It's time to rebuild.

image credit: Ryan Jacobson
Rebecca Foster's picture

CEO of VEIC. Working nationally at the intersection of decarbonization, innovation, and equity.

  • Member since 2021
  • 5 items added with 9,666 views
  • Aug 5, 2021

When I say rebuild, I’m thinking about the human side of what it takes to create next-generation, resilient organizations. At VEIC, we’re all about decarbonization, but we recognize that it takes an inclusive culture that prioritizes innovation to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

To us, rebuilding to meet that priority has three distinct—but interconnected—components: doubling down on our mission, elevating our emphasis on equity, and taking a human-centered approach about our return to offices.   

Doubling Down on Our Commitment to GHG Reductions 

VEIC is committed to measuring its achievements in terms of GHG reductions. Thirteen years ago, we began asking employees to voluntarily share information about their personal carbon footprints. Our staff’s household emissions have been shrinking throughout that period. But with employees working from home for most of 2020, we were curious about whether higher use of residential heating and cooling would offset any GHG reductions from lower rates of commuting. Our data now show that in 2020, our staff reduced their total household GHG emissions by 22 percent over 2019. Emitting on average 13.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, our employees now contribute only half the average amount of per-household emissions nationwide.   

These achievements are a direct outcome of VEIC’s choice to offer employees a sustainability benefit program. It provides an incentive for investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy in their homes, for electrified transportation or commuting, and for purchasing local food and practicing sustainable disposal of food waste. Together, these measures reinforce the staff’s commitment to our mission.   

Focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

With ongoing employee engagement in social and energy justice principles, VEIC is now a Just-labeled organization, committing itself to corporate transparency on social justice and equity indicators. With principles of justice and fairness embedded in everything we do, we see opportunities everywhere to create new tools that can help us rebuild the kind of company—and the kind of society—we want to see.  

Putting this commitment into practice over the past two years, through the pandemic, we have: 

1.     Formed a Culture Committee comprising staff from across the country, with different tenures, job responsibilities, social backgrounds, ethnic identities, gender identities, and ages to help identify cultural challenges and pinpoint opportunities to keep our corporate culture vibrant, connected, and inclusive, even in difficult times 

2.     Created an organization-wide platform for sharing information on anti-racism, social justice, and equity topics, opening up new dialogues and hosting workshops to increase understanding and empathy 

3.     Continued to set hiring goals for greater diversity and inclusion across VEIC  

4.     Continued supporting the local under- or unemployed workforce in our Washington DC location for training in clean-energy careers  

5.     Adopted the Social Vulnerability Index across our entire organization to measure the impact our work has on underserved communities  

Creating a Human-Centered Return to Offices 

Along with many other organizations, VEIC is in the middle of return-to-the-office planning. As a nationwide company with three major offices in Vermont, Ohio, and Washington, DC and on-the-ground staff working in Wisconsin and Hawaii, this has been a large undertaking.  

Throughout the pandemic, our staff didn’t miss a beat. They pivoted their own work processes and the programs and services we offered to meet our clients’ and customers’ emerging needs. Our remote working has gone so well that we had the ability to take our time in re-envisioning a new way of coming back to our offices. We approached that work in an inclusive way, asking about staff preferences and needs as we rethought how we use our workspaces and what kind of work justifies the GHG emissions from commuting to an office.   

As a result, we have designed a hybrid model for teleworking and meeting in our office spaces. We’re now treating our office spaces as flex areas, with tech-enabled office furniture and in-home tech support that allow collaboration across all our locations. We also have protocols for phased-in office attendance, distancing, mask wearing, and voluntary attestation of vaccination status.  

We’ve also enabled greater staff capacity and better use of time by reducing the length of all meetings and committing to meeting-free Friday afternoons. And we’ve continued to prioritize employee wellbeing by offering additional time off and flexible work schedules. We’re also encouraging and supporting self-care as we work through the next phase of the pandemic.  

So far, we are excited about the rebuilding that’s under way at VEIC. We have celebrated our achievements in GHG reductions; opened up new, critical conversations about equity; and engaged employees in envisioning our return-to-the-office approach. And we’ve never taken our eyes off how connected our customers, clients, partners, and staff are. Find out more at  

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 5, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, our staff didn’t miss a beat. They pivoted their own work processes and the programs and services we offered to meet our clients’ and customers’ emerging needs. 

In addition to the hybrid approach and other organizational re-looks, did you find that being forced to adapt to the pandemic helped you develop new tools or offerings to customers that might have never been a priority if the year was business as usual? I've heard some utilities speak about virtual home energy audits in that way-- do you have anything like that of 'wouldn't have happened without COVID'?

Rebecca Foster's picture
Rebecca Foster on Aug 9, 2021

Great question, Matt. COVID presented us with a need (and opportunity) to get even closer to our customers to understand their changing needs and maximize the benefits we were bringing them. One example of a program pivot was supporting the work of essential nonprofit social services organizations across Vermont. We offered free technical assistance and covered 90% of the cost of refrigeration upgrades for food shelves and food banks, who were struggling to meet the growing demand for food assistance. At the DCSEU, we similarly revamped programs to focus more on the needs of low-income residential customers, renters, and small businesses, all of whom struggled through the pandemic. For us, moving our operations to virtually connect with our customers was just the beginning...  

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Aug 17, 2021

Thanks for the great contribution, Rebecca. I was wondering if you'd be able to share any of the cultural challenges or opportunities the Culture Committee has pinpointed to date? Thanks

Rebecca Foster's picture
Thank Rebecca for the Post!
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