Tag: history

Celebrating Womens History Month

As Women’s History Month winds down, we recognize the innovation, achievement, and leadership of women across the energy efficiency industry. Here at the VAEEC, the work women do to advance energy efficiency is obvious – we’re an all women team, with several additional women serving on our Board of Directors and in Executive Leadership. To celebrate, we are recognizing three VAEEC members who lead the pack of women-owned businesses.  

Raye Elliott is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of FLIPP Inc a 501c3 nonprofit headquartered in Dillwyn, VA that exists to reduce employment barriers for disadvantaged populations and to empower low-income communities with renewable energy training. Ms. Elliott serves on the board of the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance (VA-REA), and more notably skyrocketed FLIPP Inc’s annual revenue from under $50,000 to more than $2.3 million within ten months of being appointed as the Executive Director in 2022. Raye holds a master’s degree in information technology, has a background in Hydropower with the US Army Corps of Engineers, and in Construction and Federal Government Contracting with the Department of Defense. Raye recently designed a renewable energy worker-centered sector strategy that was grant funded in 2023 by the USDOL-ETA just shy of $2 million. She has led FLIPP Inc to be the 2023 recipients of the C3 “Energy Equity Award” & the United States Green Building Council-Virginia Chapter’s 2023 “Community Impact Organization of the Year Award”. Raye believes in an “equity in energy” industry strategy, being a great bridge for the barrier ridden, returning back into the workforce and the un-employed individual that needs meaningful employment within a rapidly growing industry.

Jennifer Jesse is the visionary force behind Quick AC Quote (QUACQ), a distinguished SWAM designated Class A contractor licensed in Virginia and West Virginia, where she serves as both founder and Chief Financial Officer. Under Jennifer’s dynamic leadership, QUACQ has earned a sterling reputation for excellence, specializing in large-scale multi-family HVAC replacement projects with a workforce of 20 dedicated employees. With a remarkable capacity to replace 30-40 heat pump systems weekly, QUACQ also extends its expertise to single-family homes, offering comprehensive weatherization services and addressing diverse heating and cooling needs with unparalleled precision. With over 18 years of dedicated service as a Registered Nurse and a further 9 years as a Realtor, Jennifer’s unwavering commitment to helping others has remained steadfast. Whether providing compassionate care to oncology patients, facilitating significant home purchases, or pioneering energy-efficient solutions since 2019, Jennifer’s passion for making a positive impact shines through in every endeavor. A lifelong learner, Jennifer’s love of acquiring new skills and knowledge fuels her success, a trait she attributes to her consistent dedication to growth and innovation.  

Driven by a constant commitment to excellence and sustainability, Jennifer continues to lead QUACQ with distinction, empowering her team to reach new heights of success. Through strategic initiatives aimed at employment, education, and certification, Jennifer ensures QUACQ remains at the forefront of the industry. With ambitious plans to expand into multiple East Coast states by the end of 2024, Jennifer’s vision for QUACQ transcends mere business goals; it’s about building a better, more sustainable future for generations to come.

Sandra Leibowitz is the Founder and Owner of Sustainable Design Consulting, LLC (SDC), operating from offices in Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC.  Prior to founding SDC in 2002, Sandra served as Sustainable Design Specialist for three Washington, DC-area architecture and consulting firms, after earning a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon. 

Sandra draws from over 30 years of advanced experience with hundreds of sustainable design projects and dozens of organizational programs to serve institutions, building owners, design, construction and property management professionals with expert green building consulting and process management.  She leads SDC’s team of experienced and credentialed professionals integrating sustainable design, construction, operations, maintenance, measurement, and reporting concepts into projects of varying size and complexity. 

When and why did you start/buy this business? 

Sandra Leibowitz: I founded Sustainable Design Consulting (SDC) in 2002.  By that point, I had been in the DC-area for some six years, working for three architecture and consulting firms.  At that time and in that place, the ideal firm I would have wanted to work for didn’t really exist, so I concluded that I had to either make it myself or just go and join another architecture firm, which would have been the easier path, by far.

