Climate, Social, and Economic Justice Are in Our DNA 

M. Duanne Andrade, Executive Director, Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF)

Florida-based SELF celebrates its role as both a CDFI and a green bank 

CDFIs are uniquely positioned to deploy funds in low- and middle-income (LMI) communities to advance climate justice. 

I am very proud to lead the only CDFI that, at the time we were founded 12 years ago, had a mission to advance climate, social, and economic justice. At SELF (Solar and Energy Loan Fund), these principles are baked into our DNA. In fact, SELF is the only green CDFI and green bank in Opportunity Finance Network’s membership dedicated to advancing climate equity through low cost financing for energy efficiency, clean energy, and resilience projects in LMI communities.  

Last month SELF announced a big milestone: We reached $30 million in loans deployed for almost 3,000 energy efficiency and climate resiliency projects. Almost three-quarters of these have been for LMI households. SELF has always operated with a triple bottom line impact model to advance social, economic, and environmental justice. SELF embraced climate resilience early on and even added disability and aging-in-place adaptations for a complete ‘sustainable living’ approach.  

Ten years ago, these topics weren’t as popular as they are now. In 2009, SELF launched with a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy. As SELF’s chief strategic and financial officer for 10 years, I personally endured more rejections from funders than I can count. Catholic nuns were the first to understand that our work was advancing economic, social, and environmental justice. Thanks to their investments, we were able to survive. We have since raised $40 million in new capital, with 75% coming from private entities, impact investors, and philanthropy.  

Unlike other green banks across the nation, SELF has zero state funding. When we were invited to be a part of the national network of green banks in 2017, we were the smallest green fund but also one of the most noteworthy because we operated in LMI communities as a certified CDFI. The green banks embraced us and elevated our unique position. In 2018, SELF received one of the first OFN energy efficiency grants, which we used as a loan loss reserve to leverage additional capital.  

With a footprint in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and soon Tennessee, SELF has three main green loan programs: 

  • The Green Homes Program is for homeowners to invest in climate and clean energy upgrades with affordable unsecured loans based on ability to repay rather than credit scores. 
  • Sustainable Energy Efficiency and Resiliency Loans, designed for landlords of affordable and workforce housing, provide unsecured low-cost capital for energy and resiliency upgrades on multi-family units up to 20 units, with a focus on properties owned by people of color. 
  • SAGE Homes offers novice and emerging developers — women and people of color — pre-development and gap funding for small to midsize affordable and workforce housing developments.  

It’s 2023 and things have changed. We are at a historic moment where we can and should work together to make our communities resilient and sustainable. SELF is very proud to be a CDFI and a green bank, and to be living proof of the potential of CDFIs to advance environmental justice.  

SELF featured in “Low Interest Loans Help Locals Cool Homes” segment, Bay News 9

The journey ahead is still challenging, but we are so excited that what was once a small group of climate warriors is now an army of climate lovers that are part of the solution. In the end, it is all about the mission to achieve an inclusive, just, and equitable clean energy economy for all.  

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