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Local solar company Technicians for Sustainability (TFS) fulfilled a long-held goal this year when it converted its business into an employee-owned cooperative. The business, which has focused on installing residential and commercial solar energy systems in Tucson and Southern Arizona since 2003, is now cooperatively owned by 14 employee-owners, with more employees in the process of becoming owners.

Kevin and Nicole Koch, the co-founders of TFS, had been talking about putting more of the company in the hands of its employees for years, and decided in 2016 to embark on the journey of transitioning TFS to an employee-owned cooperative. It took a full year to sort out the accounting and logistical aspects of changing the business, in addition to on-boarding the first set of employee owners. On January 3, 2017, Technicians for Sustainability officially became an employee-owned cooperative with 14 employee owners.

“We have encouraged a sense of shared mission and shared ownership of that mission from the very beginning of TFS,” says Kevin Koch. “Employee Ownership is a natural legal manifestation of what was already present in our company culture.”

“Our intention with employee ownership is to share with employees the full business ownership experience: rewards and risks, control and responsibilities,” adds Nicole. “Our belief is that the employee ownership business model contributes to the creation and maintenance of a more positive work environment, which translates to a more positive customer experience.”

TFS now has a Board of Directors made up entirely of employee owners. These board members, who are elected by the employee owners, help guide the big picture of the company. Decisions are also made at employee-owner meetings, and owners have special venues for bringing forth concerns and ideas. Anyone who has worked at TFS for one year is eligible to become a worker-owner. There is a candidacy process that can take between 6-12 months, and all new employee-owners are voted in by the existing owners, and also purchase a share in the company.  

“Employee ownership is meaningful to me because previously I was vested in the mission, in our clients, and was supporting the company financially, which is great,” says David Stevenson, who has been at TFS for seven years and became an employee owner in January.  “But now I'm even more closely involved with the company and have a direct connection to our success.”

In addition to becoming an employee-owned company in 2017, TFS continues to lead the way as a sustainable company, making the B Lab “Best for the World” list for a third year in a row. B Lab, a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force of good, named TFS both “Best in Environment” based on independent assessments of company policies, as well as placing TFS in the “Best for the World: Changemakers” list for companies that have most improved their overall impact on the environment, their employees, their community, and more.

“Climate change and solar energy solutions are increasingly on people's’ minds," says co-founder and co-owner Nicole Koch, "at TFS we’re bringing clean energy to Southern Arizona, along with a business model that builds a fair and just economy for our community.”