Meet Marjan Minnesma, founder and director of Urgenda, an organization aiming for a fast transition towards a sustainable society with a circular economy using only renewable energy. On the day of the interview, the Dutch government announced it would consider closing two additional coal-fired power plants to meet its climate commitments. In between telephone quotes for the Dutch press, here’s what Marjan shared about climate change, urgency and innovation.
Alarming people to raise the level of urgency
The world we’ll live in if we fail to limit global warming to 1,5 to 2 degrees C° is one she fears for herself, her children and all of humanity. The current influx of refugees (which we are already struggling with now) is nothing compared to the millions of climate refugees coming our way if sea levels continue to rise and if climate change continues to impact the ability to cultivate land for food and other resources.
Scaling and fueling innovative solutions
In over 100 speaking engagements per year, she strives to shake people up, making them realize the gravity of the situation. “I always start by alarming people with a vision of what could happen. Just before the audience gets depressed beyond hope, I share my conviction that it’s not too late if we get our act together now. With technology available today (and more yet to come), we can convert the Netherlands to 100% renewable energy by 2030. I want people to leave optimistically, yet with a much higher sense of urgency to act.” Urgenda’s 2030 plan highlights how the transition can be made and calls for an investment of 1.5% of the Netherlands GDP; a joint investment by the government, companies and citizens to make change happen.
Filing and winning a case against the Dutch government
Companies and citizens are leading the way towards a more sustainable society, but the Dutch government is lagging behind. In 2015, Marjan and Urgenda made headlines internationally for winning the groundbreaking climate case. Together with 900 co-plaintiffs, Urgenda tried the Dutch government for failing to take more effective climate action to reduce the Netherlands’ considerable share in global emissions. The Dutch government has appealed against the court’s decision, but pending the appeal, it will start taking measures to reach the target that was ordered by the court.
Getting things done through vision, focus and collaboration
These times call for true leadership. To Marjan, these are people with a vision based on real knowledge. People focused on what needs to be done, willing to challenge existing systems and conventions, not afraid to take unpopular decisions. She admires business leaders who act at the height of their career (as opposed to those who wait until after retirement). People like Unilever’s Paul Polman and DSM’s Feike Sijbesma, who are both hands-on, persistent and able to get others to join in the action. And last, but not least, people who understand that collaboration is key to drive real change.
Change is urgent and possible
Marjan founded Urgenda out of a deep personal conviction that change is urgent and possible. “Leading Urgenda is the best way for me to spend my time, driving real change on something I am passionate about. Enabling me to be an investor, entrepreneur, inspirer, influencer, initiator and more.” Her biggest challenge is to maintain focus. “There are so many interesting things that Urgenda and I could spend time on, but to have real impact, but I regularly have to say no to ensure the things that really have an impact move forwards.”
For more information about Marjan and Urgenda, please check out the videos below, Marjan’s LinkedIn profile and the Urgenda website. And if you read Dutch, you can follow Marjan and Urgenda on Twitter.
Written by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for Change in Context. To read about other interesting people, book reviews and other posts about leadership, change and sustainability, please subscribe.