According to Wikipedia, Bertrand Piccard is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist. This is something of an understatement. Bertrand did indeed qualify as a psychiatrist from the University of Lausanne. But he is best-known as an explorer, aviator and communicator.
Bertrand comes from a family of explorers – grandfather Auguste invented the pressurised balloon capsule was the first man to witness the curvature of the earth with his own eyes, setting the world altitude record 16,201 meters in 1932. His father, Jacques Piccard, designed became the first man to dive 10,916 metres in a submarine to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and also did a month-long, 3,000 km drift dive in the Gulf Stream.
Bertrand made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight in 1999, together with co-pilot Brian Jones. He then made the first round-the-world flight in an electric plane in 2015 and 2016, sharing flight segments with André Borschberg.
He now runs the Solar Impulse Foundation and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, which is in the process of certifying 1000 economically competitive and environmentally-friendly products and technologies which could be adopted by users right now. Michael is a proud member of the advisory board, and as of today, we have certified 652 solutions.
Bertrand lives in Lausanne and like Michael, is a friend of les Diablerets, a small village where his family holidayed and where he learned to ski.
According to Wikipedia, Bertrand Piccard is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist. This is something of an understatement.
Bertrand qualified did indeed qualify as a psychiatrist from the University of Lausanne. But he is best-known as an explorer, aviator and communicator.
He comes from a family of explorers – grandfather Auguste invented the pressurised balloon capsule was the first man to witness the curvature of the earth with his own eyes, setting the world altitude record 16,201 meters in 1932. His father, Jacques Piccard, designed became the first man to dive 10,916 metres in a submarine to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and also did a month-long, 3,000 km drift dive in the Gulf Stream.
Bertrand made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight in 1999, together with co-pilot Brian Jones. He then made the first round-the-world flight in an electric plane in 2015 and 2016, sharing flight segments with André Borschberg.
He now runs the Solar Impulse Foundation and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, which is in the process of certifying 1000 economically competitive and environmentally-friendly products and technologies which could be adopted by users right now. I’m a proud member of the advisory board, and as of today, we have certified 652 solutions.
Bertrand lives in Lausanne and like me, is a friend of les Diablerets, a small village where his family holidayed and where he learned to ski.
Bertrand Piccard’s website
The story of the Solar Impulse round-the-world electric flight
How to raise $170m for a crazy idea
Solar Impulse Foundation/World Alliance for Efficient Solutions
The Greatest Adventure, book on the balloon circumnavigation by pilots Piccard and Jones
About Cleaning Up
Once a week Michael Liebreich has a conversation with a leader in clean energy, mobility, climate finance, or sustainable development.
Each episode covers the technical ground on some aspect of the low-carbon transition – but it also delves into the nature of leadership in the climate transition: whether to be optimistic or pessimistic; how to communicate in order to inspire change; personal credos; and so on.
And it should be fun – most of the guests are Michael’s friends.
ML: Michael Liebreich
BP: Bertrand Piccard
ML: According to Wikipedia Bertrand Picard is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist. That is something of an understatement. Bertrand did indeed qualify as a psychiatrist from the University of Lausanne but he's best known as an explorer, an aviator and a communicator. He comes from a family of explorers and we're recording this here in his home, in part of it which is essentially a museum to the exploits of his family. His grandfather Auguste invented the pressurized balloon capsule and took it to sixteen thousand two hundred and one meter height in 1932. He was the first human to see the curvature of the planet with his own eyes. His father, not to be outdone, designed a submarine and went to the bottom of the Marianas Trench in 1960 - ten thousand nine hundred and sixteen meters down. Now if that had been my grandfather and my father I probably would have become an accountant but Bertrand followed in their footsteps. He made the first non-stop round the world balloon flight: that was 1999 with co-pilot Brian Jones and then the first round-the-world flight in an electric aeroplane sharing different segments of the flight with Andre Borschberg. So Bertrand now runs something called the Solar Impulse Foundation and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions working to put together a portfolio of a thousand technology solutions that could be applied now that are more efficient, more cost effective but also better for the planet than the alternatives and I'm very proud to say that I've been a member of the advisory board from the beginning of that effort.
ML: And we're at … How many solutions have we got today?
ML: 650. I checked today on the Internet. It’s 652. Six hundred and fifty two. So now, I want to before we talk about the foundation though I want to go back and talk about I've got to ask you questions about these extraordinary adventures I mean
BP: Yes, of course Michael.
ML: Did you always know that you would find some challenge in sort of following your father and your grandfather's footsteps? Is that something that you grew up knowing you had to do?
BP: I really wanted to have this type of life, the type of life of my father, of my grandfather, but also of the astronauts that I met when I was a child, the first astronaut, the right stuff from the American Space Program but I was 11 years old, 12 years old and I was a bit depressed because I wanted to be an explorer and I did not know what was left to explore when Apollo 11 landed at the Moon I thought everything has been made.
ML: So this when you go back to 11 and 12? You visited Cape Canaveral?
ML: And who did you get to meet anybody? I mean …
BP: Well, von Braun.
BP: The head of the Apollo mission program was a friend of the family, became a friend of the family and then all the American astronauts: Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Scott Carpenter …
ML: So this is who you were just hanging out with when you were 11 or 12?
BP: Yeah, absolutely.
ML: And you thought, well, that but they've done everything?
BP: I thought they've done everything but what was amazing for me was to read books about the conquest of space and the next day to meet all the guys that were in the books, which means that there was for me as a kid no gap between the dream and the reality and I started to think everything that you dream you can do
ML: So that's kind of like me coming here and meeting you.
BP: Or more meeting you because you've done a lot of things, you've done so many things Michael.
ML: We’ve met many times so I think any if I was ever starstruck that may have faded a little bit and possibly vice versa but that's now I'm just trying to do the mental arithmetic which year were you that 11 - 12 year old in Cape Canaveral?
BP: I witnessed six launches of Apollo missions.
ML: Okay but then there was 30 years before you did your own balloon circumnavigation.
