New guide aims to make energy communities more inclusive

The project brings together a range of partners, including co-ops

A group of organisations, local governments and energy co-operatives have launched a guidebook to help make energy communities as inclusive as possible. 

Funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, the project brings together a range of partners, including the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives (Rescoop) and renewable energy co-ops Enercoop (France), Green Energy Cooperative (Croatia), Ecopower (Belgium) and Electra Energy (Greece).

The guidebook defines inclusion as “ensuring that diversity of knowledge, perspectives, information, and ideas are welcomed and being used” and focusing on “fostering the structure, system, processes, culture, behaviour, and mindset that embrace and respect all people in all their diversity”.

The guide points out that while energy communities seek to address injustices by offering the potential of alternatively organising and governing the energy system, they can be perceived as “white, middle-class, middle-aged, male-dominated investor clubs empowering the already empowered”.

To address this, the guide suggests a range of measures, which, it says, could create a fairer way of sharing the benefits (and costs) of the energy transition with all people; leading to paying better attention to the knowledge, different worldviews and values of everyone involved, and ensure energy communities reap the benefits of more inclusive decision making to lift their community project to the next level. 

Related: How are co-ops driving gender equality?

The guide suggests starting by conducting a gender analysis and exploring the meaning of unconscious bias.

To help ensure an energy community becomes more inclusive and representative of the community in which it is based, the guide suggests making a gender, intersectional analysis of the community. It also provides tips for gender data monitoring, gender mainstreaming, and how to conduct gender analyses and audits.

Once the problem analysis has taken place, the next step is the development of an action plan to remedy the identified issues. A gender action plan (GAP) is defined as a plan to propose strategies that will help to mainstream gender or put gender as a cross-cutting aspect with other goals, and, argues the guide, it should provide concrete targets, strategies and (budgeted) activities to achieve gender mainstreaming and it can be connected to or integrated into an organisation’s strategic or annual plans. 

The guide also suggests using gender-neutral and gender-sensitive language and going beyond textual and spoken language, to reduce stereotypes and support justice and inclusion in energy communities. 

Pictures, graphics, video and audio materials are also powerful communication tools to influence perceptions, attitudes and social change. For example, Goiener, an energy co-operative from the Basque country, has made improvements in the use of inclusive language. The co-op has been taking care of its graphic design so that the images are as gender-neutral as possible. 

Apart from language, there are several aspects that energy communities should bear in mind when organising inclusive events, such as the venues, the timing of the event, the programme and the speakers, ensuring gender balance and sociocultural diversity. Energy communities should also strive to organise events in ways that facilitate access for multiple groups, including child carers, adds the guide. Other tips include organising childcare and/or calling a childminder to facilitate activities with the children in parallel with the events or meetings, avoiding scheduling events or meetings that conflict with religious holidays and mobilising the diversity of your community including young people in the activities. 

Training can also play an important role in driving inclusion and the guide suggests facilitating gender equality training as well as implementing unconscious bias training. 

Concerning boards, the guide suggests considering establishing quotas as a tool to support their inclusive set-up. Energy communities should strive to build a philosophy of “culture add” instead of “culture fit”, argues the guide.

Another issue they need to ensure is, according to the guide, providing equal salaries (and related benefits) and creating transparent and publicly available information about career paths and salary potential within the organisation. 

The guide concludes by encouraging energy communities to invite feedback and suggestions and keep on experimenting and learning from failures. Despite being intended for energy communities, the guide could serve as a useful tool for co-ops in other sectors.

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