First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Anne Evens: Thank you so much for asking. We are doing well. We had to make some adjustments at home so that we all had space to work, study, and have fun. We count ourselves among the fortunate ones who have the technology and reliable internet connection that allows us to stay home and stay productive.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Elevate Energy.
Anne Evens: My path has had some zigs and some zags, but it has always remained at the intersection of community development and the environment. I had the privilege of starting my career working in affordable housing in Chicago, where I worked to preserve existing units through energy upgrades. I then followed a dream to work internationally and learn from other cultures. I was so fortunate to start a rural reconstruction program alongside a Mozambican engineer working in beautiful Central Mozambique. Together, we built critical rural infrastructure, including schools, roads, water wells, sanitation, and health clinics. After returning to the U.S., I faced my next challenge of working in local government and managing environmental health programs. I came to a point in my life where I increasingly felt the urgency of the climate crisis and the racial wealth divide. I believed I could add value by joining Elevate Energy, whose vision is to build a world where everyone has healthy, safe, and affordable access to heat, power, and water — no matter who they are or where they live. In doing so, we substantially mitigate the climate crisis and close the racial wealth divide.
How does Elevate Energy innovate?
Anne Evens: We provide clean energy and clean water programs to disadvantaged communities that substantially lower costs, preserve affordable housing, and keep people in their homes. We’ve upgraded over 70,000 homes and 2,000 nonprofits and social service agencies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 81,000 tons and creating 805 local jobs. We promote and support BIPOC businesses as solar installers all the way up the chain. And we’ve done it efficiently and cost-effectively, reaching people who’ve been left behind by the clean energy economy.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Anne Evens: In early March, we shifted to 100% remote work.
We were already very supportive of our employees working from home, so that shift was fairly seamless – thanks to our fantastic IT team. We then chose to slow down and listen to our partners and our communities.
The communities we serve and the businesses we partner with told us that they needed basic services like food and water deliveries and assistance, securing the payroll protection program loans. We pivoted our services to meet their needs in the short term by deftly arranging the labor and funding necessary to provide services, including emergency water deliveries, forgivable loans for small contractors, grocery deliveries for seniors, and more.
We’ve since been transitioning so that we can provide more sustainable solutions in the longer term.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Anne Evens: I think the most difficult choice we made was to make our decisions and announcements regarding our COVID-19 response ahead of the various State recommendations. In early May, we decided to have our full team work remotely through the end of 2020 and were among the first Chicago-based businesses to do so. We did this because we listened to our employees, and they needed some stability to plan for themselves and their families. We are fortunate that we can make these decisions to provide the best working environment possible for our employees during a global pandemic. And we’ve learned that we can be brave and bold leaders by employing a people- and employee-centric response to COVID-19.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Elevate Energy in the future?
Anne Evens: I’ve learned to listen to my body. I’ve learned that I’m most strategic in my thinking during the morning, so I save that time for writing. That makes me feel productive and helps me stay focused on video meetings during the middle of the day. And then, I save the end of my day for email and administrative work. It’s helped me stay productive. And then I remember to be kind to myself. Some days are just not going to go well, and that’s to be expected. I don’t help myself or anyone else if I beat myself up about having a bad day.
I encourage our employees to be kind to themselves, too and have pushed to make this central to our company culture. We must take care of ourselves to stand a chance in our fight against climate change and racial inequity.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Anne Evens: We’re a nonprofit with a big mission of addressing climate change and racial equity. We welcome everyone to this party and need all the help we can get.
Your final thoughts?
Anne Evens: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts. Each time I reflect on and write about our goals, I grow more determined. The future that Elevate Energy fights for is bold. In the face of climate change, we’re working to make meaningful change that reflects the values, needs, and priorities of communities that are most affected by racist policies.
Our team is scrappy and determined, but we know we can’t do this work alone. We’re always looking for partners to help expand our impact. I am filled with gratitude when given the opportunity to share my organization’s work with a larger audience.