ML: So did you just say well everything's been done. I’ll just go and become a psychiatrist and go and live in Switzerland, everything’s nice and safe and boring and …
BP: In the beginning I thought everything is safe and boring and then I started to have a compass in in my mind showing not the north but the unknown. Everything that had not been done. And each time there was something new I tried. The first hang glider I saw in the Swiss Alps I thought - that's for me. The first microlight I saw I thought - that’s for me. And I flew with the hang glider making loopings, championships, jumping from balloons, flying with motorized hang glider and then I was invited to participate to the first transatlantic balloon flight. Five balloons starting from Bangor in Maine with the goal of being the first in Europe and my balloon won.
ML: And that was that solo?
BP: No. We were two. It was with a Belgian pilot Wim Verstraeten and I was a complete newcomer in the world of ballooning but nevertheless we won the race and that was the trigger for the run world.
ML: I mean - there is - you realize there is an alternative universe, a parallel universe where during that period you discovered freestyle skiing and became a superb freestyle skier and maybe went to the Olympics in 1992 in Albertville and we would have met there instead of on the talking circuit talking about clean energy.
BP: It could have been and basically it should have been because we ski in the same place in Les Diablerets, the same mountain village in Switzerland, you and me.
ML: Exactly we could have met there and who knows maybe I would have become a balloonist.
BP: Yes. New Energy Finance <inaudible>
ML: I mean look it's not, it wasn’t, it wasn't ballooning or flying around the world but it certainly you know it was it was very, it was pretty pioneering. Definitely. But, so you went on from that first balloon race and then you got then you got caught up in the whole ballooning around the planet and that was kind of I mean there was Branson and Fossett, a lot of people trying to?
BP: Other people from the Hilton team and the Re/Max team there were ten teams trying to go around the world and most of them had tried already and failed and here I was again the little bit naive newcomer and I said why not me and I found Breitling - the watch company as a sponsor and had my balloon built in the UK at Cameron Balloons. And all these other guys they were trying and I was really not ready at all. And but they failed so many times but finally I was ready, I failed twice but they continued to fail.
ML: That’s right because he also was Breitling Orbiter Three.
BP: There was the first one, the second one and finally we succeeded. And that was really interesting because we succeeded because at each attempt we changed everything.
BP: And all the other competitors they were continuing exactly with the same mistakes, the same technologies and the same strategies that were not relevant. And this is why they kept on failing for the for the same reason
ML: And this is going to be relevant when we talk about clean technologies because... Okay so you went… you circumnavigated the world in a balloon and then a few years later you decided to do the same thing or similar thing in an electric aeroplane.
BP: Well, basically it was not a few years later that I decided. It was about 10 minutes after the landing of Breitling Orbiter 3.
ML: Oh, really. Is that right?
BP: Yeah, because you know I landed in the Egyptian desert with Brian Jones and out of the 3.7 tons of liquid gas that took us around the world non-stop, there was 40 kilos left. And that was really the maximum and this is when I thought it's not the sky that is the limit. It's the fuel.
ML: Right. And if I want …?
BP: And I thought, okay Breitling Orbiter Three made the longest flight in history
ML: The 19 days …
BP: Yeah, almost 20 days and the 45 000 kilometers and I thought we're out of fuel at the landing if I want to do better I have to get rid of the fuel and this is why I started to dream of a solar powered airplane that could fly perpetually.
ML: Because you, okay so if you look at the timeline then, you … I mean I've got it I actually I … so you announced Solar Impulse in 2003.
ML: So what you're saying is you didn't even take you know, I thought that was like two-three years off you know going back to being a sort of psychiatrist and … ?
BP: Speaking tours and ceremonies and things like that? That took a lot of time but I always had in my mind I want to do this solar powered airplane.
ML: When was the last time you practiced as a psychiatrist? Other than every day when you’re motivating and … ?
BP: Well professionally it was a few years back but sometimes I practice with friends of mine and I do hypnosis sessions to help them. Hypnosis is really what is in psychiatry and psychotherapy, the spirit of exploration because with hypnosis you really explore the human mind and this is why I loved hypnosis and I used it a lot to help my friends or friends of my children, also in the balloon .
ML: As well in order to get through these extended periods without sleeping?
BP: Yes, yes, exactly.
ML: I’ve read the book about the balloon flight and as much as I could about the about Solar Impulse because it was tremendously exciting you didn't have the experience of what it was like to be a spectator or an observer but you know it was very slick, it was very well done. Your team did an absolutely fantastic job.
BP: It was a big teamwork.
ML: Yeah and of course the operations director who's actually the, this big … ?
BP: The flight director?
ML: No, the American, the chap who organized for this plane to be in a hangar at every stop?
BP: Gregory Blatt. Yeah, amazing guy. He was our he was our chief worry officer. The guy sorted all the problems the biggest problems we gave him and said: oh that's easy for me.
ML: And I'm gonna turn to the camera, Gregory if you're watching this I'm really sorry I blanked your name because obviously I I know you well and I wish you well if you're watching this but you know you did have a huge and a very effective team and the communications you know the ability to kind of observe and see you know the cockpit view and the view of the plane and all of the data that the plane is producing.
BP: You know sometimes it was a little bit embarrassing because when we had all the cameras on me and I was flying the plane and was eating and some sauce fell on my flying suit and I said oh shit and then there was the voice from the Monaco control center saying ‘Bertrand, this behavior is live’.
ML: You’ve got there you've got the Pope on the other line.
BP: And there are 100, 000 of people watching you behave.
ML: Okay let me ask you this what is? You know from all of that we're going to dive into a few different aspects of what the messaging, what the learnings are but what did you personally take away if you could say there's one thing that kind of informs your life or one thing that you found striking about that whole extreme experience what would it be?
BP: The worst is not to fail, the worst is not to try.
ML: The worst is not to fail, the worst is not to try, okay.
BP: Yes, because there were so many moments where I would have quit if I was afraid of failing. You should not be afraid of failing. You should just go for it. But each time you fail you have to change your strategy, adapt your technology in order to never fail twice for the same reason.
ML: I like it but I worry because it's very easy to say those things once you succeed.
BP: Yes but I failed several times before and I tell you they were big, big failures. Breitling Orbiter One I ditched in the Mediterranean after six hours of flight just after the press conference when I said I would fly around the world in three weeks.
BP: So you cannot be more ridiculous in front of the media.
