John Heller is the Chief Executive Officer of Little Sun, a social enterprise with a misssion to design and deliver affordable clean energy solutions to communities without access to electric distribution networks in over ten African countries and inspire people to take climate action. He has also developed and led large-scale proograms to address issues such as child under-nutrition, clean water access, agricultural transformations, indigenous peoples rights and public health system strengthening
One word that describes You?
What project are you most proud of when it comes to sustainability?
The win-win-win nature of the Little Sun lamp: it is a practical way of improving people’s lives now, it reduces carbon and saves money, and it also tells a story of hope, symbolizing the renewable energy future we must create together.
Which is your favorite part of your job and which part do you enjoy the least?
Most: Unlocking hidden potential.
Least: Managing nitty-gritty details.
What is your personal indulgence?
Shopping for handwoven textiles in small villages and markets
In 2019, climate change activism sparked the support of millions worldwide and conscious people young and old protested, unified in their demand for governments and companies to take urgent action and reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. Has Covid-19 lessened the urgency in 2020?
Not at all. All of these issues – climate, the pandemic, racial justice – are all connected. They all flow from the unconscious, unhealthy, unenlightened, unjust way we live. All that is happening now is a wake-up call. We all need to be activists for the same thing, a fair, just and sustainable world.
The united science warned us that we have less than 8 years left in our carbon budget and we will reach 1.5°C (35.6 °F) above pre-industrial level. This is half a degree away from severely destabilising our climate and worsening the climate extremes we are already experiencing today. Can we still prevent this? What must happen NOW to get people to change attitudes and behaviour?
The solutions are ultimately political. Vote. Tell elected officials that your vote will be based on their climate record. We have to turn public will into political will and turn political will into policies and actions.
Beyond this, markets matter. Companies will follow consumer demand. Consumers should reward companies that are reducing carbon and operating sustainably with their business.
Finally our personal choices count. Power your home from renewable sources, wash your clothes in cold water, skip that flight, take small steps that add up and that remind you in all actions big and small that you are caring for the earth.
What would you say to those who do little to nothing for the good of communities and the environment?
I would ask them why, what’s the barrier? I suspect that millions if not billions of people want to do something for the environment but it is so overwhelming that they don’t know what to do or they feel that whatever they do won’t count. We can bring these people off the sidelines into the game, invite them to make small personal changes, to change the way the spend money, to get involved politically, make the threshold for engagement low.
How can we build a more stable and just world after the Covid-19 crisis?
Use the covid experience to show that we can all shift behavior when we need to, like the shift
we made to work online. Change is possible. Dramatically reverse the trend of income concentration, focus on redistributive fairness. Shift the global economic paradigm from perpetual growth and extraction to circularity and sustainability. Provide government and market incentives for green and blue economic development.
How are the next generation of leaders different from current ones?
There is, rightly so, more urgency, more electricity, more anger and more passion for a different and better world in the current/next generation of leaders. There is more willingness to question the fundamentals of the status quo than to push for changes at the margins.
What is your personal favorite place to stay that’s trying hard to be accountable and transparent around sustainability with no greenwash allowed?
I have not actually stayed there, but I hear that Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua is amazing.
What legacy would you like to leave behind from your leadership?
A shift from “working for” to “working with.” I want our work at Little Sun to be about accompaniment, working as equal partners, in relationships of trust and honesty and integrity with others. This involves a shift from mostly technical solutions to process solutions that are co-created in deep partnership with others, where all parties bring their unique assets and perspectives to create synergies and breakthroughs.
Who is your greatest influence?
I’ve gained so much from working with Otto Scharmer and the Theory-U community about learning from the future, about presence, about helping to give birth to what wants to be born.
Best advice you have been given?
I’ll share two:
- The answer to complexity is diversity. When we are solving complex problems, we need to tap the diverse perspectives and knowledge to find a way through.
- The most important force on earth is what we feel. What we feel drives our beliefs. What we believe drives what wedo. To change actions, we have to start with feelings.
Your best advice to the young generations concerned about their future?
Yesterday’s paradigms – the very thinking systems that determine how we live and the choices that we make – are seductive and powerful. They are so big as to be invisible. See them for what they are. Do not be seduced. Create your own paradigm.
VIEW Clever Stuff article on Little Sun Charger and Lamp