Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Solar Industry

Kemet Azubuike

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) measures are increasingly being implemented across the environmental sector. These programs help bring fairness in the distribution of resources and allow the influence of marginalized groups in the decision making of organizations.  Currently, in the heightened political environment where environmental issues and matters of race are at the forefront of political debate, DEI in the environmental sector is a critical intersection to observe. Although the solar industry is in its infancy, the implementation of DEI initiatives could significantly affect whether this viable technology can address historical inequities in the workplace, with the potential to change the relationship of low-income populations with energy production. 

The environmental sector has become aware of its diversity issues. According to the report The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations that examines racial diversity across mainstream environmental NGOs, foundations and government agencies, finds that though there is an expressed desire to diversify their boards and staff, members of environmental organizations are predominately white. From this report, the solar industry is making strides to address these diversity issues.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), an industry-wide trade organization for the solar industry, has embraced DEI. Through multiple publications, SEIA has provided a guideline for agencies within the industry to adopt DEI programs in regards to talent acquisition, retention, and culture. Moreover, through my Environmental Fellows Program fellowship this summer with Vote Solar, I witnessed these strides in action. Vote Solar made significant changes in the way they do business. Vote Solar has changed their recruitment practices to recruit from non-traditional talent pipelines, resulting in interviewing more people of color for job openings. Furthermore, Vote Solar changed how they measured the impact of their of their policy campaigns.  For their 2018 Annual Planning Campaign Assessment guide, Vote Solar included a measure to add the effects for Low-Income and Environmental Justice partners. Approaching DEI through these methods can help make significant strides in this industry.

Implementing DEI initiatives in the solar industry can help the solar industry construct itself differently, more conscious of the realities of low-income communities that have been ignored, in an attempt to make amends through institutional practices.  Low-income communities historically have been kept from policy and legislative influencing positions involving environmental issues, and these absences have led to these communities being targeted by industries that threatened the environment such as the storage, disposal, and usage of toxic chemicals that produced high rates of environmental illness. Due to these communities being the first and worst impacted by environmental hazards, these communities would greatly benefit from the solar industry using DEI initiatives as a path to address and offset some of the societal issues beyond solar.

DEI in the solar industry has a unique chance, due to the infancy of the industry and how potentially beneficial the technology is to everyone, to pioneer change in the emerging Green Economy. Solar has the potential to lessen health, energy, and wealth disparities between segments of the society. DEI initiatives can give hope and validity that these technologies can reach their full potential and serve the betterment of society. Not addressing DEI issues will lend the solar industry to the inequalities of other sectors and potentially negate the vast possibility this technology has and further polarize society among environmental, economic, and social lines.

Kemet Azubuike is finishing his Masters in Environmental Sociology. He is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy production in urban spaces. He is living in Washington D.C., but is originally from Dayton, OH. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email him at kmtazubuike@gmail.com.