Corporate sustainability is all about image, right?
Of course, a positive sentiment towards your brand is invaluable. But the rewards of sustainability improvements go beyond positive PR, and an awareness of potential ROIs can significantly strengthen your case for getting stakeholders on board with new initiatives.
1. Identify and share sustainability ROIs
The following is only a small sampling of potential ROIs for sustainability action:
- Cost savings. Implementing sustainable practices within your office and warehouse like energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling systems can significantly reduce energy consumption, leading to lower utility bills. Optimizing resource usage, such as water, raw materials, and packaging, can lead to reduced costs.
- Increased sales. Today's consumers are increasingly conscious of environmental and social issues. Businesses that demonstrate commitment to sustainability and responsible practices can attract a larger customer base and gain a competitive advantage.
- Enhanced employee satisfaction and retention. Employee engagement research found that 76 percent of millennials consider a company's social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. Additionally, a positive corporate social responsibility (CSR) reputation can enhance employee engagement and productivity, leading to reduced turnover costs.
- Risk reduction. Focusing on sustainability can lead to a more robust and diversified supply chain, mitigating risks associated with disruptions in resources or materials. Additionally, sustainable practices can help businesses comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations, reducing the risk of fines and penalties.
Basically, as solar companies continue to embrace sustainable practices alongside their sustainable product, they position themselves for long-term success in an increasingly environmentally and socially conscious market.
Of course, the most impactful types of sustainable changes can demand research, time, and initial investments.
And meaningful corporate solar sustainability efforts require thoughtful and strategic partnerships.
But much can be done within the structure and processes of businesses internally. We’ll walk you through some more of the top pivots to consider as you take inventory of what your solar business is doing well and how it can improve.
2. Evaluate and improve upon office operations
By running company-owned buildings in an unsustainable way, solar companies can inadvertently contribute excess GHG emissions — the exact problem they are trying to combat.
Thus, solar companies can extend their commitment to sustainability beyond the field by adopting greener practices in their office operations.
Initiatives like installing a commercial solar system in-house, implementing recycling programs, going digital to reduce paper usage, implementing energy-efficient lighting, and choosing a green web hosting service all contribute to a more sustainable workplace.
Offering remote work options to office employees (where feasible) reduces employee commutes, resulting in lower carbon emissions and a greater work-life balance for staff.
Partner Highlight: Companies like Cape Fear Solar Systems have embraced office sustainability practices, showcasing their dedication to environmental responsibility. A 2023 Best Company (now Snoball) Sustainability Award winner and recently named the Greenest Contractor in the United States by Solar Power World, Cape Fear has a new warehouse facility featuring a large solar array installed on the rooftop in the shape of an American flag.
3. Reduce transportation emissions
Using locally manufactured equipment can significantly reduce carbon emissions from transportation. By supporting American-made solar products, installers can cut down on the number of stops and steps in the supply chain, promoting greater sustainability.
Additionally, adopting electric vehicles for transportation further enhances a solar company's commitment to sustainability.
Partner Highlight: Nationwide installer SunPower has committed to converting at least 90 percent of its vehicle fleet to electric and hybrid vehicles by 2030. This initiative contributes to its plan to eventually achieve net zero carbon emissions for U.S. warehouse shipments to home delivery.
If your company is not yet ready to make the switch to electric vehicles, there are other ways to reduce transportation within company operations, including the following implementations:
- Install electric vehicle chargers onsite to encourage EV use by employees (Solar Power of Oklahoma)
- Limit company travel whenever possible by using algorithms to optimize appointment times based on location (Entrust Solar)
- Incorporate smaller and more fuel-efficient trucks (Shinnova Home and Solar)
- Have field employees meet in a central location to the job and carpool (Comet Energy)
4. Encourage full lifetime panel use
The solar panel industry will produce a total of 78 million tons of waste by 2050 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). And that's considered a conservative estimate.
