is an expansion of that partnership we had in 2018.
And we're going to continue to have our employee volunteerism tracks that allow employees to actually have an experience and build firsthand some of these clean energy solutions that are transformative in the communities, which is really exciting for our members, our employees [00:22:00] and the communities we serve.
Yeah. And we're planning to donate over $500,000 over the next two years to this mission of transforming the energy landscape and improving access to clean energy around the globe.
So really an exciting moment for us as we've been working toward this. And I think, again, it's the start.
We're really starting to build and that's what's so great about being at this organization and the leadership of this organization, is we're just really getting started.
We can continue this conversation [00:22:30] on for a long time, because I'm like really inspired by what you've done with Inspire and for your career.
But if our audience wants to connect with you, what's the best place to reach you?
Yeah. I think the best place would probably be LinkedIn. Connect with me there and message me there. That would be fantastic.
Otherwise, feel free to send me an email directly at my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. And you guys can let people reach out directly to me as well.