Swiss psychiatrist, explorer, aviator and communicator Bertrand Piccard presents the piranhas strategy and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.
As we are stepping into 2021, Swiss psychiatrist, explorer, aviator and communicator Bertrand Piccard and his team at the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions are well on their way to reach the milestone of one thousand profitable technology solutions that not only enable the transition toward a clean and sustainable energy sector but also support development, employment and economic growth globally.
Did you know that a start-up out of Paris is commercializing a small device to be attached to the engine of your car that reduces toxic emissions by up to eighty percent and improves fuel efficiency by up to twenty percent? Did you know that a group in India is selling to consumers a suite of water saving devices that can help save up to 95% of the water used in hand washers, sinks and showers? Did you know that a company out of Belgium is refurbishing smartphones and extending their lifespan from 21.6 months to 33.6 months on average?
To date and after a rigorous certification process, over eight hundred and ninety organizations have received the Solar Impulse Label for efficient, scalable and profitable solutions in the areas of clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, industry innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities or responsible production and consumption. Solutions are already many to make the case that purpose does not exclude profits or jobs creation, and that the age for a cleaner economy has come. Then, what’s next?
Bertrand Piccard is both a catalyst and an influencer at strategic levels. His upcoming circumnavigation of the world is one of a novel kind, not as a pioneer in a balloon or a solar-powered plane, but as a door-to-door salesman with a goal to change the minds and hearts of decision and policy makers at the highest levels. For this, he has a plan. For this, he has a pitch. And a good pitch comes with a good story. His? The fable of the swimmer and the piranhas.
Once upon a time in the Amazonia, a swimmer came across a lonely piranha. They politely said hello to each other and went on their separate ways. The day after in the Amazonia, the swimmer came across a school of one thousand piranhas. And in no time, the swimmer was eaten alive by the hungry piranhas.
With a portfolio of one thousand efficient and profitable solutions, the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions will present itself to the world like a school of piranhas, ready to eat alive any environmental challenge that comes its way. This is what Bertrand Piccard calls the piranhas strategy.
The day of 2021 when the tally of labelled solutions hits the one thousand mark is the day Bertrand Piccard and a delegation from the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions will start their circumnavigation of the world of another kind and visit heads of states and governments one by one to make their case for an economic growth that must and can be a clean one.
Bertrand Piccard and I first met in Paris in December 2015 during the COP21 United Nations negotiations to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change. At the time, he and his partner André Borschberg were halfway through the first circumnavigation of the world on a solar-powered plane.
We met again in Montreal in June 2017 during the Movin’On conference on the future of mobility and sat together for an interview. Following the success of the Solar Impulse flight, Bertrand Piccard had announced the launch of his new challenge: to identify, label, support and promote one thousand scalable and profitable clean technologies to accelerate the transition out of fossil fuels.
As we enter 2021, the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions is weeks away from reaching its objective. In order to reconnect with the original impulse that sparked its creation, we share the transcripts of our 2017 interview, initially published by UP’ Magazine both in English (High Flying Above the Walls) et en français (Envol au-delà des murs):
High Flying Above The Walls.
Conversation with Bertrand Piccard, founder of Solar Impulse and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.
Bertrand Piccard was invited to speak at Movin’On, a global event on sustainable mobility held last June in Montreal and produced by Michelin in partnership with C2 Montreal. The topic of his talk was: “How to achieve the impossible, how to invent, how to innovate, how to create, how to get out of one’s comfort zone, how to get rid of one’s certitudes and beliefs in order to be free to think about new ways forward.”
Bertrand is the founder and pilot of Solar Impulse, the first round-the-world solar flight. We had previously met in Paris during the COP21 negotiations on climate change mitigation in 2015.
Together, we listened to a speech by Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist who was the first female chief scientist of NAOO. In 1988, Sylvia Earle was named “Hero for the Planet” by Time Magazine. She reminded us of this:
“Resentment won’t serve us. We need to be grateful for the fossil fuel economy. Humanity made progress and developed so far thanks to the oil, gas and coal industries. When we embarked on the fossil fuel journey, we were not aware of the externalities. But now, we know. The time has come for humanity to move beyond fossil fuel”.
Bertrand was only halfway through his Solar Impulse challenge, and the outcome of COP21 was uncertain.
The Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation was adopted by consensus by 196 countries on December 12, 2015. Bertrand and his partner André Borschberg completed their flight around the world on July 26, 2016. Later that year, Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States with a promise to build a wall between Mexico and the USA. On June 1st, he announced that the USA would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement.
Below are some edited transcripts of our conversation, which started with an update on Solar Impulse but went far beyond.
Bertrand Piccard: “When we last met, it was before the success of the flight around the world with Solar Impulse. We were halfway through and it was quite a stressful moment. After having invested so much time and effort, we did not know if we would succeed. It’s nice to see you again after the success.”
