Originally published at newsroom.wf.com. Wells Fargo ranked No. 29 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.
As climate change accelerates, underserved communities and people of color are increasingly vulnerable to higher energy burdens, unhealthy air quality and extreme weather. To help address this gap, the Wells Fargo Foundation and Elevate, a climate justice nonprofit, have joined forces to provide Chicago residents with access to clean, low-cost energy and inclusive workforce development opportunities while helping to lower carbon emissions in underserved neighborhoods. The two-year project, which is supported by $3.15 million in grant funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation, will support the decarbonization of approximately 100 homes for people with lower incomes, including energy efficiency improvements and solar installation. In addition to reducing emissions, these home upgrades help families save money on utility costs and make their homes more comfortable and resilient to severe weather. The effort will also expand access to Elevate’s Contractor Accelerator, which connects women and contractors of color with the training and resources needed to take on clean energy projects as a way to grow their business.
“Under-resourced and low-income communities spend disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills and, at the same time, disproportionately bear the burden of environmental injustice and climate change,” said Robyn Luhning, Chief Sustainability Officer at Wells Fargo. “Elevate’s approach aims to bring economic and health benefits to residents and can be a model for equitably addressing climate change impacts across the U.S. We look forward to sharing key learnings from Chicago to support building decarbonization efforts at the local, state and national level.”
The grant was announced at the home of Katherine Parks in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood where contractors have installed energy efficiency improvements and replaced all of the natural gas equipment with efficient electric versions that are compatible with solar energy. Parks said, “My furnace wasn’t working very well and I was looking to repair it, but I felt a little apprehensive about electrification in the beginning. Now, I’m so pleased with the upgrades.” Parks runs a small daycare out of her home, and these upgrades will help improve indoor air quality and make the space more comfortable for her and the children she cares for.
“The Wells Fargo-Elevate initiative is multifaceted and comprehensive,” said Elevate CEO Anne Evens. “It will mean building decarbonization and energy retrofits for 100 units in select Chicago neighborhoods, the creation of new jobs for Black and brown contractors in Chicago, as well as vital support for research and communications to disseminate outcomes and findings,” Evens said. “This investment will allow us to address climate change and the disparities facing diverse communities in Chicago in this space as we provide solutions to develop clean, renewable sources of energy.”
The Place-Based Decarbonization and Contractor Accelerator Initiative includes:
- Retrofitting services: Elevate staff complete property assessments to identify optimal decarbonization and electrification strategies, scopes of work and estimated construction budgets. This phase also includes resident engagement and a focus on how homeowners can realize the full benefits of low-carbon technologies, such as:
- Weatherizing the home with efficient air sealing and insulation to reduce heating and cooling costs.
- Replacing natural gas or propane heating systems with high efficiency heat pumps that add cooling.
- Installing rooftop solar to generate on-site electricity and further lower energy costs.
- Skill development Contractor Accelerator: Elevate trains and supports 24 women and contractors of color to prepare them for building electrification projects. This process includes:
- Adjusting program topics and wraparound support to meet contractor needs.
- Providing access to advanced technical training and education in electrification to contractors to build their customer base.
- Connecting contractors to decarbonization projects and providing direct exposure to an emerging market.
- Research: Elevate uses baseline energy consumption to estimate the avoided carbon emissions resulting from the capital upgrades on behalf of the partnership. The team also tracks non-energy impacts, including improvements in health, utility bill stability, comfort and more. Elevate also researches the shifting market demand for clean energy projects and approaches to mitigating barriers to entry for women and contractors of color.