Charging Up: A chat with Sandra Henry, president of nonprofit Slipstream

Plus, climatetech career moves at Hannon Armstrong, Generac, PosiGen, Arcadia, AES, GreenBiz, FlexGen and more.

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Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to [email protected]​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks FischTank PR for its support of the column.

Sandra Henry: A mechanical engineer with a vision for sustainability that includes everyone

Sandra Henry is president of Slipstream, a nonprofit working on energy efficiency and renewable-energy program deployment. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path? 

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I’m a mechanical engineer by training, and I’ve always worked in the energy and energy efficiency sector. I got my start in Minnesota working for Xcel Energy as an engineering intern, and I found I really enjoyed the technical parts of the job combined with the consumer side. I gravitated toward energy efficiency in buildings, and around 2008, I learned that ComEd in northern Illinois was about to kick off its first portfolio of energy efficiency programs and was looking for program managers. I got that position and decided to move to Chicago to help set up those programs. 

After some years, I was hired to be the chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago, where I was happy to be able to pass a resolution that is still having an impact on the city today, requiring the city to run on 100% renewable energy by 2025. That position helped me broaden my view of resilience and sustainability because I had to think about all 2.5 million residents. It became clear to me that sometimes in the industry we are not always thinking about everyone. Since then, I’ve had the chance to work in the affordable housing space and see how important it is to decarbonize and electrify the buildings where our most vulnerable people live. It set me on this broader path of inclusivity when we talk about technologies and making changes to how we live, work and play in our buildings and neighborhoods. 

I am so excited about my new role at Slipstream helping to build a strategy around our mission, accelerating climate solutions for all and deploying that vision in the communities where we work.

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Say yes to new opportunities. That could be an opportunity for growth; it could be an opportunity to take on a new role — but I think that it’s also important to be naturally curious. And another one is to remember that I have all the tools I need to be successful within myself. I think as women sometimes we don’t hear that enough.

What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

I was an engineer in this industry when there were not many women of color, and I feel like folks doubted my technical abilities or didn’t take my suggestions or input seriously, even though I had the same body of work that other colleagues had. And I’ve experienced that at different levels of my career, not just early on, but over time — it has been a continuing theme. The way I chose to respond was just to be persistent and not go away. And to build strong connections and relationships with colleagues who didn’t look like me but where I could have a chance to demonstrate my abilities and skill sets and knowledge and help them become advocates and supporters. I think that’s how I did it, or how I’m currently doing that, because it doesn’t stop.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

There is a big gap in our industry when it comes to people who will actually install these technologies. We talk a lot about heat pumps, for example, but not a lot of contractors and workforce members are familiar with heat pump technology and what it takes to install and maintain them. So there’s a huge opportunity for everyone that is wanting to get into this trade and who will be comfortable with the new technologies, both installing them and also having conversations with their customers about why this technology is superior to traditional fossil-fuel-burning equipment. 

What is your superpower?

Connecting the dots. Sometimes we just get so focused on our work that we get really siloed, and we don’t take opportunities to talk to folks in different silos who could help us solve problems or think differently. So one of my superpowers is being able to identify solutions that might be coming from different areas with similar problems. I love to connect those dots. I also love to make connections with people across different organizations who have similar interests or goals. On that note, another superpower of mine is coaching young professionals and helping them connect the dots for their careers.

Career moves

Daniela Shapiro, previously the chief financial officer at Guzman Energy, is now managing director at Hannon Armstrong, a climate solutions investment firm providing capital to assets across energy efficiency, renewable energy and other sustainable infrastructure markets.

Anne Hoskins has joined Generac, a U.S. market leader in generators and home power backup, as senior VP of policy and market development for energy technology. Hoskins previously served as Sunrun’s chief policy officer.

Karla Loeb has been promoted to head of government affairs at Arcadia to lead the company’s policy team. Arcadia offers software tools to match utility customers with community solar projects and make energy data more accessible. 

Jackie VanderBrug is now head of sustainability strategy at Putnam Investments, an investment management firm. VanderBrug was previously with Bank of America and is the author of several works focusing on investment and environmental, social and governance issues, including the 2016 book Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impact.

Jordan Levin was promoted to senior director of development at AES Corporation, a utility and power generation company that owns and operates power plants.

Jessica Scott has joined PosiGen, a provider of solar power and efficiency solutions for low- to moderate-income households, as director of community partnerships. Scott was previously chief operations officer at the Environmental Justice Index.

Diane Giacommozi has joined energy storage solution and software technology provider FlexGen Power Systems as chief operating officer. The company has announced $250 million in funding in the past year, including a $100 million Series C in July. Giacommozi has over 35 years of experience in corporate operations, business development, strategic planning, and project and program management. She has held executive positions at energy infrastructure organizations MasTec and Quanta Services.

Jackie Tagle has been hired as VP of procurement and supply chain at Cypress Creek Renewables. Tagle was previously with BayWa r.e.

Denise Conway, previously with medical technology company Meloq, is now the CEO at Heliostorage. The startup captures and stores solar energy and waste heat for long durations to maximize heat pump efficiency. 

Sarah Golden has been promoted to VP of energy at GreenBiz Group.

An upcoming event

The nonprofit Women in Cleantech and Sustainability is bringing back its WCS Talks series in person this year. The TED-style event features the brightest minds and most inspiring stories of the clean economy metamorphosis occurring all over the world,” according to the group. Women and men from a variety of sectors will be featured as speakers. The event is scheduled for October 7 in Sunnyvale, California. Register here.

Over the past decade, FischTank PR has established itself as one of the leading cleantech / renewable energy / sustainability PR firms in the country. We are known for our ability to get results, be creative and serve as an extension of our client’s communications program. FischTank has extensive experience working with brands across solar, energy storage, battery technology, EVs, hydrogen, grid edge technologies, software, utilities, developers, financiers and more. For more information about our cleantech / sustainability practice, please visit our website or follow us on LinkedIn to see our client work.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.