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September brings many things worth celebrating: the start of a new school year,  crisp fall air (which we're still waiting for…), pumpkin spice everything, and Labor Day — when we reflect on the achievements of American workers.

JUST Capital surveys show that Americans across the political spectrum want companies to prioritize worker needs, so it’s especially heartening to see more companies step up to do right by their workers. The JUST Top 10 Companies for Workers features industry leaders in paying a living wage, offering strong paid parental leave, conducting pay equity analyses, and more.

We also celebrate the many small businesses that go above and beyond to foster equitable workplaces. Research shows that the Fortune Best Small and Medium Workplaces companies score higher on several measures of fairness. For example, 86% of employees at these companies believe they get a fair share of profits, compared to 36% of other employees surveyed.

For our “Fearless Feature” this month, we highlight founders striving to provide fair employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. Scroll down to read the stories of a few companies that have put this ethos at the center of their work, as well as a wide range of good news in the world of impact investing and inclusive entrepreneurship.

Taking a Chance on Second-Chance Hiring
Patrick Regan’s inspiration to launch a solar panel manufacturing company came from an unlikely source: prison inmates. Regan, a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame, was teaching at Indiana’s Westville State Prison when he saw a glaring social issue: even after acquiring a college degree, most formerly incarcerated people still struggle to find work.

To tackle this problem, he left the familiar world of academia to found Crossroads Solar in South Bend, Indiana, with his business partner, Marty Whalen. The solar manufacturing company employs former prisoners, giving them the necessary income and life skills to earn their way back into society. Striving for income equality, he earns a salary within 5% of employees’ wages.

Regan is one of several fearless entrepreneurs providing meaningful employment to those who can’t find jobs elsewhere. Greystone Bakery grew from a mission to bring employment opportunities to those who need it most. In this video, former CEO Mike Brady talks about the ripple effects of this work, creating hope that spreads throughout companies.

Crossroads and Greystone are in good company with other second chance hiring leaders like Dave’s Killer Bread, Homeboy Industries, and Indeed, which all have open hiring policies baked into the fabric of their companies. More large businesses, like JP Morgan and Slack, are joining the movement as well, as spotlighted in this CNBC video.

By creating jobs for people who want to move beyond their past, Regan and other leaders are giving them a second chance in life — while proving that profit and purpose can coexist.
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VC Investment in Cleantech Hit $5.4B in Q2
According to Pitchbook's latest Clean Energy Report, venture capital (VC)-backed clean energy startups had their best quarter since 2021, bringing in $5.4B in the second quarter. Record investment in solar PV and hydrogen technologies helped drive the high deal volume.

For more insights on which VCs are investing in sustainability, Crunchbase recently highlighted the “most active and spendiest cleantech investors.”
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Impact Investors Set Sights on Emerging Markets

Although impact investors have focused on developed markets in recent years, their geographic priorities are shifting. In the next five years, 56% plan to increase capital allocations to sub-Saharan Africa, followed closely by Latin America (48%) and Southeast Asia (42%). That’s one of the key findings of GIIN’s Emerging Trends in Impact Investing report. Researchers also found that the vast majority of investors surveyed (82%) seek to positively impact climate change mitigation and/or climate adaptation and resilience.
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Women Entrepreneurs on the Rise

The pursuit of work-life balance is spurring more women than ever to strike out on their own, reports Fortune. Recent research found that women-led startups in the UK have more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to balance, women are choosing entrepreneurship as a path to gain more flexibility to manage their careers and caregiving responsibilities successfully.
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World-Changing Founders
How are diverse entrepreneurs changing the world? To find out, check out the inspiring profiles of the Fortune Founders Forum, a cohort of early-stage founders. The group includes many founders from underrepresented groups, like Lisa Dyson, who is creating food from air; Liana Douillet Guzmán, leader of a telehealth company for the LGBTQIA+ community; and Uzoma “Zo” Orchingwa, who launched a communication and education tools platform for the incarcerated.
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Fighting for Trash-Free Seas

For those interested in making an impact on plastic pollution, the International Coastal Cleanup is just around the corner. Since 1986, more than 17 million volunteers have collected more than 350 million pounds of trash on this global cleanup day organized by the Ocean Conservancy. Check the interactive map to find a cleanup event at a beach, river, or lake near you.
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