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Powering Sustainability at Renewable NRG Systems

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By John Turner

As a part the UVM School of Business Administration’s sustainable business series, we have had the opportunity to interview several sustainability leaders in Vermont businesses who are taking steps to make a difference not only in the state of Vermont, but across the world. Most recently we had the chance to sit down with Anna Grady. Anna is the director of human resources for Renewable NRG Systems, an independently owned manufacturing and engineering company based in Hinesburg, Vermont, that designs and makes decision support tools for the renewable energy industry.

Anna Grady NRG
Anna Grady of Renewable NRG Systems

Can you give us a brief description of Renewable NRG Systems and what the company does?
We were started in 1982 and manufacture products that we sell to wind and solar farm developers, turbine manufacturers, utilities, and universities that might want to research or install wind or solar energy. We sell our products all over the world and they help guide renewable energy developers decisions all the way from assessment, design, installation and then maintenance.

In the next couple of years where do you see opportunities coming?
Globally, there are many opportunities. While widespread federal support in the United States is lacking, there are an increasing number of states and individuals starting to initiate renewable energy projects. Overseas, Brazil and South Africa offer very exciting emerging market possibilities and we hope to grow with them and their new opportunities. In addition, China is currently one of our second strongest markets followed by India.

Do you think renewable energy has reached a tipping point of being available to everyone?
I think over the last 5 or 6 years since the economic downturn the renewable energy industry has certainly struggled. Scrutiny of the economic benefits of renewable energy remains intense and there are many skeptics still calling the shots. Unfortunately, many policymakers are short-term thinkers and cannot imagine a future without fossil fuels leading the way. Adopting renewable energy as part of the energy portfolio is essential for any country, and certainly essential for the United States to reduce its dependency on foreign energy sources. Wind and solar options must be considered. It is a proven source that needs to be part of the discussion.

Can we go back a little and talk about the history of the company?
Renewable NRG has been around for 32 years now. It was started in 1982 by David Blittersdorf and later joined by his wife Jan. Jan served as our President and CEO for about ten years until just this January when Justin Wheating became our President. The Blittersdorfs were visionaries, committed to a future that included wind energy. They founded NRG Systems and started designing very successful products for the wind resource assessment market. It proved to be a wildly successful business. Last year, our company rebranded to Renewable NRG Systems, embracing a broader mission including solar and other renewable energy options.

As a business, is it difficult to balance sustainability, profits and keep the business healthy?
Like some other socially responsible organizations, we have a triple bottom line. We want to do the right thing for our people, we worry about our planet and are trying to sell products in an industry that will help sustain our planet, and the third aspect is profitability, What we have experienced in the last five years is trying to remain profitable in a challenging industry during challenging economic times. So, yes it is a balance.

Finding the right trade-off between being profitable at the same time as supporting your employees with a work-life balance, creative benefits as well as promoting sustainability in the community is a tall order. It is important to maintain a long term view and vision for where you want to go and what kind of company you want to create. Renewable NRG is going through a transformation, a rebalancing of sorts to create a new, fresh, productive and profitable business that continues to make a difference in the world. We are exceptionally proud of our U.S. manufacturing roots and aim to build and grow our business around those core strengths.

What practices do you incorporate within the office that support sustainability?
The facility where we work is extraordinary. It’s a beautiful, gold LEED certified building – about 75,000 sq feet with open work spaces, a fireplace and patios for sitting outside. Ten years ago when it was constructed, the building won many awards recognizing its state of the art technology. We generate our own electricity with solar trackers, geothermal, radiant heating and cooling systems, and other materials that make it a very environmentally friendly building.

We offer a benefit to all employees reimbursing them for purchasing energy efficient products in their home like energy star appliances or insulated curtains. One of our core values is environmental stewardship. We encourage employees to form teams and go out to help communities develop smarter ways of living and reduce their energy use.

Sustainability has so many aspects to it. It’s not only how we operate every day or conduct our business, but it’s what we do and who we are. It’s the only company that I have ever worked in where it really blends the two so neatly.

Is it difficult to find people that are passionate about sustainability?
No, it is not hard to find people that are concerned with the environment and their future. We receive resumes from people who are worried about the world, and who want to do good work and make a difference. They feel that working in a company like ours, one that develops and sells products to the renewable energy industry, makes them feel good about working toward a greater purpose. We don’t have a hard time recruiting for passion in the industry. That’s an easy one for us.

Where do your employees come from, is it a majority of Vermonters who apply?
We have had good luck attracting very talented people and skilled engineers from all over the country to come here to Vermont. The skill set though is becoming more of a challenge than the passion piece. We are currently looking for software engineers. It is a huge need and there are just not enough engineers out there entering the software field that can help us out. Finding the skill set is the tough part, finding the passion is not.

What inspires you every day in your role here?
I don’t come from human resources originally, in fact I have a very eclectic background, however I love the job that I have today. It is a perfect fit for me and the skill set I bring. My day is never as expected. I thoroughly enjoy the people I work with, the daily problem solving, and the projects we are working on. For example, we have initiated leadership development for our management team.

Leadership development is a vast concept and there are countless ways to have the conversation and effect change. Renewable NRG Systems is a unique company and tapping the right talent to fill our needs in this challenging climate will be key to our future success. Thinking strategically and smartly is our modus operandi. It is very, very interesting work and I love what I do!

John M. Turner is a communications professional for the University of Vermont School of Business Administration, which recently launched the Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA) program. Students can also register for a UVM summer course in business sustainability and earn a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Business Practices.