Secrets of the Pioneers: Dr Jeremy Leggett
We speak to Dr Jeremy Leggett, founder and director of solar firm Solarcentury. He also is the founder and chair of SolarAid, a charity that provides solar-powered lights to some of the world’s poorest communities. The interview is part of a series for a report, Secrets of Pioneers, Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, which was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on 9th November 2017. Jeremy is the author of four books on the climate-energy nexus, including Winning the Carbon War, which charted the rise of global climate action ahead of the Paris summit. Where were you in 2007? I had just stepped down as Solarcentury’s CEO, with great relief, handing over to the wonderful Derry Newman, MD of Sony UK until his defection to what was then a glorified South London roofing company. There was just a chance, I figured, that such a man would be able to grow and run the company better than me. And that it would give me time and space to do the things that really interested me. I had books to write. And we had set up SolarAid, with five per cent of our profits, in 2006. Where do you expect to be in 2027? I plan to keep chronicling the great global energy transition, in prose and storytelling that ordinary folk can appreciate, meanwhile doing my best to peer into the crystal ball. Broad as the energy arena is now, I plan to survey an even wider stage because artificial intelligence and robotics are accelerating fast alongside clean energy technologies. This grand nexus of change offers huge opportunities, but also poses severe new threats. AI and robotics can also be used for sinister purposes, providing the perfect apparatus for police states, and the authoritarian right is on the rise in politics. I will be 73 in 2027, if I make it. I would like to be seen as a wise old chronicler, aspiring futurist, and teller of truth to power. What is the most important lesson you have learnt over the past 10 years? Never trust the Tories. What is your vision for the green economy in 10 years’ time and what do we need to get us there? One needs to be a holistic expert to have a view of an entire economy. I have come to the view that there are no such experts left. Things are moving too fast, and the germane disciplines and technologies are too diverse. Suffice to say, things can move a lot faster than most people seem to believe possible, in both good and bad directions. Will the world be on course for two degrees in 2027? We certainly have the technologies and strategies to be shovel ready, never mind in the lab and the minds of young innovators. If you could invest in one clean technology through to 2027 which would it be and why? Digitalisation and the multi-technology platform business models that are opening up around us suggest to me that the kinds of investment a decade from now are likely to be very different from the kinds of bets we can make today. I am sorry to dodge the question. But 10 years really is a very long time when there is so much potential for exponential growth curves. What advice would you give to a sustainability professional starting their job today? Learn to code, work in a hub surrounded by startups, and keep the faith with green core values. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? I am a qualified optimist, with a small q and a lot of emphasis on that word. This interview is one of more than 20 which make up a report, Secrets of the Pioneers: Delivering a Decade of Green Growth, published on 9th November at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit. We have already featured several other interviews with leaders from the sector, including Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, and climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh. These interviews and many others are available on the blog. This year marks the 10th anniversary of both BusinessGreen and Greenhouse PR, the specialist communications agency which supports businesses, entrepreneurs and campaigners working to create a green economy. At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering new standards of sustainability across multiple sectors. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, we’re always on the look-out for new opportunities to reach our clients’ target audiences. If you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, we’d love to hear from you.