President and Founder of Solar Impulse Foundation
When the Breitling Orbiter 3 landed, after the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, just over 1% of fuel remained. It was clear that fuel was the limiting factor, and that the next round-the-world flight had to be in a solar plane, without fuel, without pollution, without CO₂ emissions. The objective of the Solar Impulse Foundation has always been to transport the message of renewable energy, not passengers.
Switzerland plays a major role in the clean technology sector and is helping to promote our message. Feasibility studies for our Solar Impulse aircraft were carried out at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and a large number of Swiss SMEs participated in its construction. On reaching California after crossing the Pacific, Solar Impulse was welcomed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two founders of Google - proof, if it were needed, of Switzerland’s credibility in terms of innovative technologies.
Following the successful completion of my round-the-world flight, I launched a new challenge to find technical solutions capable of protecting the environment in an economically profitable way. 370 scientists and industrial experts have analyzed the solutions submitted so far, allowing us to award the “Solar Impulse Efficient Solution” label.
There is still a gap between science and politics. Scientists may recognize that change is possible, but many people are afraid of change. We must show that protecting the environment is an economic and political opportunity rather than a sacrifice, and ensure that innovation is welcomed not only by entrepreneurs but by environmentalists.
The Solar Impulse Efficient Solution label is the first of its kind to certify the profitability of a system, product, material, or device that protects the environment. To date, we have labeled almost 1’500 such products.
Hundreds of sustainable solutions already exist which are both credible and economically profitable. They come from the world of innovation, but often have more to do with common sense than deep tech. For example, recovering heat from data centers and factory chimneys, or producing building materials from non-recyclable urban waste, is as logical as it is ecological.
The hope of finding miracle solutions in the future is sometimes used as an excuse for inaction today. We invest billions in nuclear fusion instead of utilizing heat from ground sources. We continue to emit CO₂, hoping that technology will be able to reabsorb it later. We even imagine that we can artificially cool the atmosphere to compensate for global warming. Innovation can help to deliver better quality of life, but a catastrophe if it justifies wait-and-see paralysis.
Switzerland has the potential to lead the way by being one of the first countries to make key environmental policy decisions. We urgently need much more demanding norms and standards, which enforce energy and resource efficiency, and promote the circular economy and respect for biodiversity. We must implement solutions that already exist and deliver ever more efficient technologies.
I believe that Switzerland has what it takes to succeed. Our researchers and companies are developing and exporting high value-added clean technologies worldwide, offering practical solutions to the environmental challenges facing the world. This is a great opportunity, not only for the future of the planet, but also for our trade balance and the profitability of our companies. But to achieve this goal, politicians must take responsibility for more rigorous environmental policies.