Interview: ”Explorers understand that we have to free ourselves from old patterns of thinking and doing… You have to invent completely new ways to think.” This is the clear message from Bertrand Piccard, one of today’s most influential voices in innovation and sustainability.

Scientific exploration is in Bertrand Piccard’s DNA. His grandfather Auguste was the first human to reach the stratosphere, his father Jacques the deepest point on Earth, while he flew around the globe powered only by the Sun.

The Swiss visionary behind the first solar flight around the Earth now wants the private sector to join his quest for a new clean economy. Find out what Piccard will take with him on his next round-the-world trip. Get inside the mind of a true pioneer as he opens up about achieving the impossible, dealing with fear and handling adversaries.

Leader of the Week,
Episode 02 – Bertrand Piccard

In 2016 Bertrand Piccard made the first round-the-world solar flight to demonstrate what energy efficiency and renewable technologies are capable of. The aviator’s feat landed his plane, Solar Impulse 2, in the prestigious Smithsonian Museum in Washington. But Piccard made aviation history in order to change the present which he finds scarier than anything he’s faced.

“It is not flying around the world in a solar powered airplane that makes me afraid, but to think that with each passing hour…we burn one million tons of oil, we deplete natural resources, we destroy the environment, we change the climate. This makes me really afraid.”

The psychiatrist turned explorer says he turns fear into inspiration.

“If you are afraid of something, you have to think that fear is useful, because it will push you to react. Push you to be better, push you to find solutions”, he points out.

Explorer of profitable clean solutions

Piccard’s climate fears have turned him into an explorer of profitable clean solutions. The Swiss visionary will use them to recruit business explorers for a renewable energy transition. He is summoning the pioneering spirit that took man to the Moon to achieve his high ambition.

”Explorers understand that we have to free ourselves from old patterns of thinking and doing… You have to invent completely new ways to think.”

“The fact that now it is profitable to bring clean technologies onto the market is an argument that absolutely everybody should know.”

Piccard’s first step is to dispel the stubborn misconception that clean solutions are a luxury that few companies can afford, and he is leading a global campaign to show that protecting the environment and profit go hand in hand.

“The fact that now it is profitable to bring clean technologies onto the market is an argument that absolutely everybody should know” Piccard insists.

Clean energy has become cost competitive as prices have continued to fall. The International Renewable Energy Agency expects green power to be cheaper than fossil fuel electricity by 2020. The higher upfront construction cost makes renewable energy look more risky. However over the lifespan of green projects, wind and solar are the least expensive power sources, according to asset management company Lazarus.

We need a broad alliance – including deniers

Piccard believes the climate change battle requires a broad alliance including government, business, non-governmental organizations and even those who do not believe carbon emissions cause global warming. He makes his case to climate change deniers by leveraging the profit motive.

“A lot of people have no compassion, no love for the planet and for other human beings… We have to bring these people, even the climate change deniers on board by speaking their language. And what is their language? It is profit, and power, and personal advantage”, Piccard points out.

He is frustrated that with so much money to be made in clean energy, the dirty status quo remains entrenched and getting worse. Last year greenhouse gas emissions started rising after remaining flat for almost 3 years, adding to the urgency for action on scaling renewables.

“Imagine the size of the markets, if we were to replace all the old polluting systems with new modern and clean systems, new infrastructure, smart grids, new insulation of buildings, new types of heating, cooling and lighting systems and electric mobility. This is the biggest market of the century!”

1,000 new solutions

To boost business investment, Piccard is now collecting breakthrough solutions that are both money-making and green. His Solar Impulse Foundation recently launched the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution label to certify their viability. Each project has to contribute to at least one UN goal on clean water and energy, industry innovation, sustainable cities or responsible consumption. The criteria include technological feasibility, environmental benefits as well as economic profitability. The Solar Impulse Foundation has awarded 17 labels and aims to certify 1000 solutions by the end of the year.

In 2019 Piccard will take another round-the-world journey to present the 1000 labelled solutions to decision-makers in the business and political world. He will ask governments to take bold action to incentivize clean energy investments, a view shared by the UN. The international organization wants political leaders to attract private money with lower risks, more financing and enabling policies to meet its $52 billion annual energy investment need.

“We need governments and heads of states that have a clear vision and give very ambitious goals in terms of energy policies and environmental goals. This will pull all the innovation to the market, it will bring the solutions to fulfill this need”, the explorer points out.

Piccard hopes strong government incentives and Solar Impulse solutions will spark the pioneering business spirit to win the climate change battle. The explorer who devoted his life to environmental protection will not rest until he conquers the Renewable Energy Frontier.