Green Energy Champion Tyson Champagne, Artsci'00

Tyson is the executive director of SWITCH, a Kingston-based not-for-profit that is dedicated to improving the environmental and economic sustainability of the Kingston region through the promotion, development, and commercialization of energy efficient and alternative energy technologies, products, processes, and services. Tyson was born and raised in Kingston. He has been interested in solar power for many years and obtained a certificate in photovoltaic design and installation. He is also the founder of the web site Solar Power Beginner which helps solar power rookies get a better understanding of solar energy. Tyson has worked previously as the 1000 Solar Rooftops Challenge coordinator and green energy business consultant for SWITCH.

Tyson Champagne

Describe what you do on any given day in your current role.

Since SWITCH is a small not-for-profit organization with limited staff, my daily activities tend to be quite varied. Usually I start the day by checking websites, newspapers, and social media for any information that could affect the sustainable energy sector or be of use to our members. After checking my calendar for appointments and dealing my inbox email and anything new that's appeared on my desk, I'll take a look at a "next actions" list that lets me know what needs to be done next for each of our ongoing projects. These projects include events like our Harvest Luncheon and GreenProfit Conference, completing a draft of our strategic report, or making preparations for our Annual General Meeting. I also provide progress reports to the board of directors, guide and direct staff and volunteers, handle  member outreach duties, and keep an eye on the organization's financial situation.

How did you get to this position?

I was originally hired by SWITCH as the coordinator for the organization's 1000 Solar Rooftops Challenge. I was later hired as the green energy business consultant. When the executive director position became available last year, I applied and got the job. I think that my familiarity with the organization and its members played a role in the SWITCH Board of Directors' decision to hire me.

Where did you gain the skills you need for your role?

I've taken quite a roundabout path to the sustainable energy sector so I've been able to pick up skills from many different areas. My experience as an entrepreneur has prepared me quite well for the numerous duties that are involved with running a small non-profit organization, including communications, financial management, and project planning. I've also found that my past life as a musician has come in very handy in preparing me for the public speaking duties that are part of the job. Running a solar power website and working as a solar coordinator and  green energy business consultant have also provided me with a good understanding of the sustainable energy industry and the challenges that businesses in the sector face.

What's the best part of your job?

I like being able to work on different projects so the variety of the job is something I really appreciate. Throughout a single day I could be working on any number of tasks, from finding a speaker for our open meeting to working with volunteers or taking part in a strategic session for our upcoming conference. The wide range of responsibilities definitely keeps things interesting.

What's the greatest challenge of your position?

I would say that achieving financial sustainability for SWITCH is one of the big challenges. As a non-profit, SWITCH has to not only fulfill its mission but also ensure that its financial situation allows its sustainable energy work to continue. With more competition for fewer grants, covering our operating costs is a constant challenge. We're very fortunate to have the support of a very committed membership that provides us with a good foundation.

What are the main strengths you bring to your role?

I like taking on challenges, that has definitely come in handy. Also, resourcefulness and working well with others have proven to be very valuable traits.

What's been your best career move thus far?

Getting involved with SWITCH, first as a member and later as an employee, has been my best career move. It has provided me with some great opportunities and allowed me to meet a lot of smart people who are very dedicated to a sustainable energy future.

What's your next big career goal?

There are still a few things I would like to achieve at SWITCH before moving on. When that time comes I would like to get involved with a startup company that's looking to change the world. There has never been a better time for a startup to find the right niche and turn itself into a household name. I find that idea exciting.

What's the best advice you could give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Try not to worry too much about how you're "supposed to" do things. If you follow your own path you will end up with your own unique set of skills.