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Introducing Our 2021 Nonprofit Partners: Honnold Foundation
For every candidate Climate People places, we donate 1% of the placement fee to an environmental nonprofit of the candidate's choosing. We hand-selected five stellar nonprofit organizations that fully exemplify our diversity and inclusion initiatives — one of which is the Honnold Foundation.
We wanted to find an organization that fights for not only the livelihood of the planet but for the equality of all of those who inhabit it. We believe it's crucial to have a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce in order to meet the challenges faced by climate change. We strongly believe in the mission of The Honnold Foundation and are honored to help fund their initiatives.
Meet Honnold Foundation
The Honnold Foundation provides grants to organizations advancing solar energy access all over the world. They look for partners whose work reduces environmental impact and increases social and economic equality and who demonstrate strong ties to the communities they serve. Founded by the professional rock climber, Alex Honnold, they envision a world where all people have equal access to opportunity and live in balance with the environment.
An In-Depth Interview With Peter Walle, Communications and Operations Coordinator at Honnold Foundation
What does Honnold Foundation do?
The Honnold Foundation promotes solar energy for a more equitable world. We provide grants to organizations advancing solar energy access all over the world.
Out of all the environmental challenges you could choose from, why did you land on solar?
We were founded by professional rock climber Alex Honnold in 2012. At the time, Alex was living in his car (a Ford Econoline van, retrofitted with a bed and storage), climbing all over the United States and, increasingly, the world. After expeditions to Chad and Borneo, he returned home and spent hours hunched over his laptop, researching carbon offsets, environmental activism, energy access, and charitable giving. In the end, Alex decided to focus his giving on solar energy because it’s so tangible, and so universally effective. Solar energy can bring light to a single-family in Malawi as a lantern, or transform the resilience and sustainability of an entire city at a utility scale. The Honnold Foundation does most of our work somewhere in between — supporting community-scale projects that increase climate resilience, bolster social and economic equity, reduce environmental impact, and improve people’s lives.
How does solar energy build a brighter and more equitable world for all of us?
Solar energy offers a simple, elegant, and multifaceted solution to combat the climate crisis while bolstering and supporting communities around the world. A massive chunk of the world’s population lacks access to reliable energy, while another massive chunk can turn on their lights anytime they want. There’s a massive disparity in energy access; yet, the sun shines down on all of us— not just the rich.
Solar energy is a natural solution to energy inequity. It can be deployed simply and quickly, in almost any environment in the world. When we spend our time, resources, and energy on reducing the barriers to solar (money, materials, and expertise) for those who need it, we increase access to reliable, equitable, and sustainable energy. Ultimately, when deployed strategically, intentionally, and accompanied by systems that ensure long-term support and drive adoption, solar energy can fundamentally alter communities’ trajectories for the better.
Why is it essential to have a diverse and inclusive environmental movement?
The communities most affected by climate change are least likely to be given meaningful agency in discussions. Historically disenfranchised communities, many of them BIPOC communities, face the effects of our rapidly warming climate and industrial pollutants at disproportionate rates. And in the coming years, millions of climate refugees, many of them from those same communities, will be displaced from their homes.
When we consider diversity in environmental movements, it’s important to remember that BIPOC communities have also been some of the first environmentalists, and to this day, indigenous nations around the world steward some of the most important natural resources on the planet. In order to increase diversity in the environmental movement, we have to recognize, respect, and listen to the voices that have championed the work for years.
What does it mean to you to “live in balance with the environment?”
To me, living in balance with the environment starts with daily, intentional practice. Personally, I’m lucky enough to have amazing outdoor access close to home. Yet, all too often, I find myself sucked into my (mostly remote) work, and with it, a virtual world of zoom meetings and cloud-based work environments. So, each day, I make an effort to do something— anything, outside. Even if it’s a walk around the block, I take a moment to ground myself in appreciation and respect for the natural beauty that sits just outside my front door. Like any great relationship, balance with the environment starts with a healthy dose of respect and admiration.
