For many, the concept of sustainability places most of its focus on the environment. In actuality, it encompasses much more than being good to the planet, from social equity to economic sustainability to creating a product or service that benefits the community. Technicians for Sustainability is a Tucson solar installation company that engages in many different facets of sustainability, which I found out with a visit to their workplace. I was excited to venture out of Phoenix and conduct my first interview with a locally owned business. As I approached Technicians for Sustainability's office, I noticed a lack of vehicles at a place where there was at least 7-10 employees inside. Their building feels more like a home than an office where the company’s employees buzzed with greetings and productive conversation. In the back of the house the installers were hard at work collecting their tools and items for the day’s work, popping in and out to greet those in the office. It was obvious to me that this was a place that people liked to be, from the employees to the owners to the installers.
Technicians for Sustainability’s mission is multi-faceted. As a for profit business, they sell and install high-quality, clean, solar electric and solar hot water systems that are built to last. They have an intriguing sales model, as they do not try to sell their product but instead take much more value in educating potential customers and youth about the benefits of solar energy. One of their programs has their employees travel to local schools, from preschool to college, to engage students in hands-on projects displaying how solar power can positively impact daily life in all aspects from environmental improvements to economic improvements.
The education process doesn’t stop at educating students though. TFS’ owners Nicole and Kevin Koch pursue an education for their staff as well. While they see value in staff bonding events, they want to give more to their staff than awards and fun. They practice open-book management, meaning any of their employees are welcome to learn more about the financials of the business. This not only provides transparency between owners and employees, but teaches the employees financial literacy.
They also focus on creating a vibrant corporate culture with their employees in the fore front. Their hiring process is primarily grassroots, as they hire on recommendation and are drawn to people who have an interest in social sustainability. TFS encourages alternative transportation among their staff by encouraging their team to commute via bicycle. I heard a plethora of biking stories including a staff member who lost a significant amount of weight and an employee who sold her car and began riding her bike 5-7 miles a day, not due to pressure but due to an adoption of culture that exists within the company.
TFS also practices environmental sustainability in the traditional sense. When working on an installation, they use modified electric bikes to get solar panels to work sites throughout the city. For locations that are too far for electric bike, they use electric cars and hybrids, along with fuel efficient trucks for more arduous trips. They recycle glass, paper, plastics and a large number of wooden pallets used for solar panel shipping. The pallets get reused by a local furniture store that transforms them into home furnishings.
As I left Tucson, I pondered the choice of Technicians for Sustainability as the company’s name. Certainly they could incorporate the word “solar” or “alternative energies” in there somewhere. After sitting down with this incredible group, I understand why. Solar power installation is a service and a product, yet this company is at the helm of something much greater. They exude sustainability in all they do, from education to company transparency to being a certified B Corporation to coming up with outside-the-box methods to provide a fun and eco-minded culture. Technicians for Sustainability is a fantastic example of what can be done by incorporating sustainability into your business on a variety of levels.