Sitting on top of a roof one rainy winter day in Seattle, my coworker and I talked about how we would do things differently if we ran our own solar installation company.
Andy and I agreed that we’d interact with our customers differently. We’d really listen to their needs and put quality first. We’d treat our employees like family and make business decisions that aligned with our values.
Months later, we each put in $350 to pay for our incorporation fees. We started scrounging in our couches for the money to buy the equipment and tools we needed to perform our work. We’d split any money we made to buy gas to get home from site visits. Our first employee sold mattresses on Craigslist because we couldn’t pay him on a regular basis.
It took a few years to hit our stride--a lot longer than our wives had hoped to support us. In 2015, not only was A&R Solar the top solar installer in the state of Washington, but our revenues totaled more than $12.5 million, up from $5.7 million in 2014, and just $2.8 million in 2013.
But we are not, and have never been, all about making money. In 2012 after a rigorous application process, we became a certified B Corporation. We made the decision in part to keep us accountable to those promises we made on that roof years before.
Being a B Corp gives us the structure to be able to show that we are walking the walk. I believe that being a part of the clean tech industry requires holding ourselves to higher standards.
Here are some of the ways we reinforce those ideals:
Quality: In the solar industry there is a lot of lip service given to concepts like “quality” and “green.” We are rarely the cheapest bid on a project because we are committed to quality work, high-end products, and paying all of our employees a living wage in the tech-rich backdrop of our home base of Seattle.
Employee ownership: After three years of full-time employment, our employees are eligible to receive a stake in ownership (we currently have 11 employee owners). With ownership comes not only quarterly profit sharing but influence in the business’ strategy and future growth.
Projects for social good: We are committed to social justice, in addition to clean energy and green jobs . We’ve donated solar energy systems to a children’s museum (and dressed as superheroes while installing it) and a soup kitchen while reducing our fees to make sure a local food bank and low-incoming housing development could go solar.
Education fund: Beyond paying for employees training that is relevant to their jobs, we give each employee $700 a year to learn. Anything. Employees have taken writing classes, learned foreign languages, taken up surfing, attended diversity workshops, and gone on meditation retreats.
Year-end owner donations: The company grants each employee owner a chunk of the profits to donate to a charity of his or her choice at the end of the year.
Volunteering: Our employees are encouraged to volunteer their time. Members of our staff serve on boards and volunteer for nonprofit organizations. Our electricians have used their days off to install solar panels for sustainable farms, others have helped construct rafts to block oil-drilling platforms from entering the Port of Seattle, and some have handed out blankets to the homeless.
The structure that we have put in place is not only good for our employees and residents of Oregon and Washington but to our bottom line.
The B Corp Life is a new blog series geared towards exploring what it’s like to work at a benefit corporation. Why do b corps matter, and what does the future hold for them? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #TheBCorpLife.