ML: Cause you know, I was worried. When I was at Harvard Business School, you have these, executives would come in they would talk to us and they were all enormously successful right because if they weren't successful they wouldn't get invited and there was an element of luck some of them were not, I'm not remotely suggesting this is the case here, but some of them were not impressive but incredibly lucky. Yet they still got to come and talk to the Harvard Business School.
BP: Yeah, I see what you mean. So maybe I was lucky to succeed and I was unlucky to fail twice so at the end the average is okay.
ML: You know as a skier I'm also aware that there is an element of luck you know there is you can you know you can ski the same line and then eight times out of ten you get to the bottom and two times out of the ten you don't and if they do that on competition, they they’re not gonna win.
BP: Yes. You know what is luck. Luck is when opportunities meet preparation.
ML: Yes, yes, yes.
BP: We were really well prepared and I remember on the 17th day of the flight with Breitling Orbiter Three the wind took us in the wrong direction, at the wrong speed. It was a disaster and I thought we would fail and I pushed the balloon using a lot of propane. I pushed the balloon the highest I could and in the last 100 meters the direction turned 26 degrees back on track. But the balloon was ready to be able to reach this altitude. I was trained to be able to do this maneuver. So of course if the wind was not good at this altitude I would have failed once more but at least we were ready to take that opportunity.
ML: Yes, yeah, and that I mean as a from the entrepreneurial story of New Energy Finance you know I managed to navigate this company through the winds of, the business winds because I had preparation for that. I had lived through the dotcom bubble, I had done all sorts of silly things.
BP: You faced some big problems, in some of the financial crisis before.
ML: So it's kind of I do hear what you know and I say that I'm not suggesting for a moment that you were the lucky one out of the ten teams on Breitling or …
BP: But maybe what I can also say that I learned is the fact that when you have a setback you have to find the learning outcomes and very often there was a crisis there was a big problem and we thought what is the opportunity behind it and very often thanks to the crisis we went through we found much better solutions than what we had in the in the beginning.
ML: Yes and I think your point about not just doing the same thing Albert Einstein famously says: „Madness is doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result” and there are so many lessons for our kind of planetary crisis or situation that we will …
BP: You know this is like: the bee and the wasp in a room. If you have several windows with just one open and the other one closed the bee will fly to the first window crash on the glass and die there after a day it is trying to go through the glass. The bee will try every window until it finds the window that is open I mean the wasp, the wasp goes back to the same window.
ML:so you said no no no which one which one is smart?
BP: The wasp.
ML: The wasp, okay.
BP: The bee goes to the first window and stays there.
ML: I see, okay.
BP: And the wasp tries every window until it finds the one that is open and can escape.
ML: Really, yeah.
BP: And so you need yeah the strategy of the wasp think if you want to succeed in something that is new because what is really interesting with Breitling Orbiter with Solar Impact is that there was no benchmark at all. Everybody was telling me it’s impossible. Nobody could really help me doing it. So it was a team effort trying to invent two totally new solutions and create a better outcome.
ML: it's very interesting because and there’s, I can't remember his name, but there’s the great formula one engineer who built the Red Bull technology and he said „you're not trying to build the best car, you’re trying to build the best platform so you can always learn and improve”.
ML: And it's exactly, this is a very good very profound stuff. I want to ask you about, well actually before I do ask about electric aviation: the role, your role and Andre's role - Andre Borschberg, you're not co-pilot because you alternated you were never in the plane at the same time. What did he …? I see him as the engineer and he was the kind of visionary and fundraiser.
ML: Is that fair or is that or am I doing you a disservice?
BP: No, no, it’s exactly, it's exactly this. I had this vision, I had this dream I wanted to do it I spoke about it to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who said: oh let's make a feasibility study.
BP: And they called Andre to run the feasibility study and that's how I met Andre and we were so different that I told him I would like to work with you. Come into the team, we partner in this in this project, we co-lead the project because he was the organizer, the planner. I'm the intuitive visionary. And you need both.
BP: You need the one who solves the problem of today and you need the one who dreams about after tomorrow.
ML: So it wasn't the EPFL or the Swiss Institute of Technology said we've got this crazy Andre Borschberg guy we need to get rid of him somehow take him as a co-pilot, please.
BP: No, no, no, because in the beginning they presented me Andre as the one who could run the feasibility study.
ML: And that's all, just the study.
BP: Yes, and at the end of the nine months of this study it was clear that Andre and I would be better together than separately. I'm always laughing saying we made one and one equal three. Andre all with his experience, me with my experience and both of us building a new experience, a new way to think solving problems that were so difficult.
ML: And I think, was Gregory Blatt there number three?
BP: Greg was number three, yes, cause he came a bit later. Gregory Black was at the World Economic Forum.
ML: Of course.
BP: I met him there.
BP: And when we wanted to hire somebody that would work with Andre and I somebody advised us to take Gregory Blatt so he came to make the first visit and he said why do you want me? I'm not from the aviation world and we said this is exactly why we want you. Everybody in the world of aviation knows it's impossible, so come outside of this world of aviation to another person.
ML: But that's actually one of my questions, so why didn't you just partner with Airbus? I mean the obvious thing to do, you want to fly the world and do some crazy stuff you go and talk to Airbus it's obvious and if not Airbus then I don't know Lockheed or Boeing or something? And you rejected all of those because …
BP: I didn't reject them. They rejected me.
ML: So you did talk to them?
BP: They rejected me and they just laughed. The CEO of Boeing heard the presentation I did in the World Economic Forum that was and came to me to say hello and then I said why don't we do that together with Boeing he looked at me and said: "of course not, of course not”. I remember this one and then I went to see the number two of Airbus and they didn’t even answer after the meeting. And Tom Enders who was CEO 15 years later told me the story he said when you initiated the project my engineer said: “don’t help him, he will never build the plane”. When you build a plane the engineers came and said: “the plane will crash” and when you did not crash the engineers came back to me and said: “we absolutely have to organize and plan electric airplane programs”.
ML: This is actually …
BP: So we were really a trigger for that but nobody wanted to take the risk before we succeeded.