Dominique Bel: “Likewise, Bertrand, it’s nice to see you again. In hindsight, it is inspiring to realize how you were able to communicate a sense of calm and confidence while you were in the midst of such a stressful challenge. What’s keeping you busy these days?”
BP: “The first step of the Solar Impulse project — going around the world with no fuel — is finished. Now, the second phase is on. I am launching the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, with a goal to connect all individuals, start-ups, companies, associations or organizations with ideas, processes, products or clean technologies that can protect the environment in a profitable way. In order to gain support by both the private and public sector, solutions must be profitable.”
DB: “What comes to mind as one of the major challenges of this new project?
BP: “We have to identify 1000 profitable solutions for the environment by the end of 2018. It’s a lot of work. I know they exist. Despite the fact that everybody speaks of problems, there are lots of solutions. This is what I want to show.”
DB: “Yes, time for solutions! I would like to ask you for advice about a project that is very dear to my heart. Donald Trump promised to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.A. I recently joined the MADE collective (Mexican and American Designers and Engineers). MADE designed and proposed an alternative to the wall: Otra nation. Otra Nation made the headlines when it was submitted to both the American and Mexican government earlier in March.
Otra Nation is a regenerative territory open to citizens of both Mexico and the United States that is co-maintained by both governments.
Otra Nation is a regenerative territory open to citizens of both Mexico and the United States that is co-maintained by both governments. It is the worlds’ first continental bi-national socio-ecotone, with an expected economic output in the range of 1 trillion dollar.
Part of Otra Nation’s vision: a Hyperloop transportation network to link the Pacific coast to the Golf of Mexico, with links to major cities North and South. Distressed people cross borders illegally in order to escape poverty. Otra Nation tackles the issue at its roots and aims to become a hospitable and abundant territory thanks to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.
Did you know about the Otra Nation proposal and what do you think of it?”
BP: “No, I did not know about this project. My immediate reaction when I see something that looks really difficult is to admire it. I hate the people who say: “it’s not possible, it doesn’t work, don’t try, it’s too difficult.”
So, first: congratulations! Follow your dreams and do it!
What comes to mind next is that the technology is already available. What we need for new technology to be implemented on a large scale is to push the state of mind far enough. This reminds me of the following experience: I once flew with a motor glider over the border between Mexico and California. On the Californian side it was completely green, with trees and agriculture. Cut sharp on the border, it was the desert on the Mexican side. Clearly, it’s a question of state of mind. Poverty in a country is the result of bad organization, bad politics, problems of corruption and lack of respect. We have to push hard to change the state of mind, and must not believe that when we have a beautiful dream, everybody has the spirit to fulfil it. Otherwise, it would also be green on the Mexican side of the Californian border.”
The All-American Canal at the US-Mexican border, by Franck Vogel photojournalist: “Today, the Colorado no longer reaches the sea — all the remaining water is diverted through the All-American canal at the US-Mexican border to the Imperial Valley. Consequently, the worst affected are nature and poor areas like Indian reservations in Arizona. Moreover, large wetlands such as the Colorado Delta in Mexico and the Salton Sea in California, have received little to no water in recent decades, which has led to desertification and displacement of population.” Credits: Franck Vogel photojournalist, Transbordary Rivers, published by Editions La Martinière.
DB: “What advice would you share with Otra Nation?”
BP: “First, it’s important to be clear on your business model. Is it an investment with promising returns for investors? Or is it a project for the greater good that will benefit sponsors because of its positive message, its intrinsic qualities and the values it promotes? Once you have your answer, you’ll know quite well in which direction to go. With Solar Impulse it was very clear that we were not looking for venture capital, because we were not going to sell solar airplanes. I looked for sponsors and partners and I raised 170 million US dollars in a few months.
Otra Nation reminds me of the Swiss Metro project: a tunnel between Geneva and Lausanne with a train moving through a vacuum at speeds allowing to travel 60 km within a few minutes. In the end, the project was never built. I think the mistake was to plan to build the tunnel between Lausanne and Geneva, in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The French speaking part of Switzerland is very innovative, but it is not where the money is. The money is in the German part of Switzerland. Had the promoters proposed to build the Swiss Metro between Zurich and Basel, or between Zurich and Bern, they would have probably raised the financing.
Again: congratulations for Otra Nation. Let me invite the MADE collective to join the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions!”
Otra Nation : the worlds’ first continental bi-national socio-ecotone, with an expected economic output in the range of 1 trillion dollar.
DB: “On behalf of Otra Nation: thank you for the invitation! This is quite a vote of confidence. Count us in, Bertrand!
Solar Impulse and Otra Nation are adventures into the unknown.
