Senior Director, Energy and Sustainability at Elevate
“Understanding the Intersectionality of Climate Change, Health, & Equity”
Sandra Henry is Elevate’s Senior Director of Energy and Sustainability. Elevate offers a comprehensive selection of energy efficiency, decarbonization, renewable energy, resilience, and sustainability services for affordable housing owners, developers, and occupants. Daily, Sandra employs her leadership, technical experience, strategic planning, and visioning skills to position Elevate as a leader in these areas. She directs a team of engineers and technical leaders to deliver Elevate’s offerings while enacting its mission of equity through climate action.
Sandra makes regular appearances in webinars dedicated to coaching and inspiring women in this industry to share her career journey, discuss growth opportunities, and provide guidance and advice. Sandra also informally and formally mentors women of all ages and career levels. Sandra likes to remind young, aspiring women entrepreneurs to say “yes” to exciting opportunities, be bold, and act with confidence. Sandra offers her lived experience as a Black woman in a field typically filled with white and male voices and provides valuable representation to others.
Sandra points to several role models, including her mother, who encouraged Sandra to seek leadership positions to always bring others along. Sandra draws inspiration and guidance from Wanda Reder, who hired Sandra as a college-level engineering intern at a local utility. Wanda, a fellow engineer and pioneer in the energy field, encouraged Sandra to take the lead on critical projects, be creative in finding solutions to challenging energy problems, and coach and mentor young women engineers. Sandra continues to apply those lessons learned in her early career today at Elevate.
Elevate was formed in 2000 in response to widespread power outages that were happening in the Chicago area. A group of people came together to stabilize the energy grid to prevent outages by mobilizing communities to reduce energy demand. The power outages had the most significant effects on under-resourced neighborhoods that had experienced disinvestment in infrastructure over the years. By supporting these communities with reducing energy, Elevate helped make housing more affordable, efficient, and safe. Elevate focused on “smarter energy use for all,” and has evolved into a broader focus of equity through climate action in the areas of energy, clean water, and other sectors.
In the fight against climate change, collaboration is crucial to success. Elevate prioritizes partnerships with the communities it serves and partner organizations that are working on similar solutions. These partnerships allow for sharing experiences, challenges, and best practices that help them all create effective new solutions for climate action. Elevate is a unique organization that can form strong partnerships in many industries. Elevate has direct on-the-ground experience and strong relationships with the community, and administers multiple programs at the city and state levels. Elevate is an expert in many areas, from intelligent grid programs to lead in water testing.
Ms. Elgin’s story illustrates how Elevate works with its community. Ms. Elgin began working with Elevate to receive a free energy assessment of her property, a small six-unit building of affordable housing in Chicago. The evaluation revealed opportunities at the property for LED lighting, insulation, and a new high-efficiency boiler. These upgrades were installed at no cost and are expected to save Elgin $2,380 on her energy bills. These savings will help her keep the rent affordable and increase comfort for the tenants of her building.
With climate change rapidly accelerating, Elevate is looking ahead to see what projects it needs to enact to protect the communities in the future. Elevate is retrofitting homes in Chicago’s La Paz Apartments to reduce fossil fuel use and cut carbon emissions by removing all gas equipment, so the building runs only on electricity. La Paz Apartments is home to 44 families with incomes below 30% of the Chicago average. As gas prices continue to rise and more renewable energy becomes available, this will help the building stay affordable. Elevate is also working with the City of Chicago to address climate change by assisting Chicago to develop its building decarbonization strategy. Elevate is testing retrofit solutions that will reduce the energy use of Chicago’s single-family homes by 50%, cutting carbon emissions for the city. Homes in Chicago’s under-resourced communities will be priorities for the retrofits, which will also help homeowners save on their energy bills. IEWL
Energy and Sustainability at Elevate
Elevate designs and implements programs to ensure that everyone has clean and affordable heat, power, and water in their homes and communities — no matter who they are or where they live.