As a global society, our progress toward a green economy has been sidetracked by the COVID-19 pandemic — economically speaking, it should be precisely the opposite. 

This is particularly true for the United States with its current economic, health, and political challenges. It’s time to move to a new phase — not just for a clean, green future, but to create jobs that pave the way for a profitable circular economy. Investing in environmental protection can quickly create jobs in new industries, but fragile markets like those we have now tend to be conservative.

According to a 2019 study by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, more than 8 in 10 individual investors in the United States now express interest in sustainable investing, with 95 percent of Millennials interested in sustainable investing. ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing can no longer be minimized by Wall Street. What can you say to a climate-change skeptic about building a green economy? If you say it’s to achieve carbon neutrality, they will not care. If you say it’s a wonderful idea, they will tell you to come back when it’s ready. However, at groups like the Solar Impulse Foundation we are committed to finding 1,000 clean and profitable solutions to help the environment and speak about profit and job creation now.

When people talk about a sustainable future, they usually think about wind and solar and electric vehicles. But it’s much more than this. It’s about creating new types of businesses. A truly circular economy, one built on qualitative growth, replaces jobs that pollute the environment with new jobs that protect it. A recent report by the World Economic Forum indicates that 400 million new jobs can be created by 2030 if we focus on a sustainable future. A circular economy also increases efficiency and reduces waste. Half of our energy, food, and natural resources get wasted. For example, when you take a shower, the hot water goes down the drain. But, what if you were able to recover that hot water and use it to reheat new, clean water coming for your next shower? If the installation costs were $300, it would quickly be profitable for a family of two or three people in a matter of months, and you’d save money with each shower.

We have the technology to retrofit old buildings with systems for smart city evolution and combustion engine vehicles into electric ones, which is much less expensive than building new electric buses, trucks, and cars. All of these solutions create sustainable jobs.

In many cases, solar and wind energy are competitive with (or even more profitable than) gas, oil, or coal. Hydrogen systems for energy storage can provide opportunities for oil companies to transition from fossil fuel to more eco-friendly energies. For the most part, we still rely on processes discovered in the late 1800s with the advent of oil drilling. This is insane.

I know we can make this work — if we think like explorers breaking boundaries. I learned about breaking boundaries from my grandfather, Auguste Piccard, who was the first to witness the curvature of Earth after he literally rose to new heights by inventing a pressurized capsule for a balloon. This invention opened the door to modern aviation. My father, Jacques Piccard, made history when he submerged in his bathyscaphe to the Mariana Trench ocean floor to find sea life and stop governments who wanted to dump nuclear waste into the ocean. Following in their footsteps, my flight around the world in a solar-powered plane — flying day and night powered only by the rays of the sun — proved “the impossible” is only in our heads, not
our reality. Engineers, manufacturers, and a committed team representing numerous industries came together to think differently, and we found the solutions we needed.

Now it’s time for industry and government leaders to get unstuck from their old and expensive ways of thinking about energy, infrastructure, farming, and mobility and the ways we waste food, water, and resources daily. My goal is to change the world through the ingenuity, intelligence, innovation, and creativity of humankind. Together, we can get there. And yes, a green economic recovery is worth striving for because it is much more profitable and creates many more jobs than a dirty one.