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Champions of Change: Harnessing the Power of Community and Clean Energy

"Champions of Change" is a series profiling Americans whose work is helping our country rise to the many challenges of the 21st century. Will Byrne, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The DC Project, a non-profit organized around the mission of creating clean energy career opportunities, shares his experience.

This past Friday, I was honored with a Champions of Change award, allowing me to join a conversation between Administration officials and community leaders from around the country to discuss new solutions we are implementing toward a new clean energy economy.

As I heard from the incredible pioneers around me, two things were resoundingly clear:

First, the clean energy economy has extraordinary potential to bring new opportunity and prosperity to America. Second, this new wave of innovation, just as the major economic transformations the United States of the past, is going to be driven by the home-grown ingenuity and entrepreneurship of our local communities.

The organization I helped to found a few years ago, The DC Project, was built to realize this vision of a bottom up transformation of the clean economy. By working alongside communities to make sensible energy choices, we help everyday people to improve their own lives while also ramping up demand for clean energy services.  Harnessing the power of community in this way, we not only unlock the local clean energy marketplace, but also ensure that its benefits, especially new jobs, are tied to the community.

Here in DC we’ve applied this model around building energy retrofits through our WeatherizeDC program, and we’ve seen an incredible transformation - creating living-wage jobs for local residents, sweeping energy savings, and local green business growth.

We’ve seen growing momentum in neighborhood after neighborhood as community members begin to realize their power to grow the local clean energy marketplace and build a better future for more city families. We work side-by-side with community members as they design outreach strategies to bring more of their neighbors into the fold. The leadership and passion for this issue that have emerged from mothers and fathers, individual residents and faith-based leaders have infused our efforts with immediacy.

Now, due to requests for support from clean energy efforts across the country, we’ve begun working to empower leaders of those projects with our community-driven approach to local, clean economic growth.

Revitalizing America’s cities and towns is one of the most pressing priorities that we face together as a country. As we grapple with the need to rebuild, we’re also turning a corner in terms of the choices we make about energy. Most Americans are now aware of the far-reaching consequences of our energy choices. But we must not overlook the profound local economic opportunity that energy choices present to communities as well. This is a moment to rethink our strategies and leverage all of the promise the clean energy economy holds to lift up local communities. The dust and pollution that have been the hallmark of past centuries’ local energy can be replaced by clean technology and processes powered by limitless innovation. Every neighborhood in America deserves the chance to prosper and grow by seizing these opportunities. 

Engaged, empowered communities are at the heart of expanding economic prosperity and protecting the world that we live in for generations to come.

Will Byrne is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The DC Project, a non-profit based in the nation’s capital organized around the mission of creating clean energy career opportunities for people in need.