ML: We met in Davos and it's funny because you said, you know, you talk to Tom Enders and you talk to this of course we want you at Davos, this is all just this is all you know what you do all day right and you and I met and I'm trying to remember which year it was. It was probably something like 2009.
BP: Probably at COP15.
ML: No. It was, we met before COP15 because I remember having even a little, I wouldn't say an argument, but a little discussion will come on to that.
ML: About the role of policy in government.
ML: But we met I think it was before because you were in you were about to meet you were at the Swiss re-pavilion and you were about to talk to them about coming on board I believe as a …
BP: Yes, because they came as a big partner.
ML: Right so I don't know which year that would have been probably 2007 or 2008 or something like that.
ML: And around that time I remember you did a press conference and a journalist asked you and said: „is electricity the future of aviation?” and your response was „no”. It was very clear. You said „no, no, no, no, no”. This is a communications exercise. This is pushing the boundary and this is going to educate people that you must never take no for an answer and everything you know that the technological boundaries can be much further with but no.
BP: Exactly, right. And they said it was a way to promote with clean technologies?
ML: Clean technologies, yes. So that would have been let's say let's call it 2008. 2007-2008.
BP: I remember very well.
ML: And I remember also when you landed and you did some press it was like 2016 and we were in Abu Dhabi, maybe January 2017 it was a World Future Energy Summit I think. And a journalist asked you: „does this mean all airplanes are going to be electric?” and you said: „probably everything up to 50 seats.”
ML: So what happened I mean, in that intervening time, what happened?
BP: It happened that I did not have the guts in 2008 to say that I wanted to make a revolution in the world of aviation because people would have said Piccard, he is completely crazy, he's completely stupid and he's a dreamer.
ML: So even then you did think that it could, even aviation which you were not the most knowledgeable proponent?
BP: Yes, I was certain that aviation would become electric but it was not the time where I would have been taken seriously if I was saying it. First I had to fly around the world and when I flew around the world then I had the credibility to say that aviation would become electric in ten years for 50 seaters, up to 50 seaters. I think above 50 seaters it would be hydrogen it, it will be biofuel, things like that or synthetic …
ML: Because I was going to ask them … and then what's the, you know if you, in 2016 you said up 50 seaters. What would you say now, if somebody says is the future of aviation electric?
BP: Now I'm saying that four years ago I said in 10 years, so we have only six years left to do it, up to 50 seaters.
ML: Because I think what's going to happen and you know I've , let's put it back this way, in my Cambridge days I could have become, in another parallel universe I would have become an aviation, an aerospace engineer.
BP: We would have flown together.
ML: We were destined, we were destined to end up sitting here.
BP: Yeah you know we still have 40 years so we can do it.
ML: Yeah, absolutely and , but I think we’re going to end up with an electric drive train so it could be hydrogen but the motors it seems to me that are going to be electric. They're just better. It's a better solution, more torque, less vibration, more efficient.
BP: Less maintenance, much, much more secure.
ML: But that's not generally …
BP: And the efficiency. You know if you have a thermal engine. It's about 30%, the efficiency. It's really low, with an electric engine you are at 97.
BP: So of course if you feed the electric engine with batteries or you feed it through the fuel cell with hydrogen at least you have the efficiency of the engine.
ML: Yeah. And you know I think it's going to go even to the larger airframes beyond 50 seats, 60 seats because it's just so much more efficient, so much more efficient.
BP: Yeah, but maybe it will be a kind of synthetic fuels or things you know where you put hydrogen CO2 together and things like that.
ML: And then but then you'll generate electricity, but the motors will be electric.
ML: And you know it is incredible how fast this thing is moving I wrote a piece in 2018 for Bloomberg New Energy Finance it's called “Planes, trains and automobiles - the electric remake”.
ML: And people are like whoa this is very you know Michael's got a bit kind of crazy and so on and on but now you know there's NASA has a program, Boeing has a program Airbus has a program and it seems to be much more accepted.
BP: But because it's logical, it's not only ecological; it's logical to be more efficient, it’s logical to pollute less, to put less particles in the atmosphere. The air pollution is killing six to seven million people per year so it's not only a question of climate change. It's a question that it can be us who have a cancer in the lungs.
MP: Although frankly most of that as you know, I'm always kind of trying to jump on the hype but, most of that is actually unfortunately in the developing world. It's people still cooking with wood and charcoal and animal dye.
BP: Yeah, the capitals of Europe. It's also Paris, it's also in America.
BP: It is the cars, the cars are doing a lot of harm and I drive an electric car. It’s absolutely brilliant, no vibrations, no noise, more acceleration. I charge the car at home.
ML: Do you know I knew that I was in the right place this evening when I arrived when I saw the electric car because I remember the day you picked it up. You were at the Geneva auto show.
BP: Yes, exactly.
ML: Two years ago.
ML: I ran into you and you were jingling the keys, you had the keys to your new car. Extraordinary. But a question then and it brings together a few things we've already touched on: does incumbency make you …? What does it do? Why is it that? It's not the Incumbents, it's not the Airbus and the Boeing but that were the first to innovate. It's not the Ford, and the GM, and the Daimler, and the Volkswagen, it’s the Tesla. So now Clayton Christensen is a great professor of sadly deceased now would say that this is the attacker's advantage because you don't have the baggage but what's your, what's your explanation for why there's so much inertia in these big companies that have all the resources they could all move faster than a Tesla they could all move faster than a than a Piccard and a Borschberg in innovating but they don't do it? Why not?
BP: Because there are prisoners of old ways of thinking, prisoner of the past success, prisoner of old strategies and they are doing for too long something that has worked well in the past and they don't try to change the future. They live in the past. So they will disappear if they don’t change.
ML: Is it all to do … Sorry I didn't mean to interrupt. Go ahead.
BP: And why is the car industry changing? Thanks to Tesla and Tesla was not a car manufacturer. He was a billionaire from the world of Internet. He had no idea how to make a car so basically he took what he knew, computer screen, and built a Tesla around it, and now all the automotive industry is running behind to desperately have a part of the market share. And it's like this almost everywhere. It's the small guy who is waking up the old industry.
ML: But is it also to do with just capital intensity and the investments that you've made? I mean is that kind of a natural propensity just to protect what you’ve, you know, what you've already invested in? You know?
