Grouphug started out as an activist collective. How have you kept activism central to your mission?
For us, it’s all about design activism. Design activism is using creativity and design to raise awareness or highlight an issue. With every product that we make, we are doing just that. Our Window Solar Charger looks like a piece of home decor, but it’s really a guerilla way to get solar energy into your everyday habits.
How do you see the solar industry developing as renewable energy becomes more vital?
The solar industry is on the verge of exploding in the U.S. Right now only 2% of the U.S. is powered by solar energy, yet over 80% of Americans believe a switch to clean energy is essential in the future. I think we are going to see a lot more innovation in design, marketing, pricing, everything. It’s just the beginning.
What’s the future of renewable energy?
The future of renewable energy is decentralized energy systems where people own their power. I can imagine rooftops covered in designer solar materials. Monopoly utilities will become a thing of the past and we’ll have a more clean, resilient grid infrastructure. These are dreams, of course!
How has your experience been being a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?
It has honestly been a mixed bag. One one side, I personally feel very empowered and confident in my industry. I’m lucky to have grown up in a family that encouraged me to pursue STEM subjects. I’m also fortunate to have worked at the female-founded tech startup littleBits and have Ayah Bdeir as a mentor. On the other side, despite my 10 years of experience designing and manufacturing consumer electronics, I still get unsolicited feedback from male peers. Most importantly, as CEO of Grouphug, I try to use my leadership position to amplify other women in the space and hire more women.
How do we make tech and startups more inclusive and accessible?
First by ensuring there is equal access to STEM education at a young age to all genders, ethnicities, and income levels. Then we have to prioritize women & BIPOC while hiring. In order to solve the world’s problems, companies need to diversify. How else can they ensure they are delivering the best solution, if they are only thinking from one perspective? It has to change.
What advice would you give to young people interested in pursuing careers in sustainability?
First, we need you. There is absolutely room and a need for everybody. My advice is to pick an aspect you are passionate about (energy, fashion, justice, food, etc) and go for it!
As a small business owner, how do you balance Grouphug’s progress with the potential environmental costs of growing a company?
We are committed to growing slowly and owning our product lifecycle. The reality is that the most sustainable product business would be to make nothing at all. I view Grouphug as an engaging entry point into solar energy for the average consumer. Does every person on the planet need a Window Solar Charger to live? No, they don’t and that’s okay. So we only manufacture small batches that meet our demand. On top of that, we offer to repair, replace, or help recycle units to ensure nothing ends up in the landfill.
Besides Grouphug, how do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I’ve been living low waste since 2009. I’ve always had a passion for sustainability since college after my project, “The Closed Loop Experiment”, where I studied all of my garbage. From sustainable cleaning products, to second hand clothes, to massive solar panels - I try to do a bit of everything!