• Elemental Navigator

    Curated access to climate technology for corporations, investors and industry partners


How to Build a Climate Sector as Diverse as the Communities It Serves

September 18, 2023

· 6 min read
The Elemental Team

Like any big first, we never forget our first internship. A good internship can launch a fulfilling career helped along by supportive mentors. A bad internship can sour your taste for an entire industry. But many talented aspiring professionals, especially low-income students and those educated through nontraditional paths or at colleges with less access to a range of opportunities, face well-documented systemic barriers when it comes to securing internships (especially tech internships) — at all.

Meanwhile, the climate sector lacks the workforce pathways to launch workers from traditionally excluded backgrounds into the 24M green jobs the International Labor Organization predicts will be created by 2030. That’s why the Empowering Diverse Climate Talent (EDICT) Internship Program exists: to work with employers to create inclusive cultures, and with early career professionals to develop skills and join a powerful network of rising climate leaders.

What started with a LinkedIn post in 2020 has grown into a partnership with Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI) and FutureMap focused on placing a diverse pipeline of aspiring climate professionals in paid summer internships at partner employers dedicated to solving climate change. This summer, EDICT placed 76 interns with 52 employers across the climate sector, bringing the program’s total to 176 interns placed over its three years in existence.

EDICT is really helping employers create a supportive work culture.

“Through this program we hope to build an open and strong network of people who understand that a job in climate is something that’s not only attainable but can benefit from their lived experience and their passion,” Elemental Managing Directory of Equity & Access Sara Chandler said. “We also work to build a network of people who are supporting each other, learning together and working with a growth mindset that affirms that bringing your full self and your identity and lived experience to climate work is why you’ll be successful in the space.”

We spoke to both interns and employers to get a sense of what they’ve gained from the program, and how it might inform others invested in diversifying the future of climate talent.

Turn experience into expertise

EDICT offers interns a front-row seat to climate solutions and the role they play not only in their broader industry, but also in people’s lives.

For Alejandro Oman, an engineering intern at Fervo Energy, this meant learning the ropes of direct air capture (DAC) at a time when federal funding for DAC is at a historic high.

“I certainly can’t believe how blurry things were eight weeks ago in contrast to this week,” Alejandro said at the end of his internship. “The work I’ve been doing has enabled me to engage in meetings with direct air capture leaders such as Octavia Carbon, Global Thermostat, Carbon Solutions, Mosaic and others. I feel happy that I’ve been able to support my team to have a better understanding on how DAC could be coupled with our geothermal power plant.”

This newly-acquired expertise pays off, both for interns and employers: one in five interns have had their internships extended beyond summer and 10% of all EDICT interns have been offered full-time employment with their EDICT employers. And while employers gain new, ambitious teammates — they also gain a greater diversity of perspectives at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher for implementing climate technologies through the lens of equity and justice.

It’s no accident, though. EDICT is designed to foster long term, two-way relationships. Like a manager at EDICT employer Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) so aptly put it: “Success looks like a positive relationship with the intern that can extend beyond the internship whether as colleagues in the industry or having the intern as a future employee.”

This rang true in the case of Danielle Brown, a solar analyst intern at Trajectory Energy Partners, who gained a new passion and a job in the solar industry. “I find myself often discussing how solar could benefit certain people’s properties and how they can subscribe to solar farms to save money on their utility bills,” Danielle said. “I even gave my mom an entire lecture about how our home is NOT good for solar panels. I am extremely proud of myself because I was actually offered a position with my company remotely for the fall while I am in school!”

Cultivate structure and support

Employers who haven’t yet built a structured internship program — like many startups hiring interns for the first time — describe EDICT as an invaluable resource that will have ripple effects beyond the internship into company and management cultures.

“I’ve worked with interns over the years, so I felt prepared going in, but the trainings really helped me organize the whole internship for our intern in a way that focuses on tasks and also the big picture,” Launch Alaska tech deployment track lead Suzanna Caldwell said. “It’s helped us stay on task and, I hope, created a more memorable experience for our intern.”

Another manager at 2022 employer Community Power said: “EDICT staff are so supportive of both the intern and the host site, which is a gamechanger for interns being able to plug in to the work and get the support they need and a game-changer for host sites to be able to support interns well. EDICT is really helping employers create a supportive work culture.”

Create space to talk candidly about diversity and equity

Many of the interns describe EDICT as a haven, where they gain a network of diverse peers with a sense of shared understanding when it comes to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on frontline communities — and the benefits of building equity in the workplace.

“EDICT connects you with an incredible network of climate and energy professionals in the field and on top of that, a DIVERSE group of peers,” 2023 EDICT intern Osvaldo Garcia said. “Sometimes it’s so lonely or exhausting being the one to talk about race or equity when discussing climate change, especially as a Hispanic man who has experienced environmental injustices. But, it’s great to be in community with people who care about these issues and who understand the importance of diversity in the climate industry.”

•     •     •

Interested in becoming an EDICT intern or employer? Sign up to get updates about the program.