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Solar design and installation company empowers employees to be owners

PV Squared is setting new standards in the renewable energy industry, one employee at a time.

PV Squared in Greenfield, Massachusetts, was born out of a desire to create sustainable renewable energy jobs for the displaced workforce in Franklin County.

"Our founders saw a lot of empty buildings and infrastructure, relics of the formerly booming manufacturing industry in the region, and set forth to establish a solar-installation company. And they wanted to do it as a worker-owned cooperative," said Anna Mannello, marketing coordinator.

Today the company boasts 44 employees, 24 of whom are worker-owners. After a year on the job, employees have the option to become a Worker Owner in Training (WOIT) for an additional year. The pathway to ownership isn’t the only positive impact PV Squared has on its workforce: The company has provided an All-Co-op diversity and inclusion trainingvarious workshops on financial literacy, and is involved in the effort to make the solar industry more inclusive of women.

Mannello shared more about PV Squared’s work and why that has placed it on the Best For The World: Workers list.

Jennifer Kongs: What practices has your company implemented that have helped you become Best For The World?

Anna Mannello: In addition to the program, we implement a collaborative and transparent decision-making process, and have created a safe environment for workers to share their ideas and beliefs. We focus on making a positive impact in the work we do beyond just making a profit and believe in using business as a force for good.

Kongs: What occurs on the path to ownership?

Mannello: Following a year of employment, employees have the opportunity to become a WOIT for one year. Starting in January, the WOITs are paired with a mentor to develop a personal leadership plan and thoroughly review PV Squared policies. The WOITs are provided with educational materials and attend various meetings regarding every aspect of the cooperative, such as financial literacy, legal and fiduciary responsibilities, and exploring and understanding socially responsible business strategies by evaluating PV Squared’s efforts and positive impacts from other B Corps. Additional learning opportunities include attending seminars and conferences provided by the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives and U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. The WOIT pairs up with a second mentor halfway through the year and continues to undergo trainings. In December, the WOIT can transition into a worker-owner after approval by the current worker-owners in PV Squared. This year-long training structure ensures that WOITs learn the ins and outs of PV Squared and are well prepared to become a co-owner of the business.

Kongs: Describe your all-cooperative diversity and inclusion training and the outcomes.

Mannello: Each quarter, PV Squared holds an all-cooperative meeting where every employee in the co-op gathers together to regroup, discuss the quarter in depth and plan ahead. These all-co-op meetings also provide an opportunity for PV Squared to hold company-wide trainings and workshops. At one All-Cooperative meeting, PV Squared held an all-day Anti-Oppression Facilitation Workshop run by the AORTA Cooperative, a worker-owned cooperative devoted to strengthening movements for social justice and a solidarity economy. Through this anti-oppression workshop, PV Squared developed tools to effectively facilitate inclusive meetings that transcend the typical barriers to participation relating to power, privilege and oppression, and to confront and disarm oppression in our everyday lives.

Kongs: In the last year, what personal financial learning opportunities were offered to employees?

Mannello: PV Squared provided three unique personal financial literacy learning opportunities to employees in 2017. These opportunities were free to employees. The goal of the classes was to provide employees with long-term financial training to facilitate personal savings, promote personal financial security, and prepare people to become informed business owners.

  • Personal Financial Planning Strategies for the Long Term. A local financial services firm provided a training that discussed personal financial planning and savings strategies. The goal was to enhance personal financial literacy and set the foundation for future 401k planning trainings.
  • WOIT Financial Literacy Workshop. Financial literacy workshop (focused on business finance at PV Squared) was developed with the WOIT group in mind, but anyone was welcome and encouraged to attend. It focused on financial analysis for business owners. Many of the topics covered, such as assets and liabilities, are also very relevant to personal financial management.
  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Training Sessions. As of Oct. 1, PV Squared transitioned to a diverse portfolio of investing options with Fidelity Investments, and for the first time in the company’s history, made socially responsible investment options available to employees. To educate people about these investment options, answer general questions about approaches to long-term investing and savings, and facilitate personal ethical agency in investing, we invited a local financial services firm to hold open meetings for any employee of the Cooperative.

Kongs: Why is it important that PV Squared increase the percentage of full-time female employees?

Mannello: As a socially responsible company and worker-owned cooperative, we try to be very aware of the impact our business is having on the communities we serve and operate in. For us, that means striving to be more inclusive in our workforce and who we serve. Gender disparities in the solar industry are significant. In 2014, women represented only 21.6 percent of the solar-industry workforce, and this figure is even smaller for female technicians and installers. We not only want to help lessen that gap, but we also know the company will benefit from a more diverse and inclusive workforce. When we took a good look at ourselves, we didn’t see a lot of diversity, and wanted to change that.

Kongs: What goals do you have for continued improvement?

Mannello: That we continue to make a positive impact in the work we do by being responsible to the environment, the communities we serve and to ourselves. We’ll achieve these goals if we stay at the forefront of new technology, invest in our employees, continue to build amazing relationships in our work and deliver on an exceptional product. Of course, refining systems is critical to our success as well.

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