A Green Career Conversation with Sophie Mullinax of Bright Spaces

Mary Elizabeth Pifer is a PEA Intern, coordinating research for PEA’s Solarize the Triad and Affordable, Healthy Homes campaigns. Her research investigates the intersection of Winston-Salem’s ‘solar readiness’ and the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act locally. She is also a senior at Wake Forest University studying Environment and Sustainability Studies with a minor in Studio Art. 

Recently, Mary Elizabeth sat down with Sophie Mullinax, an alumna of Wake Forest and the Chief Operating Officer at Bright Spaces (pictured right). This solar development company prioritizes community-driven strategies to expedite the nationwide adoption of solar energy.

This transcribed interview is part of PEA's ongoing Triad Green Job Center programming. 

M.E.: Hi Sophie, as a soon to be Wake Forest alumni who shares a passion for collective action and the transformative influence of local initiatives, it is nice to sit down with a graduate of WFU that is also passionate about driving change within the community. I’m intrigued to learn more about your journey and how you found yourself drawn into the realm of solar energy.

Sophie: Absolutely! My environmentalist roots run deep, nurtured by my upbringing in Asheville, where I was surrounded by the beauty of nature and developed a passion for exploring the outdoors. While at Wake Forest, I pursued a major in philosophy, however I would’ve loved to major in Environmental Studies, which unfortunately wasn’t available during my undergraduate years. It’s incredibly heartening to witness the expansion of the environmental program since then!

Following graduation, I faced the challenge of finding employment in the environmental sector admist the recession. I relocated to DC and embarked on roles with a public interest research group, engaging in canvassing, and later transitioned to work with an anti-human trafficking non-profit. While these experiences were important and meaningful, my true calling remained in the environmental sector. 

After working in the non-profit space in DC for 9 years, I decided it was time to return home to Asheville, and came back in 2018. I started working with Bright Spaces in 2022, initially as a project manager. Today, I am honored to serve as the Chief Operating Officer!

M.E.: Thank you for sharing your journey! My environmental passion also blossomed during my formative years, deeply influenced by my upbringing spent exploring outdoors. Now, turning to Solar CrowdSource, an integral arm of Bright Spaces, can you explain the mission and give us the elevator pitch?

Sophie: Of course! At Solar CrowdSource, our mission is to empower communities across the nation to initiate and lead clean energy programs tailored to their unique needs and aspirations. We offer comprehensive technical platforms and tools essential for launching these campaigns successfully. 

Many communities eager to embark on such initiatives often lack the necessary resources and expertise. That’s where we step in. From assembling a coalition of organizers to crafting effective Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for solar installers, we provide invaluable support every step of the way. Leveraging our industry experience and deep knowledge of the solar sector, we assist in developing timelines and templates customized to suit each community’s objectives. Our footprint spans diverse locales, including Georgia, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and North Carolina, collaborating with 25 communities thus far. We recognize that while communities may have limited influence over their energy mix, they wield significant control when it comes to embracing renewable energy solutions. 

M.E.: It’s truly remarkable to witness the widespread impact of these campaigns nationwide. When it comes to the Winston-Salem and Triad area, what aspirations do you hold for the Solarize the Triad campaign?

Sophie: When it comes to Solarize the Triad, you might be familiar with Solarize the Triangle, which made waves over two years in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill region. It stood out as a remarkably successful campaign boasting impressive numbers of installations, megawatts of solar power deployed, and economic activity generated. North Carolina has been a frontrunner in solarize initiatives whether it’s solarize the Triangle or Solarize Asheville-Buncombe, setting the bar high.

Considering my time in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, I’ve observed these cities to be fairly progressive, with a vibrant and engaged community, including a substantial student population, which bodes well for such initiatives. With this in mind, I’m optimistic that Solarize the Triad holds immense potential. My hope is to see at least 100 installations in the Triad area, building on the momentum and success of similar campaigns across the state.  

If you are interested in a green career, and want to learn more firsthand from green professionals in our community like Sophie, join our Triad Green Career Network here

For more information about Solarize the Triad, please send an email to will@peanc.org with “Solarize The Triad” in the subject line.