BP: Yes, I think it …
ML: So it feels more than just psychological?
BP: Yeah, they want to keep the system going as long as they can and I'm sure that if the CEO was chosen for 50 years he would not behave the same way than being CEO for five years with stock options after five years because he just wants to make the most profit in five years and then he takes the stock options and doesn't care about the rest.But if you if you own your company. Usually it's the case when you have a small company, you own, it it's a startup you and you’re thinking of the future, not the past.
ML: Very interesting now, because actually if you look at the European car companies, their CEO may want five years and stock options. But they're actually owned by these old European industrial families who are investing for 50 years so why don't they say to the CEO look it's pretty obvious which way the wind’s blowing and this is what we want you to do? And it's maybe it's happening now, maybe that's exactly what what happened because these companies are now shifting.
BP: You have, you have financial reasons you need to recover your depreciation, your investment, you have all these financial rules. But most of it is psychological. A lot of people are not pioneers and explorers, like you and I. People sleep in the certitudes in the habits, they have the conviction that they are doing well and they have all the good explanations to tell you that it will not change. And when I was speaking with car manufacturers five six years ago about electric cars, hybrid, hydrogen they were laughing at me they were telling me, telling me it's an anecdote or a dreamer; it will not happen. And now they are sweating because they see the wind changing direction completely, but they are not part of this change. Other people have made the change. And respect always the people who make the change, not the ones that resist.
ML: We could go down the rabbit hole and talk about fuel cell cars but I don't want to because that one is that, I mean, I if your cell …
BP: Car, it's an electric car anyway. It’s just the way to store it
ML: But it's a very inefficient way to store energy so I'm a big electric car.
BP: The battery is 99.9 percent efficient to store the energy. The hydrogen much less. First, but if you have electricity that would be wasted because you have sun or wind and you don't know how to use the electricity, then it's a good way to make hydrogen. So I think because 50% efficiency compared to zero, it's an infinite efficiency.
ML: Here's the deal at the next Solar Impulse Foundation World Alliance Meeting board meeting …
ML: … we’ll go into exactly this question.
ML: Because, because if you try to build all of your electrolysis, all of the, so if you’re investing the capital equipment to do electrolysis, compression, storage etc., just because of curtailed renewables. That’s a really inefficient solution but I don't want to go down too much in that though. This is a good discussion we'll have a little…
BP: We will, because we are going to lose our audience.
ML: I mean who knows but …
BP: We will give you the results of our discussion in the future but that's a great discussion and you know.
ML: But the bottom line is a different, one the bottom line is that innovation we are both utterly convinced that that innovation gets us out of the planetary problems, that we've got the, we're threatening to breach not just climate but other planetary boundaries and you and I have consistently since I've known you been banging the drum in different ways for innovation. You know, you by example, me by analysis. But it's all been about innovation and so far we've set up the kind of there are the innovators and the incumbents. But there is a third group out there and those are the de-growthers.
ML: Those are the people who neither want the incumbency to be maintained but they don't believe in innovation. They think that all we have to do is stop consuming and unwind our economy and unwind what we have. Now what do you say to them? I mean I've read some of the things you’ve written but if you meet them what do you say?
BP: I tell them that de-growth and we see it through the coronavirus crisis is just bringing dozens of millions of people unemployed, making the world suffer much more on a much more short term than the climate change. De-growth is just destroying everything but unlimited growth like people believe that we can do is bringing us to ecological chaos, so it doesn't work either. So what I believe is that we have to go for qualitative growth. Qualitative growth is when you make money and you create jobs by replacing what is polluting by what is protecting the environment. And here you have the market of the century. So basically you have an economic role because you make money and create jobs. But you become so much more efficient, that you have a de-growth in the waste. You have less waste. You have less natural resources that are wasted, less energy that is wasted. So basically you use the resources much better and this brings much more profit. So I think there is a win-win that you can do at that stage.
ML: I find it strange for me to be arguing on behalf of the de-growthers right, because normally it's very much the other way around but they would say: „oh this is all sounds very good, but it's never been done; it is completely impossible; you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet and there's no examples of what you’re talking about”.
BP: So I say that: the impossible - I love it! Because I already showed several times that the impossible is not in the reality; the impossible is the mindset of the people who cannot imagine another future than their past. So saying that growth, unlimited growth is impossible in a finite Earth that's not something impossible. It's just something obvious you cannot do it because it doesn't work. It's not arguing if it’s impossible or not, it just doesn't work. You cannot have unlimited growth, physical growth, but you can you can have an unlimited economic growth. It means that the people can earn more money, the companies and the corporations can earn more money by putting on the market what is protecting the environment by introducing what is more efficient so the economic growth is always possible and what we have to get rid of is this unlimited consumption. Because this doesn't work so you need de-growth in the waste that you produce but you need the growth in the economic system. Otherwise the people will just not accept it. If you have dozens of millions of people who are unemployed, it will make social unrest, it will make civil wars, it will just not work. People need a social protection, they need their salary, they need their job.
ML: Well, that’s incredibly apposite right now because around the world there are 300 million people involved in travel and tourism.
ML: 300 million people whose jobs are travel and tourism. So if you're a de-growther you’re celebrating now presumably because we're not flying, we're not driving, we're not going to conferences, we're not going to on holidays but 300 million people what are they supposed to do in order to feed their families.
BP: They suffer a lot and you cannot imagine a system of de-growth where you make all the people suffer because they don't have a penny to feed their family. It just doesn't work. You need to give them jobs and you need to give them social protection in order to help them to have a good quality of life. But what I mean is that the people should earn their life not to produce junk that is consumed too much but to produce good quality that protects the environment and that enters into new type of industries like the waste industry. We have seen only a fragment of the waste industry. We can develop it hundredfold just because you can do so much with the waste. You can do so much to be more efficient, you can do so much to protect the environment and to make it in a profitable way and this is the goal of the Solar Impulse Foundation. It’s to give an answer at the same time to the people who want to keep unlimited growth and the ones who want de-growth. Because we can find the, like in Taoism, you know in Taoism, the goal is to reunite the extremes in order to find unicity, out of the extremes and I think qualitative growth is what allows it.
