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Kicking off CLASP’s 20th year: A note from CLASP CEO Christine Egan

Nearly 20 years ago, I applied to be the Executive Director of a recently launched non-profit – the Collaborative Labeling and Appliance Standards Program (now known simply as CLASP). I was just 30 years old and knew I would have to convince the selection committee to take a chance on me in an advanced leadership role (shout out to founder Steve Wiel for taking that chance and for years of mentorship). In my application, I wrote:

“I am very enthusiastic about CLASP, its mission and potential for impact. Over the course of my career, I have consistently demonstrated an ability to rise to new challenges and augmented responsibility. I have no doubt that I could lead the organization with the mix of creativity and thoughtfulness appropriate for a nascent undertaking.”

As I re-read these words, I am struck in equal measure by their hubris and their continued organizational relevance. Two decades later, I remain just as enthusiastic about CLASP’s mission and potential for impact, which have evolved over the years in ways unexpected and worthy of reflection.

CLASP’s initial mission was to deliver energy savings through minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and energy labeling—largely in a context of improving economic efficiency (monetary savings to economies and consumers) and national security (less dependence on foreign oil). Very quickly CLASP’s mission took on global significance – or augmented responsibility – as the threat of catastrophic climate change began to alarm scientists and in due course to mobilize policymakers and donors around the world (shout out to Mirka della Cava who was, among countless other roles over the years, the foundation Program Officer who oversaw a critical period of expansion in CLASP’s commitment to tackle climate change). The CLASP team now works every day knowing each ton of carbon we save is a ton the planet truly cannot afford. Over the next year, we will be experimenting with new tools to make our impacts more transparent. Stay tuned for webinars, videos, magazines and more as we strive to unpack the somewhat black-box work of technical assistance and policy support.

About 7 years ago, our responsibilities grew even further as our talented team and partners homed in on the opportunity for efficient appliances to improve the lives of nearly 2 billion people worldwide with little or no access to reliable and modern energy (shout out to former funder Rick Duke and partner Arne Jacobsen for planting the first seed). This was a goal quite different than those imagined at CLASP’s founding, involving new and dynamic partnerships and programs to stimulate markets for high quality and super-efficient off-grid solar lighting, appliances, and equipment. In the framework of SDG7, this new challenge is incredibly salient and urgent. It is also personal, driven home on a recent trip to Uganda when a woman entrepreneur showed me how her off-grid solar water pump was saving her the (literally) back-breaking work of hand cranking water for her cows — work that had just put her in the hospital and temporarily prevented her from earning a living. Over the next quarter, you will see the launch of the Efficiency for AgTech campaign to improve livelihoods though efficient agricultural technologies. This campaign is sponsored by the Efficiency for Access Coalition, which CLASP is privileged to Chair with our UK partner the Energy Saving Trust. #EforAgTech

Twenty years is a good run! It is amazing to realize that CLASP can now be regarded as long-standing—perhaps even established. But milestones carry with them the necessity of reflection. How does CLASP remain vibrant and relevant? The answer brings me right back to that 20-year old cover letter. As CLASP looks to its future, we must embrace creativity and nascence—seeing, seizing, and nimbly implementing on both old and new frontiers. We must remain focused on the outcomes we seek today — preventing catastrophic climate change and eliminating energy poverty — while judiciously appraising our capacity to seek equally important but as yet unaddressed outcomes tomorrow — like lessening water scarcity through efficiency or tackling environmental degradation from end-of-life product disposal (aka e-waste). Watch this space!

Cover letters by necessity operate in the realm of “I.” Successful and impactful non-profits—past and future—operate in the realm of “we.” I am privileged to now have nearly 40 teammates who share my enthusiasm for our mission. Over the next year, each newsletter will profile at least one of the incredibly talented staff that make up CLASP—their work, commitment, and smarts. To all the staff, I am grateful that you chose and thrive at CLASP (shout out to Mr. P.K Mukherjee for being CLASP’s longest serving teammate with 9 years of continuous service in our India office).

CLASP’s “we” is a particularly abundant place. There are far too many contributors over the years to name but we kick off this 20th year anniversary in your debt and with optimism for all that is to come. After 19 years on the job, and contrary to what I thought 20 years ago, I have learned that part of being a thoughtful leader is to have lots of doubt—doubt that you embrace, navigate, and overcome together with an exceptional staff, a dedicated Board, generous donors, and inspiring partners. Thank you to everyone who makes this work possible. Let’s keep on making the world a better place!

Christine Egan

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