August 28, 2018
School of Sustainability alumnus Sean McGraw founded FOR Energy while he was still an ASU student, and now it’s among the fastest-growing companies in the United States (number 1,215 to be exact, according to Inc. Magazine’s annual list). FOR Energy helps homeowners in Arizona and Nevada use energy more efficiently by conducting energy audits and completing home improvements — things like installing solar panels or energy-efficient windows, sealing leaky ducts, and improving insulation. The company’s 2017 revenue was $2.2 million — not bad for an idea that came to McGraw one day in a renewable energy class at ASU.
Read on for why McGraw switched his major to sustainability and what he believes is the most important factor that has contributed to FOR Energy’s success.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?
Answer: My first three years at ASU were spent studying marketing. My younger brother, Sloan, had gotten into the School of Sustainability in 2008 and it piqued my interest. I looked into it and the rest is history. I knew I wanted to start a residential construction company one day and saw a future in solar. I took a leap of faith, switched my major and became extremely passionate about the program. I figured I can always learn marketing — why not try something different? Especially when it’s the first of its kind.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I worked on my capstone for a full year as a part of the GlobalResolve program and was fortunate enough to go to Ghana to implement the business we were working on. This was an extremely eye-opening experience and gave me a totally different perspective. Not only did it make me appreciate what I have, but it also opened my eyes to sustainable, cultural and other challenges in making a large, positive impact in the world.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those currently studying (or interested in studying) sustainability at ASU?
A: Make a difference, be passionate, and apply sustainable practices at home and at work. I firmly believe in an extremely bright future in sustainability.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to start FOR Energy? Why do you think the business has become so successful?
A: My father owned a fairly large replacement window company in Detroit and from a young age, I knew I wanted to own my own business. When I entered the sustainability program, I took a class that focused on renewable energy and that's when the idea kind of came to me. During that semester, I founded FOR Energy (Affordable Energy Solutions of Arizona at the time) and slowly, and I really mean slowly, started to figure out how to grow my business.
Most of what I've learned in the business world has come from trial and error which is why our first few years were slow moving. Our current growth and success can be attributed to offering Arizona and Nevada residents a top notch experience and product. The biggest factor, though, is our amazing and talented team. We have realized the value in people and have put an emphasis on creating an amazing opportunity for our team to grow as employees, leaders and individuals. Happy employees that believe in what they do create very happy customers.
Q: How did the School of Sustainability prepare you to start FOR, personally and professionally?
A: The School of Sustainability really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues in the world, and when I see an issue, I know there's an opportunity. ASU gave me the foundation and confidence I needed to take the dive and start the business.
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
A: The first definition of sustainability I ever heard was "the interconnectedness of all things" and that has really stuck. Sustainability to me is doing my part to leave the earth in a better place than I found it.