ML: It's getting very very philosophical I think this is the yin and the yang and I’m not an expert on Taoism. But, definitely I think we see the end point exactly the same. Ultimately we're going to be recycling on a molecular level using the infinite energy that is that is not infinite but I mean many, many, many multiple orders of magnitudes and multiples more than we need and I suppose I’ve tried to engage in that discussion through thermodynamics and explaining that we can't have infinite physical growth but the economy is not a manifestation of physical consumption and you use the word reducing consumption I would like us to consume more services, more dematerialized, more medical knowledge. I'd like us to use more cultural output and you know so we can consume as much of that as we possibly …
BP: We can make money with it and we can give good quality of life to everyone.
ML: But, but I don’t, I find myself getting into sort of arguments because I tried to persuade and one thing that you wrote which I liked. You wrote a piece, you may not remember it, called it: „How to raise 170 million”. I remember it, one of the things you said was: “don't persuade, motivate”. Maybe that's what I’m doing wrong
BP: But you know when you persuade maybe the viewers should understand that when you try to persuade somebody to convince him you fight against the part of the other one who wants to say “no” and when you motivate you make an alliance with the part of the other one who wants to say yes so when you motivate, you are not fighting against the other one but when you persuade you fight against the other one
ML: and do you know the quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery who I’m sure is one of your heroes
BP: Yes absolutely
ML: His quotation about how if you want someone 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.”
ML: Yes I knew that would resonate and I got to work on my own ability to do that and not to just pound people.
BP: Yes but you know at the same time we should not aim for wishful thinking because you have a lot of people who say look we have to fight climate change by introducing the beauty of nature, introducing the brotherhood of human beings. This doesn't really work you need to be very practical and that is when I came back from all my expeditions in the beginning I was saying the world is beautiful, life is a miracle, we have to protect it. But no one, no decision makers wanted to hear that. So now I'm very practical now I say you're going to create more jobs and make more profit if you protect the environment than if you destroy it. And I have today 652 proofs, right, that it works and in a couple of months it will be 1000 proofs.
ML: And indeed that's so maybe we're kind of coming at this from slightly different starting points because I actually didn't come at it from the starting point of trying to save the planet or do anything I just wanted to create a good business. But it became very quickly clear to me that data and analysis, actually since these solutions are better they are ecological but also logical, therefore my sort of angle of attack it was to say well I just provide information and data, I myself can do a good business whilst doing good by providing data on solutions that do that are good business whilst doing good. And so then you've come at it after the experience of flying in both the balloon and the and the aircraft and now you know we're sort of trying to do the same thing again with different, very different styles. Did you already have the idea for the efficient solutions while you were in the air or while you were working up to that or was that something that kind of came once you landed and signed all the books.
BP: What I had at first was really the wish to promote clean technologies and renewable energies so showing that with that you can achieve impossible goals. That was my vision with Solar Impulse. Now I always knew that after the flight I would have the credibility to do something very practical. And the idea of the 1000 solutions came just after the flight you know I was at the I was at COP22 in Marrakech. I was announcing the creation of the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions and I was telling that we would put together all the people who have solutions that are profitable for the environment and so on. And I was looking at the audience nobody was really enthusiastic to have another world alliance and another group of people doing something like that. I said okay I have to find something now to wake them up and I said I promise you that in a couple of years I bring 1000 solutions to the world and then everybody applauded and said fantastic and that was the title of the press release and 1000 solutions for the environment but it took a bit more than a couple of years
ML: Well, no, hang on a second, but I'm gonna hold you to account here because when you stood up you said that you would have a thousand solutions in Poland. All right now wait a minute so this is I found it this is in April in 2018 so I don't know I don't know what you said in Marrakech but you said you said 2016 and they said in two years okay. So we’re now in 2020 and you only found 652: I mean have you been slacking, are they harder to find or has the process of certifying them, which we talked about in our board meetings been harder than you thought?
BP: Not harder but different than I thought in the beginning. In the beginning honestly I thought we collect 1000 solutions we just use the logical way to analyze them and we make a portfolio and when I brought this to my team they said it's not serious enough, we have no proof that these solutions are really profitable, they really protect the environment, we need experts to analyze them and we need a label to prove it. And I said, yes you are right. And it took a year and a half to prepare the label, to find the experts and to start the process. So finally we started the process about two years after Marrakech, so in Poland we had only 100 solutions, but they had the label and now it's… they're really coming, they’re really flooding in because all these startups and even the big corporations that have these type of solutions, they know the value of our label, they know that I can really promote them because I know most of the heads of states on the planet currently, so it's an advantage for them. So now it's exponential
ML: It's funny because one of our first conversations when you invited me onto the advisory board: was I said this is really a big ask because I had been on various judging panels and obviously also qualifying you know who which companies get to be covered by what was then what was initially New Energy Finance you know which ones do we think are actually doing the right things and so on. And I knew that you have to build a huge infrastructure to have a thousand means you're going to have to screen two, three, five thousand and the screening is not just something you make up you know it's something that needs to be very systematic so you've worked with partners on that and so you're saying it's now a well-oiled machine which I’m delighted to be a part of.
BP: Now we have about 400 experts and we do the pre-screening we send them the submission forms and they make the analyses, the assessment.
ML: Give us a few examples: are you allowed to choose? It's like asking what are your favorite children, you know, but have you got any favorites amongst the 652?
BP: Yeah there are some I really love. One is called anti-smog it's a module that costs 500 euros, you install it on your thermal engine in your car and it allows you to reduce by 80%, eight-zero percent the particles that are emitted and by 20% the fuel consumption so on a taxi for example it becomes profitable after six months. You recover the investment in six months. This should be mandatory on all the cars: you save money on the fuel and you stop to poison people in the street, so this is one example I love. It's a British startup by the way .
ML: Fabulous, I mean I would love to spend an hour finding out how does this work, how is this possible, why has everybody been so stupid not to do this before. But give us, give me, another few examples
BP: Yes, the company that is taking the waste, putting the waste at molecular level and using these molecules to do high value solvent waxes of plastics and things.
ML: So this is a thermochemical process that breaks down presumably (…)
BP: And it's a enzymatic catalyst, it’s brilliant.