How transformed does one come back from an adventure into the unknown? Following your first Solar Impulse flight, did you land as a different person than when you took off?”
BP: “When I landed I always had the impression to fall back in the past. Because flying with Solar Impulse with no fuel, no noise, no pollution gives you the impression that you are in a science fiction story. It gives you the impression that you are already in the future. This is wrong: we are in the present. Solar Impulse is what technology can do today. It is the rest of the world that is in the past. I would say that every landing was sad. It was really sad to return to the world of combustion engines, waste of energy, waste of natural resources, lack of respect, corruption and bad governance. It was sad each and every time, because when you are flying like André and I did, you have the impression the world could be a beautiful place.”
DB: “Indeed our human world could become a beautiful place on this planet if it was shared in harmony with other beings. People sense the need to reconnect with passion, love and purpose. What inspires me the most when I listen to you, Bertrand, is how much you seem to love what you do. What do you love so much about what you do?”
BP: “I love to step into the unknown. I love to do things nobody has ever dared to do and to show that the impossible is only in their head, not in reality. What is fantastic is to get rid of all beliefs that keep you prisoner of the past, so as to step into the future with new strategies and ways of thinking. This is so fascinating. This, I love.”
DB: “What advice would you give to young adults who are going to face such a troubled world?”
BP: “I would tell them to identify what they have learnt and what they believe, and then to try something else. Because our certainties — what we believe and what we have learnt to believe — are terrible handicaps for creativity and for performance. Beliefs keep you prisoner of the past and prevent you from finding new ways of thinking. We become prisoners of old paradigms and don’t learn how to change them.”
DB: “It’s now time for your talk at Movin’On. Before I let you go, as Steve Jobs would put it, “one more thing”: you are both inspired and inspiring. What’s that major event in your life that made you break through to that sense of possibility?”
BP: “When I was between 10 and 12 years old I was living with my family in Florida. It was during the American space program, between 1968 and 1970. I met Charles Lindbergh and most of the American astronauts and explorers. I met lots of people who showed me how fascinating it was to explore life. I witnessed the launch of Apollo 11 and still have, today, a vivid memory of that moment in time when I said to myself: this is the type of life I want to live.
Apollo 11 — July 20, 1969
What inspired me and set me in motion was meeting extraordinary people. People who did not remain in their comfort zone, who did not remain within the boundaries of old paradigms and who did things that nobody thought were possible to do. The most inspiring individuals I met were of course the explorers and the astronauts. But I also met inspiring people who were on a spiritual or a personal development path, in psychiatry, in psychotherapy or in politics.
I believe in the spiritual family: people who are on the same wavelength, with the same frequency of energy. They recognize each other immediately and don’t need long conversations to understand that they look for the same things in life on earth.”
© Dominique Bel, 2020. All Rights Reserved in all Countries.
Inspiring Leaders START WITH WHY.
For What's Next, We Ask: SO WHAT?
As we have lived through the first twenty percent of our twenty first century, we are left to ponder a plethora of daunting questions: What’s the way out of extreme polarization? Can we protect democracy? Will we ever revert the climate crisis? Is sustainable development a chimera? How can we reboot our economies anew and for the benefit of many, not just a few? In this anxiogenic context, merchants of hope brought the search for purpose back to the fore.
In 2020, the respected Harvard Business Review published a special issue titled “How to lead with purpose”, the French food and beverages multinational Danone amended its corporate bylaws to broaden its purpose to positive social impact, and in his victory speech, Joe Biden invited all Americans “to defeat despair [and] build a nation of prosperity and purpose”.
Far from being a fad, the search for purpose is foundational to our quest for a better future. In words that sing to our ears like a Chopin melody, French writer, poet, aviation pioneer and author of The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it beautifully: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Following a series of encounters and conversations with CEO’s, entrepreneurs, social innovators, advocates, researchers, artists, adventurers, spiritual leaders and sometimes with himself, the author of The Book of So What takes us with wit on an iconoclastic journey beyond purpose to reveal some of our contemporary blind spots: purpose bloating, purpose washing and purpose myopia to name a few. As the stories of transformations and reconciliations he narrates take us from the Loire Valley in France, to both banks of the Saint Laurent River in North America and then to the Jordan Valley in the Middle East, he shares with us a few valuable keys to clear the way forward with courage and explores the liberative powers of the modern jester’s question:
“Inspiring leaders start with WHY. For what’s next, we ask: SO WHAT?”
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© Dominique Bel, 2020. All Rights Reserved in all Countries.
Delta of the Colorado River, Mexico. 10 years ago, with all of its water being diverted for intensive agriculture use in Valle Imperial in California, the Colorado River run dry at the US-Mexican border. Today, it no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. Credits: Franck Vogel, “Transbordary Rivers”, Editions la Martinière.