From that point, we can make space for change, starting with optimizing life to be as simple and sustainable as possible. To be clear, I’m not advocating for people to spend their lives and live out of their car, Alex Honnold style. But everyone can find small, incremental ways to live more sustainably on a day-to-day basis.
None of us can be perfect — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to take small, deliberate steps each day.
Can you speak to the importance of taking “small deliberate steps?” Could you please provide an example for context?
Tackling the climate crisis will take thoughtful personal action coupled with a collective call for systemic change. But, nothing truly great was accomplished overnight. True change — personally and systemically, happens via deliberate, intentional practice. Ask yourself: “What parts of my life can I simplify? How can I make a small change?”
We all have space to take daily, methodical steps to live a bit more simply, which in turn codifies more permanent habits and behaviors. From shifting your eating habits to changing banks, each of us should think critically about what steps we can take to catalyze the largest collective impact. Looking for a few examples? I’d recommend visiting our website and checking out Alex’s Sustainability Ticklist for a list of concrete changes each of us can make, right now.
In your opinion and experience, how do environmental injustices play into the energy sector? What is the Honnold Foundation doing to reverse this?
In the United States, BIPOC communities are more likely to live in regions with disproportionately high rates of pollutants. Meanwhile, local, state, and federal policies usually favor those industries, while industry lobbyists work against policy shifts that would make communities healthier, safer places to live.
For example, in Memphis — a majority Black city — a huge portion of residents spend as much as 25% of their monthly income on their electricity. For comparison, the median energy burden (the amount of people’s income spent on energy) is typically below 5%. Meanwhile, Memphis’s pollution rates are routinely among some of the highest in the nation, as are the poverty rates.
Unfortunately, the lone energy provider in Memphis has done little to alleviate the high energy burden for its residents. Currently, there are few, if any, policies in Memphis that allow for and/or encourage the adoption of solar or any other renewable energy sources. In hopes of shifting the political needle, the Honnold Foundation is supporting a solar installation for Memphis Rox, a Climbing and Community Center located in the heart of Soulsville, TN.
While the solar installation we're supporting on Memphis Rox may not immediately eliminate the community’s energy burden, we hope the example and story will shine a light on the growing body of consumers who are fighting for more equitable access to solar energy.
How do you envision solar energy developing over the next few years?
We’re in the midst of one of the warmest summers in history, with no end in sight. Wildfires, drought, and increasingly erratic weather patterns have already sparked conversations around the world about where and how we access our energy. In the coming years, we’ll face increasingly severe effects of climate change. Inevitably, demand for sustainable energy solutions, particularly, solar energy, will increase.
Rates of solar energy adoption will undoubtedly grow. But will it be enough?
What’s the biggest obstacle preventing widespread solar adoption in the communities you support?
It would be disingenuous to claim that there’s one obstacle preventing widespread solar adoption, because the truth is, each community we work in has its own set of unique challenges.
Generally, the communities we support lack the financial resources to fund installations. Additionally, unfavorable policies towards solar, like those in Memphis, make the financial burden even more difficult to overcome.
That said, demand can drive supply. As more people have access to and adopt solar energy around the world, and as the calls for climate mitigation increase, the more likely we are to see an increase in solar-friendly policies.
Is there anything else you would like to touch on?
I want to take a moment to shout out the Honnold Foundation’s incredible Partners! Their grassroots leadership and collective ingenuity bolster communities’ sustainability, climate resiliency, and self-determination around the world, and their work inspires our team daily. To name just a few:
Navikarana is using solar energy and irrigation technologies to create sustainable livelihoods in the Indian Himalaya.
Ceibo Alliance is using solar energy to protect remote indigenous communities’ ancestral ways of life while protecting one of the most biodiverse rainforests on the planet.
Native Renewables is providing workforce development opportunities and solar arrays for off-grid homes on the Navajo and Hopi Nations.
Mee Panyar is displacing rural diesel consumption in Myanmar with a community-owned solar mini-grid.