ML: As long as we produce waste because they need a feed stock.
BP: Yes, exactly. But we always produce waste, we always physically, it would be a circular economy and instead of having people who make money on a straight line there will be people making money all the way
ML: What is that one called?
BP: This one I don't remember the name.
ML: Okay but you've got a website you go on the you go on the website of Solar Impulse, to solutions
BP: It is Clariter, you have <inaudible> and you have UBQ. Okay well the three who are taking the waste to do something with them.
ML: And what are you doing to help those because you say you know the heads of state of all the countries of the world, which I'm sure is pretty much true. But they are not specifying pollution control technologies or renewable energy technologies, those are the procurement directors of companies or individuals making purchase decisions, so how are you trying to kind of get these… accelerate these solutions
BP: I want to show them which solutions can be used in their country and how we can boost the job creation and the industrial profits. So we started with Scotland, with France, Belgium, Luxembourg and I hope we will extend to all the other countries once we have the thousand solutions. Because you know, you have two ways to solve the climate change issues. You can identify the problem, then you look for solutions but you can do much better than that. You can bring all the solutions whatever are the problems and you look which of these hundreds and hundreds of solutions can be implemented and make more profit and protect the environment better. And this is what I call the piranha theory. If you have just one piranha who bites you don't even feel it but when you have a thousand piranha they just eat you in one second. And this is what we can do with the pollution…
ML: We're going to strip the polluters clear to the bone. And what's going to happen, in fact maybe this is something we should also talk about at the next board meeting, what happens when you have a thousand? Because you know some of them will fall by the wayside, you'll need to replenish the number, or do you go for ten thousand, what happens next?
BP: We will continue it. I will not give the goal of two thousand or three thousand. We will continue just to increase the portfolio.
ML: Nobody will listen until you say, right, five thousand.
BP: No, no, no because we have the one thousand and then we'll go to see all the heads of state with the official delegation and show them and really, you know, give them the tools that they need to do the environmental policy that they promised. Because they all say we have to do something, we have to do something, but they don't know how to do it. You have to be really clear: they don't know how to do it and we want to help them to have the tools in order to act.
ML: And I suspect using your piranha analogy that by the time you… That will get you so far, but there will still be difficult sectors: cement industry, whatever and also around the world different economies. So you know it may be that the right number is ten thousand piranhas ultimately, or twenty thousand, whatever.
BP: With a one thousand solutions you go very far. I believe you can already reduce by about 60% the CO2 emissions. Yeah just with the technologies that already exist now, that we can implement and it's already a lot.
ML: And many of those will have co-benefits, but we'll also have to worry about the phosphorus cycle, and we have to worry about... There's plenty of… I don't think you want to run out of things to worry about.
BP: I will not be unemployed. I have to specify that I do that for free, this is really my contribution to the world. I earned my life giving speeches, motivational speeches for companies. But half of my life it's to promote these solutions, to work for free with my foundation.
ML: And that brings me to the next subject which is COVID. Because I also make some money, but I'm probably not as in demand as you as a speaker for corporates, but I have my moments. I don’t think either of us are complaining about the fact that we have a year with very poor revenues on our speaking, but it has been a tremendous economic shock and you have rounded up your corporate supporters to produce a letter, a statement, a commitment. What does the commitment say?
BP: It was an open letter that we put in Le Monde, it was in the Financial Times also. Where the 12 big corporations that support the Solar Impulse Foundation make the commitment to go for clean technologies, renewable energies to protect the environment, but much more than that. They are calling the governments, very actively, to be more ambitious in the energy and environmental policy, they are calling for more environmental regulations.
ML: As part of the rebuilding after COVID?
BP: Yes, give conditions for the subsidies. Just an example: if you give subsidies today to a car company who is producing thermal engines, it's wasted money because in five years’ time these cars will not be allowed to enter in the center of the cities, so you need to produce less polluting cars. This is the same for the real estate, you need now to build houses and buildings that do not pollute, that are well insulated, that integrate renewable energy, zero energy houses, all this in the industry, all the new processes: this is where you have to invest.
ML: Have you spoken to Fatih Birol? Whom I'm sure you know from all sorts of conferences. So he runs the IEA, he's a brilliant visionary on all of this. The IEA has produced a report on the sustainable recovery and basically making the point that if we bounce back by pouring money at the technologies of the past, we will have what happened after the financial crisis, which is a big bounce back in emissions. But if we do it right, we should see a secular reduction. And actually 2019 could be peak emissions year in the history of the planet. So you wouldn't…
BP: And I'm really working for that, in order to implement all these solutions that can make what you say come true
ML: Yeah, and let's see what happens in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow next year. I think that it was brilliant that it was put off until then, because now we have enough time to work and to put the alliances together. You and Fatih and if I can help, so that we can try to lock in that sort of the secular peak in 2019, but without slowing down the recovery, because people are hurting out there.
BP: People are hurting, yes. But it's clear that if you come back to the old world we will find what we had before. It was a society that was fragile, unfair, polluting, dangerous and just a virus would destabilize it completely. Now we need to have a society that is much more fair, that is more stable and that runs its income on the protection of the environment, not on the destruction of all the natural assets.
ML: So we've done the equivalent of dumping the Breitling Orbiter in the Mediterranean and we have to build it back differently. So that learning has to take place, otherwise we're going to end up in the same place.
MP: One thing about those 12 names that I have to ask you about, I have to raise. There are two women amongst the 12. There's one who is a minority, who's a Moroccan actually, one of the women is from a minority.
BP: The CEO of Solvay. The other one is Anne Rigail from Air France
ML: But only one of them is not between the ages of 50 and 62. So it's not a very diverse group these are 12 of the most powerful CEOs in... I don't know if you restricted it to Europe, but they all I think are Europeans.
BP: They’re worldwide.
ML: Exactly, so these are global commercial business leaders, but they're not diverse by any real metric. If you envisage a world where we’ll succeed, we address climate change, innovation, we bounce back from COVID and in 2030 we are really feeling like okay, we kind of cracked it. Can you envisage a world like that where a random group of 12 senior executives would still be you know 10 men, one minority and all from such a narrow age group?