Raye Elliott: In September 2020, FLIPP Inc was birthed by myself and my cousin AJ; we started out simply wanting to change mindsets and ended up transforming lives. Our inspiration for the company’s mission was a combination of personal passion and wanting to provide high-quality progressive career avenues for all. The ongoing fight the Historic Union Hill community had to prevent the Dominion Energy ACP from polluting our community was definitely a catalyst event (where we lived our entire childhood lives at), the stagnation observed of the Buckingham County Economic Development and the lack of opportunity in the area.

Jennifer Jesse: Several years ago, I embarked on the journey of founding a HVAC company in Virginia. Our inception as an HVAC enterprise stemmed from a deep-seated desire to aid individuals in need, aiming to provide them with enhanced energy-efficient heating and cooling solutions for their residences. As our commitment to serving our community intensified, our company evolved to encompass a broader spectrum of energy efficiency weatherization measures, meticulously designed to not only optimize home comfort but also alleviate the financial burden associated with homeownership.

What are some ways women can access leadership roles in EE? 

Jennifer Jesse: Women can access leadership roles in the energy efficiency (EE) industry through a combination of education, experience, networking, and mentorship. Seeking out opportunities for hands-on experience, volunteering, and professional development can help build skills and credibility. Networking with other women in the industry, joining professional organizations, and seeking out mentors can also provide valuable support and guidance on the path to leadership.

Sandra Leibowitz: You can do what I did: launch your own consultancy, but starting and maintaining a small business can be very challenging in and of itself.  These days, there are many existing opportunities in EE policy and practice, both in the public and private sectors.  When climbing one of those ladders toward leadership, becoming known externally as a subject matter expert, professional advocate and/or community leader can be very helpful.  Of course, some leadership roles are more about organizational management, so if that’s a skillset of yours, as it is among mine, then show your worth by taking on higher and higher levels of internal responsibility.

Raye Elliott: Creating an environment “from the top down” within an organization that encourages women obtaining leadership roles, making gender diversification a NECESSITY and not a PERK, awareness of these roles and proper engagement.  

What advice would you give women who are trying to enter the industry? 

Raye Elliott: Be persistent, gain experience, get credentialed and master the art of networking. 

Jennifer Jesse: My advice to women entering the energy efficiency industry is to be confident in your abilities and passionate about your mission. Don’t be afraid to pursue opportunities, take on challenges, and advocate for yourself. Seek out like minded individuals who can offer support and guidance along the way. Remember that your unique perspective and experiences are valuable assets that can contribute to the industry’s success.

Sandra Leibowitz: Spend at least a few months checking out the types of organizations that you think you might want to work for and read the job descriptions that are offered.  Join professional and/or local community organizations and pour some of your time and energy (don’t overdo it!) into initiatives that excite you.  Send out resumes to the employers that interest you and request informational interviews, because you never know when the perfect opportunity may open up – it’s so helpful to employers to already have a pipeline of promising candidates at their fingertips when an opening occurs.  And don’t forget to keep your LinkedIn profile updated!

What barriers and opportunities do you perceive for women in EE? 

Jennifer Jesse: Women in the energy efficiency industry face both barriers and opportunities. Some barriers include gender bias, lack of representation in leadership roles, and limited access to resources and opportunities. However, there are also opportunities for women to excel in the industry, such as the growing demand for sustainable solutions, the emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and the increasing recognition of the importance of women’s contributions. By advocating for gender equity, supporting one another, and leveraging our strengths, we can overcome barriers and create a more inclusive and equitable industry.

Raye Elliott: Barriers for women in EE I’ve observed are 1. stereotypes as to what jobs women ‘should’ do, 2. systemic inequality of opportunity and 3. Just being in a “male-dominated” industry is deemed as a danger to the men because we are a minority and viable competition. 

Opportunities are 1. We are many times under-estimated and are able to easily surpass our male counterparts, 2.  Where there’s threats there are always opportunities – due to the high disparity there’s an increased emphasis on women in leadership roles and 3. I’ve begun mentoring other women to enter into the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector. If we support, mentor, create avenues for advancement and empower one another, we help ease the transition together.