Unfortunately for the planet, consumers are replacing their solar systems prematurely with the effect of early and increased waste, not necessarily because their panels aren’t working, but because they want to take advantage of efficiency upgrades.
Incentivizing customers to continue using the same solar panels throughout the panel's lifetime requires a combination of strategic approaches that emphasize benefits, value, and customer satisfaction.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Quality and durability assurance. Emphasize the high quality and durability of solar panels from the start. Highlight how the panels are designed to perform efficiently over their entire lifespan, reassuring customers of their long-term value.
- Extended warranties. Offer extended warranties that cover not only the standard manufacturer's defects but also performance guarantees over an extended period. This provides customers with confidence in the panels' longevity.
- Performance monitoring. Implement real-time performance monitoring systems that allow customers to track their panels' energy production and efficiency. Provide regular reports and alerts if any issues arise, ensuring customers feel engaged and informed.
- Upgrade pathways. Offer upgrade options for components like inverters or monitoring systems over time, enabling customers to enhance their panel systems without having to replace the entire setup.
- Customer education. Educate customers about the environmental benefits of long-term panel use and the reduction of waste associated with premature replacements. Help them feel like partners in sustainability by directing them to resources like this article.
- Loyalty rewards and trade-in programs. Introduce loyalty programs that offer discounts on future solar-related products, services, or maintenance when customers choose to stick with the same panels.
- Community engagement. Foster a sense of community among customers who use the same panels, offering networking events, online forums, or workshops where they can share experiences and tips.
- Financial incentives. Consider offering financial incentives such as referral bonuses or discounts for recommending the same panels to others. This can create a network effect that encourages long-term use. Snoball's referrals module is a premier feature that optimizes referral benefits for all parties.
5. Explore innovative land use for solar installations
Non-rooftop, ground-mounted solar farms, while helping the planet in one way, can do damage in another. They demand a lot of space, leading to significant land-use change.
Solar installers can consider surveying, planning for, and implementing residential and commercial solar projects in non-conventional areas, maximizing the utilization of available land without compromising sustainability.
A creative approach to land use means looking beyond roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar panels.
Exploring solar options like the following opens up new opportunities for sustainable solar installations:
- Multi-family housing units
- Expanded built environments such as shopping malls, parking lots, and sports complexes
- Salt-affected land
- Contaminated land
- Water reservoirs
Solar adoption in existing multi-family housing units has been hindered by factors like limited roof space, technical wiring challenges, property ownership complexities, regulatory hurdles, and financial barriers.
Despite these issues, efforts to enhance accessibility are underway, and solar installers can play a part. Solutions include community solar programs, solar leasing, and proactive engineering of new complexes to integrate solar. Solar installers can drive outreach and education initiatives, collaborating with housing developers to extend solar's reach and reduce urban carbon footprints.
In new builds especially, complexes can be engineered from the start to accommodate solar for entire communities. Plus, multifamily housing offers an excellent opportunity to increase solar installations by sheer number, reducing carbon footprints on a larger scale.
Dr. Joshua Pearce, a researcher in sustainability, has examined unconventional applications of solar energy and has concluded that the concept of "floatovoltaics," involving solar panels on water surfaces, might offer a way to financially support water conservation efforts in the drought-affected United States.
His analysis conducted on Lake Mead determined that dedicating 10 percent of the lake's area to the installation of flexible solar panels with foam backing could result in significant water preservation and electricity generation. Impressively, this energy-water synergy would be sufficient to meet the needs of both Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada.
What else? You decide
A mix of tradition and innovation have brought the solar industry to where it is today.
By building on existing technologies while striving for improved efficiency, the frameworks of solar manufacturing, supply chain competitiveness, and communication with municipalities have leveled up as a whole.
And the same goes for sustainability within solar.
Find a company two steps ahead of yours and use it as a model of what’s possible. Better yet, forge your own path in combination with adopting proven sustainability initiatives.
The sky — or, rather, the sun — is the limit.