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Explorer Bertrand Piccard Is on a Mission to Make Sustainability Profitable—and He’s Succeeding

The Breitling ambassador set out to find 1,000 ways to make money while benefitting the environment. He's at 1,400 so far.

Bertrand Piccard and the Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43 Breitling

“Protecting the environment doesn’t have to be boring,” insists explorer Bertrand Piccard, who set out on a mission in 2017 to gather and promote a list of 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 is foldable, thereby saving space and cutting back on transport costs and a larger carbon footprint.

It is not the first time Piccard and Breitling have crossed paths. An avid pilot, Piccard made history in 1999 by making the first non-stop, around-the-world balloon flight on board the Breitling Orbiter 3. 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.”

Bertrand Piccard Inside the Breitling Orbiter 3 Balloon

Bertrand Piccard Inside the Breitling Orbiter 3 Balloon  Breitling

That doesn’t mean he’s not up for a piece of old-fashioned technology. His watch of choice should come as no surprise. He wears Breitling’s iconic B01 Chronograph 43, a longtime favorite of pilots and aeronautical enthusiasts. Originally introduced in 1952, it was recently updated with a more refined slide rule and more dial colors and contains the in-house B01 movement with a 70-hour power reserve.

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43

Breitling Navitimer B01 Chronograph 43  Breitling

His foundation, also named Solar Impulse, is making strides to incentivize businesses to create practices that are both better for the environment and their bottom line. “In the beginning, people told me it would be completely impossible to find a thousand solutions,” says Piccard. “We are now up to 1,400.” 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 and 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.

“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.”

Let the adventure begin.

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