BP: No, we need more diversity and we need more diversity also because if all the people look the same, they will usually have always the same way of thinking and we need people who come from the outside, people who shake the tree in order to bring innovation, creativity and so on. But I'm not personally responsible for the nomination and the appointment of the CEOs in the big corporations.
ML: No, of course not. But I raise it, I use it as a hook to raise the issue, because obviously you know I think certainly the question of gender. I am on a couple of advisory boards and it's something that I've worked on. I feel very proud of what I've done. But when it comes to minorities, I think I've done a much worse job, much less and so I kind of feel it's a responsibility for you know, here we are two white, middle-aged, middle-class, successful guys. I don't even know how much privilege you know I've used in order to get to where I am, but I'm sure it's not nothing. Do you look back and think, well maybe there was a bit more that you could have done in in your life in these adventures, to be a bit more diverse to you know.... Are we part of the problem?
BP: No, in our team we had a lot of women, but not all the in the same part of the team. We had only two women engineers, but we had 90% of women in communication. So it's also up to the women to choose jobs where they would be well represented: there are not enough women who are making engineering schools, not enough, so we have to push, that this is politics also you don't have enough women who went through politics.
ML: But this could get quite controversial. Because you know I was on the board of Transport for London: the big project is Crossrail, and at one point I asked about that we were having a problem: there are bus routes in London where the drivers have no access to toilets. Now to me that's a human rights issue and a safety issue. But because I was challenging the management team about that, I also when it came to Crossrail next on the agenda I said well I hope that we’ve got enough toilets for the Crossrail drivers. And they said yes, we're building these stations we'll have plenty of toilets. And will they be 50/50 women and men and they said: well, why would there be? Because there'll be far fewer women drivers than men. To which my question is: well maybe there are fewer women drivers because they haven't got toilets. And so that's why I asked very provocatively whether we're part of the problem or whether we could do more, or whether we could have done more.
BP: But you know it's not in our world, in the rich part of the world, that the problem is the worst. And I've seen, serving for 12 years as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund, what is the real problem of women in the developing world. Most of the poverty comes because the women are not well educated, because they are left apart, because they are have no access to a job. And if you want to fight poverty, you have to educate women, give them more power and in this case you have much richer communities. So, I was really fighting to empower women for 12 years but I was doing it in the places where the women were suffering the most. And this is where the leverage was the highest. So of course we have to do it here, but let's see really where is the center of gravity of the problem in the world.
ML: So now I'm just conscious of time that's a topic I would love to continue because it's such an important one. But conscious of time: you said it yourself we've got about 40 more years, we’re not exactly the same age, but we're a similar age we've got about 40 more years. You know, you're in good shape, you're fit we can, we still haven't skied together but I’m sure if we did you would beat me.
BP: But we’re drinking we drink local wine together.
ML: So how are you going to use your next 40 years? Are there any more physical adventures, are you going to say oh you know, there's still you know Elon Musk is recruiting people to go to Mars, or are you… Do you see it now your role is the sort of the senior leader, the visionary and you're going to stick more with the communication side of things.
BP: My way of doing was always to have big adventures serving a message. So now, if I can have another big adventure to promote the 1000 solutions, once we have them I would accept to do it. And there are a couple of interesting things to do. You can very well have airships now who work on biofuel on hydrogen, you can have a solar airplanes, a two-seater solar airplane that will not cross the oceans like Solar Impulse, but I can take the president of a country with me and in the air I say now you sign for the implementation of all these technologies, otherwise I kick you out to parachute, just laughing. But there are some interesting things that we can do now with renewable energies and all the big adventures of the past: that we're consuming a lot of fuel and making a lot of pollution, you have to redo them in a completely clean way. And this is something I would love to do.
ML: So you think that you probably will get itchy feet again, and you know pack up your adventurer bags and do something else.
BP: Yeah, at least once more.
ML: At least once more, well, gosh, that's two or three.
BP: Maybe two or three.
ML : Because that's you know then that makes me feel like I ought to sort of go and dust off my ice axe and go and do some more climbing, I can’t ski moguls anymore, I can think of something.
BP: Yeah but do it for do it for cause.
ML: It's funny because I… In my crazy exploits I always did it for me, although they were competitive, I was a competitive skier, really I was competing with myself. I mean: let's be honest you know people when I stand up and speak sometimes I'm introduced Michael Liebreich, he was on the Olympic team and I say well you know you're probably all thinking in the audience: did he win? And I joke, I say look I was on the British team, British ski team. But I was competing with myself. never really to become the Olympic champion if I’m honest. So I don't know.
BP: When I was alone in the middle of an ocean thousands of kilometers from any rescue alone in the cockpit of Solar Impulse I just loved it. It was maybe the moment of my life where I felt the best, because I did not have the weight of the habits, of beliefs, of convictions, of planning I was there, I was flying the plane I felt so well. Like you know, now if I was doing such a communication around it, it was not to promote myself, it was to promote the message I wanted to send. So if I want to fly alone on the ocean with a solar airplane just for me, I don't need to make a press conference before starting and after landing. But if I do it and I make the press conference and I promote the message then it becomes useful. Then you feel so much better because what you do is great for yourself, but it's useful for the others. And this is really what I always tried to do in my life: I wanted an exciting and useful life because if it's only exciting it's selfish, and if it's only useful it's boring.
ML: Well I think you probably got the trade-off pretty well. I think it worked really well: exciting and useful and another 40 years are exciting and useful. And if anybody can deliver that then I’m pretty sure it's you. It's been a huge, huge pleasure thank you so so much for your hospitality for the very nice wine, Swiss wine from the vineyards that are just in front of us.
ML: Well we'll do the COVID bow and I thank you for your time thank you.
BP: Michael it's always great to speak with you and debate with you.
ML: It's been a huge pleasure talking to Bertrand Piccard. Here at his home surrounded by three generations of memorabilia of an extraordinary family of adventurers, explorers and communicators. Being exciting, having an exciting life whilst doing good what a fantastic message. My guest next week will be Roger Dennis from the other side of the world. He's a Kiwi; he's a futurologist; he's a thinker, a really original thinker; brilliant conversationalist. I think you're going to enjoy my conversation next week with Roger Dennis.