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Bertrand Picard

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“Protecting the environment doesn’t have to be boring,” insists Bertrand Piccard, set out on a mission in 2017 to gather and promote 1,000 economically profitable ways to preserve the environment. The solutions, as he calls them, include everything from using portable solar panels and recycled waste for energy to harnessing ocean waves to generate power. Breitling was recently added to the list because of its packaging, which is made entirely from upcycled plastic bottles and can itself be recycled. It also saves transport costs, since it can be shipped in a folded form.

“I wanted to change the narrative of environmentalism that assumes protecting the environment is boring, expensive and sacrificial,” Bertrand says. “The prevailing belief was that, in order to conserve the environment, people had to somehow decrease their comfort, their mobility, or sacrifice economic growth, and I wanted to show that it could be exactly the opposite. It can be exciting, it can be profitable, it can create jobs, and become the core of economic development.”

Piccard’s list, which appears on the website for his foundation, Solar Impulse, has since become a beacon of hope and a call to action. “In the beginning, people told me it would be completely impossible to find a thousand solutions. We are now up to 1,400,” he says. They apply to consumers, corporations, industrial operations, banks and investors, but he says at least a third of them can be applied to individual households.

Applicants for inclusion on the list are evaluated by independent experts according to a process certified by Ernst & Young. “Our goal was to choose things that are profitable for companies creating the solutions as well as for consumers. Solutions that would protect the environment mainly by making things more efficient. So you save resources, you save energy, you go into the circular economy.” His foundation has even supported the establishment of two investment funds that plan to invest in a portfolio of clean technologies labeled by the foundation. The BNP Paribas Solar Impulse Venture Fund will invest in early to late-stage promising startups dedicated to the ecological transition, and Rothschild & Co’s Merchant Banking business, together with industrial company Air Liquide, plans to put in place a growth & buyout platform. All investments will be evaluated by the Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions Label.

Piccard says he “speaks the language of profit, job creation, and reconciling economy and ecology. I show companies and policymakers that they can protect the environment and be more successful at the same time.” Some of the solutions are complex and industrial, like the Turbosol system that converts waste heat from burning processes into electricity. Others are everyday, easy-to-use solutions for everyone, like the flexible, 1mm-thick solar panel made by Solar-Cloth that can be laid on top of trucks, trailers or on the roof of a tent while camping. A laundry powder called Ariel Cold, made by Proctor and Gamble, is formulated to clean clothes using cold water. “Can you imagine if all the United States used this powder to wash cold? It would cut 4% of the electricity used by the whole country, “ says Piccard.

Piccard is also an adventurer and explorer who made history in 1999 by making the first non-stop, around-the-world balloon flight onboard the Breitling Orbiter 3 – Breitling was a sponsor of the journey. He next circumnavigated the globe in an airplane, the Solar Impulse, powered only by the sun. It was the world’s first 40,000-kilometer journey without fuel.

“When I was flying around the world in my solar airplane, I remember looking at the sun that was running my four electric motors and their huge propellers,” says Piccard. “There was no noise, no pollution, no fuel… and I could fly forever. At a certain moment, I thought, this is science fiction, I’m in the future. And then I realized, no, I’m in the present; this is what the technologies of today already allow me to do. It’s the rest of the world that is in the past, with old and inefficient devices.”

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