Burlington Free Press: SunCommon ramps up solar power in Vermont
by Dan D’Ambrosio, Free Press Staff Writer
WATERBURY –Every Monday morning, the employees of SunCommon cram into a meeting area in the open offices of the solar company’s headquarters here and get fired up for the week.
The meeting begins with personal reflections, during which every employee — all 62 of them — shares something from their personal lives. The subjects run the gamut: trips to New York City, sledding at 30 mph according to an on-board iPhone, muzzle-loader deer hunting. Staffers also share the heavy burdens of lives.
“There’s stuff going on in their lives, and so you heard some people dealing with cancer in their families; other people are having children,” said Duane Peterson, co-president of SunCommon. “It’s important for some to share what’s going on in their lives, either why they’re so up or might be down and need support. We work closely together, so understanding what’s going on in someone’s head can be helpful.”
After the personal reflections, the meeting moves on to a discussion of financials and where the company stands in terms of upcoming solar installations and sales leads. At one recent meeting this month, there also was a presentation about SunCommon’s performance as a Certified BCorps — the company is doing well in its commitment to pursue goals in addition to profit — and an introduction to a new method for a single log-in to SunCommon’s computer system.
In addition to being a Certified BCorps, a designation created by the nonprofit B Lab, SunCommon also is chartered as a benefit corporation under Vermont law.
Launched in 2012 by Peterson, 58, Ben & Jerry’s former “chief of stuff,” and James Moore, 37, former program director for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s clean energy program, SunCommon started the year with about 40 employees. The company, located at The Energy Mill on Waterbury-Stowe Road, has about a dozen openings now, which when filled would push the staff over 70.
SunCommon recently completed its 1,000th solar installation — at a home in Barre — and already is profitable, Peterson said.
“Our goal is to grow profitably, that’s what we’re looking to do for the strength of the business,” Moore said. “We want to be here for the long haul and make sure we have a great staff. A strong balance sheet is part of that.”
Peterson said the company will generate about $18 million in revenue this year.
A supportive environment
Peterson and Moore met through VPIRG, where Peterson was the longtime president of the Board of Directors. They decided to start SunCommon together. The pair serve as co-presidents, with each owning about one-third of the company. The remaining third is owned by investors including both Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the Vermont Community Foundation and FreshTracks Capital in Shelburne.
“When we started this gambit together, we did a division of labor where Duane focuses on the marketing end of things, our investor relations and all things kind of internal, administrative, legal and whatnot, and I focus on the solar, sales, customer service, design, engineering and government relations,” Moore said. “We both think we have the better half, so it’s perfect.”
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