Center for Sustainable Energy

The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is dedicated to accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy future. Through innovative research, advocacy, and community engagement, CSE empowers individuals, businesses, and policymakers to adopt clean energy solutions that reduce carbon emissions and enhance energy efficiency.

CSE has over 270 employees across 36 states.

As a nonprofit focused on sustainability, the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is accustomed to making decisions based on the well-being of people and communities. So, when the global pandemic turned the world and world of work upside down, the decision to send 270 employees home permanently came swiftly, before the state officially shut down, and smoothly as CSE implemented its pre-existing business continuity plan.

As a result, CSE realized the benefits of transitioning from an in-person work environment centered around a handful of offices to a remote-first model with employees working from home across 36 states. Employees had more flexibility and saved time and money without commuting. Also, the organization could access a wider pool of talent during a time of tremendous growth and better align with its mission to equitably decarbonize by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of employees commuting.

The shift to remote-first, however, did not come without challenges. CSE needed to implement new tools and practices to ensure effective collaboration and communication across a growing and geographically dispersed team while continuing to prioritize and strengthen workplace culture.

As CSE moved from its traditional workplace model and embraced a new one, executive leaders were concerned with two significant challenges:

  • How to foster and sustain CSE’s collaborative culture in a remote-first environment.
  • How to reimagine a fulfilling work experience for distributed teams.

CSE engaged +One to design and activate a culture-shaping strategy to reimagine the ways and places employees come together, collaborate and achieve results.

To address CSE’s remote work challenges, CSE and +One began by exploring and understanding the organization’s current culture. A 10-week study included interviews, focus groups, surveys, workshops, and on-site observations during the organization’s 25th anniversary events, which brought the whole team together in person. One result was definition of six cultural attributes – the most defining being the organization’s especially strong focus on mission.

Throughout the study, several insights emerged. Employees were seeking more clarity around decision-making. Information silos were emerging. Some of the benefits of working at CSE and major wins were not universally known. And employees were unclear on the nonprofit’s need to generate positive revenue to expand its impact.

With a deep understanding of these challenges, +One designed a Culture Strategy Map that outlined the necessary steps for reimagining the workplace for CSE’s remote-first model. Through a series of workshops, +One partnered with the organization to co-create a blueprint for change that focused on ensuring employees are aligned with the organization’s mission, vision and values and integrating these efforts into existing programs and initiatives.

CSE Culture Map

The design process yielded several key cultural strategies, including:

  • Elevating communication practices to improve clarity.
  • Describing the meaning of CSE’s values and their role in everyday work.
  • Designing experiences that nurture belonging and connection.
  • Measuring the adoption of values and cultural attributes into performance management and development.
  • Creating a culture of appreciation.
CSE Creating Supportive Systems

Cultural strategies on paper are just half of the equation. Adoption – how they are lived and embraced – is the other. By collaborating with key stakeholders, CSE adopted a three-part approach to activation that:

  1. Highlighted CSE values and cultural attributes in existing programs, initiatives and experiences.
  2. Prioritized small wins to gain momentum while developing big impact efforts.
  3. Emphasized iteration as the employees embraced the values and incorporated them into their daily work.

+One collaborated to develop messaging that helped employees more deeply understand CSE’s new values, apply them to their day-to-day work and see how their work connects to CSE’s mission. Connecting employees’ everyday work to the organization’s values and the advancement of those values is particularly critical when a remote work structure prevents employees from the value absorption that comes with daily in-person contact.

CSE will continue to build on the foundation it created in collaboration with +One by creating a strategic plan for internal communications and a tracking system that allows leadership to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to embed CSE’s value structure in the working lives of employees.

Business leaders are increasingly pressing employees to return to a physical office all or part of the time. Fewer than 26% of U.S. households still have someone working remotely at least one day a week, down from 37% in 2021, according to recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Surveys. Meanwhile, studies show not only that employees prefer a remote option, but also that remote work improves productivity, expands the pool of eligible applicants, and reduces employees’ carbon footprint.

CSE’s purposeful decision to take full advantage of the benefits of remote work while simultaneously focusing on strengthening its organizational culture make CSE a national leader in remote-first workplaces.