Making good: Solar Mosaic’s Billy Parish inspires future “changemakers”


On October 2, ASU’s Changemaker Central hosted Billy Parish, founder and president of Solar Mosaic, The Energy Action Coalition, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Climate Hero”. Parish led a student engagement brunch and followed up with an evening lecture in which he shared his inspiring life experience. Parish designed his lecture in a workshop format leaving behind resonating lessons for the audience.

Lesson #1—Follow your purpose

Parish explained that he found his purpose in the summer of his sophomore year of college when travelling abroad in India. He had been there to study the country’s economic development, but instead found an interest in the Gaumukh glacier. This glacier is the source of the Ganges River that provides more than 400 million people with drinking water. Parish found that this glacier has been retreating for years and that by the year 2030, it could disappear altogether.

Shortly after his travels, Parish dropped out of Yale to help build what would become the largest youth organization in the world focused on clean energy and climate solutions. The Energy Action Coalition helped create over 50 diverse, youth-led environmental and social justice organizations dedicated to advancing a clean and just energy future.

Combating climate change is Billy Parish’s purpose in life. He then asked the audience to reach for the index cards on our seats and write down ours. He explained that our purpose changes through the years, but to write down the first thing that came to mind. As the audience grew silent thinking and writing, I looked up to see Parish also writing down his own statement of purpose. He then asked for all audience members to collectively stand up and shout out their aspiration. This was to solidify our commitment to our purpose just like he had done.

Lesson #2—Build with the best

In 2005, Parish helped the Energy Action Coalition launch the Campus Climate Change, “a three-year campaign to unite students and young people in achieving clean energy policies on thousands of campuses and communities”. Parish explained that none of their work would be possible without receiving the best support. Parish even said that one of the first people the coalition connected with was ASU President Michael Crow. It was important for their group to engage with the “changemakers” of these universities.

As of December 2011, the Energy Action Coalition has inspired 685 campuses to commit to the President’s Climate Commitment, a campus carbon neutrality pledge. Parish warned about the myth of the entrepreneur. “It’s not just one that makes it happen,” Parish said. “Networking people, that’s how it works!” Parish then asked the audience to write down five people that could get us closer to fulfilling our purpose. This was to get the audience thinking of collaborating with other people who share similar goals.

Lesson #3—Go to the root

It wasn’t until Parish watched a TED talk by Bill Gates that he found out the root to combating climate change. Gates explained in his lecture that the world will need to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Gates provided a time frame, equation, and steps for the world to get there.

Parish explained that breaking down climate change to the root allowed him to establish his company Mosaic. Parish believes that climate change can be combatted through harnessing capitalism. His company functions like a renewable energy bank, by soliciting investments for solar projects and making loans to be paid back, typically, over 10 years. It ultimately aims to be the number one investment platform for clean energy. Parish believes that bringing small-scale decentralized solar projects to investors is his way of building a path to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Parish explained that he has found the intersection between work and doing good. Every day Parish goes to work and steps closer toward his purpose of creating a cleaner world. He explained that planning the next steps to fulfill your purpose is important—whether that be continuing education, joining an organization, working within an institution, or becoming an apprentice. He asked the audience to write down what next step that we plan to take. He then asked how this step can provide an opening toward their intersection of work and good in a changing world. Below is a video of Parish speaking about finding your place in the universe.

Parish is a “changemaker” because he applies his expertise and passion for positive social and environmental progress. Parish’s lecture not only highlighted his incredible journey of working toward a clean energy future, but it also empowers ASU students and faculty that we could do the same with our own interests. To learn more about what Parish is currently working on, visit his blog here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Photo by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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