Sandra Leibowitz: Depending on the specific job and work environment, EE can still be very male-dominated.  That’s really not true of sustainable design or green building anymore, so in this case I’m speaking less from direct experience than I am from an observer’s viewpoint.  Also, employers know that women tend to be adept at organizing people, programs, and initiatives – which can be a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, doing what comes naturally can help raise your profile and get you a seat at the table.  On the other hand, women shouldn’t step into or stay in roles just because men won’t – or still assume that it’s ‘women’s work’.

Tell me a little about your background. How did you get into the EE industry?

Raye Elliott: I have a background in hydropower and solar workforce development; renewable energy placed me on a path to learning how integral energy efficiency is and its importance. I had my in-depth exposure with energy efficiency when I worked with the Department of Defense as a construction contracting official and our armory renovations as well as our newly constructed Joint Forces Headquarters buildings had to be LEED certified. I was surprised and fascinated with how much work and the consideration that went into ensuring a “Green Building” was achieved by focusing on the holistic approach to minimize its environmental impact.

Jennifer Jesse: With a background of being a Registered Nurse and Realtor and an understanding of business, I was fortunate enough to step into a platform inside the EE industry that allows me to keep assisting those in need.  It has always been my desire to help and extend out a hand when possible to ensure those who are in need are heard and taken care of.  Energy Efficiency has allowed me to not only help people but also help this wonderful planet we live on.  It has felt like a true blessing to do something so meaningful.

Sandra Leibowitz: I started in this direction – which I guess was originally called ‘environmental architecture’ – way back in 1992 as I was graduating college, where unfortunately I learned little about all this at that time.  I did so because I loved architecture, yet considered myself an environmentalist, so put it together for myself by choosing architecture as my environmental career.  After grad school at the University of Oregon, where I immersed myself in what we then called ‘ecological design’, I moved to DC, where we instead tended to call it ‘sustainable design’.  Over several years working for others, I began what would become my ultimate professional career as a ‘green building’ consultant / consulting firm leader.  Living in Richmond for many years further expanded my community into the Central Virginia region.

What is something you wish people of other genders knew about your experiences? 

Sandra Leibowitz: Women leaders seem to be expected to make everyone happy all the time.  Besides being impossible generally, it’s both unrealistic and unfair to think that others’ happiness is under our control.  Furthermore, we don’t tend to burden male leaders with that expectation.

Raye Elliott: It’s extremely hard breaking into an industry that is both white-washed and male dominated. Folks that aren’t clear on my experience and contributions (and those that are clear), have judged, discriminated, and tested me two or three times more than the guys. I personally have been held to a higher standard and had to prove myself more than men I am acquainted with, within the EE and renewable sectors.

Jennifer Jesse: I wish people understood the resilience, determination, and perseverance required to navigate these challenges and succeed in leadership positions as a woman. It’s not just about breaking through the glass ceiling; it’s about constantly pushing against barriers, advocating for oneself and others, and overcoming stereotypes and biases that can undermine our credibility and contributions. Overall, I wish people of all genders would recognize the importance of supporting and empowering women in leadership roles, not just for the benefit of individual women but for the success and resilience of businesses and organizations as a whole.

What’s your favorite EE tip? 

Raye Elliott: Turn off the lights when they’re not in use. This is approximately 12% of a usual residential utility bill.

Jennifer Jesse: My favorite EE tip would be to regularly maintain and tune up your HVAC system with the easiest being checking and replacing your filter regularly. Proper maintenance ensures that your heating and cooling equipment operates at peak efficiency, reducing your energy bills, improving comfort, and reducing your carbon footprint. Regular maintenance and smart usage practices are key to maximizing the efficiency and performance of your HVAC system. 

Sandra Leibowitz: Bigger isn’t necessarily better – that can be said of buildings themselves, their equipment, and the organizations that own and occupy them.  Take a ‘right-sizing’ approach to EE and life in general!