Rodney North, of Equal Exchange, the enduring Massachusetts worker co-op fair trade coffee company, in response to my last blog post, said (I’m paraphrasing here):
It’s great to see how SMCo is diversifying. I’m guessing this evolved out of some mix of client demand/SMCo interests in renewables & the need to diversify during lean times – yes? I’d be curious to know if this new line of work meant re-training for current SMCo staff &/or bringing on new staff w/the necessary skills. And does it now mean that SMCo needs to have 2 (or more) pipelines of projects lined up so as to ensure fairly steady employment for staff?
I also noted – for the first time to my knowledge – that SMCo finally took on some projects off the Vineyard. . . . I’ll be interested to hear more about how SMCo arrived at that change in policy and hope it works out well. As a mainlander I’m happy to see that now some of our communities will enjoy some of the gifts of SMCo that the Vineyard has had all to itself all these years.
Rodney inquires about two of the three most important SMCo changes of the last few years: concentrating greater efforts on Energy and doing select projects off the island (the third is a rigorous focus on planning for the Next Generation of SMCo).
I’ll touch on the first two here.
In July of 2011 I wrote:
In 2007, our 17 owners endorsed our business plan to establish SMCo Energy. The idea was to bring energy efficiency and renewable energy to residential, commercial, and institutional customers on Martha’s Vineyard. We had been trading in solar and energy efficiency for 30 years, but this was the first time we actively marketed these services outside our own projects. We invested heavily in new learning and the development of this new endeavor.
In every way, SMCo Energy has surpassed our expectations during the last four years.
Its ascendance continues. There is now a very-skilled, highly trained, immensely effective full time staff of four (soon to be five) doing Energy, and many of the rest of us play significant supporting roles as well. It has become an essential part of our core business. One of the most exciting aspects is that we are now able to offer very favorable solar leases to homeowners which do not require any significant up-front payment. This means solar is available to nearly everyone! Solar for the other 99%. Here’s a copy of a recent ad:
Also, because we do many small solar jobs, it puts us in touch with a much larger clientele, and some of the solar jobs lead to design/build jobs. The one pipeline feeds the other.
And way back in August of 2009 I wrote:
We have had a long-standing policy of only doing work on the Vineyard, the place that we know. That one flew the coop when we had the opportunity to do an extraordinary project across the water, for the Woods Hole Research Center, a world class climate change research organization, at a time when our future workload was less secure than usual. It wasn’t the first time we had such an opportunity, but this was the first time we forced ourselves – due to circumstances – to confront the logistical hurdles and internal complications these projects bring.
That project – a complete deep energy retrofit of an old carriage house for their growing net zero energy campus, has now been complete for some time (photos above). We have done one other in Woods Hole, we are working on several on Nantucket, and, as I mentioned in my last post, we are working on another in Falmouth and one in Vermont. We have learned that in certain circumstances, with very specific kinds of projects that are perfectly aligned with our mission and values, it makes sense to extend our reach when we have the opportunity. Our selective participation in off-island projects now stems more from desire than need. We still believe that our sweet spot is right here on the Vineyard, but we are less doctrinaire about the commitment.
Let us know what you’ve got going – maybe there’s a match!!
John, wow. This is all so encouraging.
Now I only wish every comment I post online generated such quick and thorough responses.
No comment. 🙂
Hi John, It is very impressive what SMCo is doing and how it is thriving. Last year your blog sent me to some books that in turn sent me down “the rabbit hole” reading widely on topics of climate change, peak oil and the economy. It seems that photovoltaics require some level of fossil fuel to manufacture and in general are a sophisticated technology that may not be sustainable once we head further down the back side of peak oil and the cost of oil rises dramatically. Short term it makes sense, but sooner than later I think we need to be preparing for a much simpler future for ourselves and our descendants. You don’t need to post this post, but I wanted to share my thoughts with you. Best, Anne