Commercial and residential installer SunCommon has made its name by putting community first. The publicly traded company, now owned by iSun, has been a certified B Corp for a decade and operates under the tagline, “A solar company with a purpose beyond profit.” The company’s environmental and ethical mission caught the interest of new VP of operations JoAnn Swapp, who started her career as a nuclear engineer in the U.S. Navy.
In this episode, Swapp talks about SunCommon’s community engagement via workforce training programs and an annual climate-focused film festival. An edited portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for more insight on how she expects the IRA to help SunCommon reach some previously tough markets.
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SPW: Tell me about your background in high-ranking positions in the Navy.
Joann Swapp: I joined the Navy and I was part of the nuclear power program. I was one of the first females to go through the nuclear engineering program — I was a nuclear electrician. I did that for about 10 years and then I got commissioned as an officer and stayed as a nuclear engineering officer out on ships. It was a great career and I learned a lot, but I also got to see certain areas that were wasteful in different aspects. But I did get to learn so much about energy and everything associated with that.
When I retired from the Navy, I actually took a little time in telecommunications, working with a lot of the larger companies. And one of the things that I felt I was missing was that connection with community. So I was starting to think of my next career step to bring that back into my life as I felt I had when I was in the Navy. One of the members of the board of our company found me on LinkedIn and they were looking for a VP of operations, and lo and behold, here I was in January in a new career with SunCommon, and it’s been fantastic.
SunCommon is a unique company for a few reasons and one of those is that it’s a B Corp. Did that help draw you to this company?
Oh, it absolutely did. I was not very versed in B Corps before I started researching SunCommon. The B Corp certification is something that you get from an international company called B Lab and what they look for in the company is the highest standards in transparency — focus on environment, focus on fair treatment, profit equitable to your mission.
How else does SunCommon stand out from others in the mid-range project space?
We do a lot of activism to help with legislation to move the needle a little bit further on the national and on the state level. We also believe that storytelling really inspires people, so we have an annual climate action film festival where we get submissions from around the world of independent filmmakers that focus on things that touch the environment around the world. We get over 200 submissions every year, and we select a good number. We have two nights of a film festival where we sell tickets and it’s by donation, and all the proceeds go to New York Renews and our other activist partners, so it’s just a wonderful event that we throw every year that I feel is extremely powerful in reaching the community.
Since SunCommon is active on the legislative level, have you looked into how the IRA is going to impact your company’s work?
We’ve struggled to get to the non-profit community. There’s just a hindrance when it comes to financing and how you get through justifying the installation costs and everything associated with that. It’s one area that we have really wanted to dive into, and there are many aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act that tie to incentives to get into non-profits and schools. We’re super excited to be able to help people become clients and help them get those incentives so that we can just expand our reach into that market.