Setting Public Goals: Why It Is Important


In 2010, I was selected as a Catto Fellow. The program is within the Aspen Institute, and in my case, drew 21 people that are demonstrated leaders on the environment. Part of the Aspen Fellowship program is running a “project” to solve a problem that is important to you leveraging the value of your connections within the Aspen network.

I am no stranger to “projects.” My first was established when I was just 16-years old to “figure out how to bring solar energy to the masses.”

My project ultimately became, SunEdison, today, the largest solar services company. When I founded SunEdison, I didn’t do it to make money – I did it to solve a problem.

Our goal was to bring solar power to the masses, and do it “one rooftop-at-a-time.” By being ahead of the market and introducing the world to “pay as you save” solar contracts, we were able to accomplish my goal. I see the fruits of our labor today, as millions of businesses and residences around the globe switch to solar power every month using the same contracts.

So, these “pay as you save” contracts were an incredible financial innovation that was born from our relentless focus on meeting our goal.It underscored the immense power of a focus on business model and financial innovation.

Solar entrepreneurs have continued to innovate novel ways to finance solar attracting billions of institutional dollars. In fact, today so much money is chasing solar that today there is actually a surplus of investment dollars. More money is available than projects ready to be financed. These surplus dollars are now chasing, “resource productivity” solutions such as energy efficiency, local food, and water saving technology.

When we were determining what problem to solve for the Catto Fellowship project, we were told of an additional wrinkle – all 21 of us had to agree upon a single common group project. This was a tough assignment. Even though all of us were part of the environmental movement, aligning our interests was tough.

After rounds of discussions, we settled on “ocean plastics.” For those of you who tuned into the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 coverage, much of the alleged “pieces of the plane” found were actually not pieces of the plane, but floating pieces of plastic. The ocean plastics problem is so big that there are gyres of plastic in the ocean — areas of the ocean larger than the continental United States.

We sub divided the “ocean plastics” problem into several problems each of us could be passionate about. We covered consumer education, legislation, technology solutions, and other areas.We had some success and much dysfunction – not unlike the environmental movement.

And dysfunction can easily happen. A big lesson for me was that getting a group of 21 superstars to agree upon, and be passionate about, a single goal is not easy. In the end, the agreed upon goal was not really a priority for all of us – including me.

So this week I am excited to be going back to Aspen to the Aspen Action Forum. According to the website, “We invite these leaders to do more than just reflect. We invite them to move ‘from thought to action’ at the Aspen Action Forum. “The gathering is for Aspen Fellows to meet to discuss their goals and the action they will each take.

My individual goal: “I will assist 100,000 people that are willing to sell an average of $1 million in cost saving climate change solutions in 20,000 municipalities in the USA.” To reach this goal, I will need a lot of help. Luckily there are a lot of people attending the Aspen Action Forum that could help. Here is what I need:

  • An existing platform that could help manage 100,000 people and account for the commissions that each can earn
  • Existing companies with cost-effective climate change solutions that need sales people
  • 100,000 people that want to make money, leveraging their local network and doing the right thing
  • A training company that wants to develop materials to onboard all of these hard working people using a “step-by-step guide to selling climate change solutions”

As you can see, in my goal, I am dependent upon finding like-minded people. If I can find these people through the Aspen Action Forum, then it won’t be long before we are recruiting the 100,000 people who want to help their community reduce costs through climate change solutions. Implementing solutions in electricity, transportation fuels, waste, agriculture, buildings, and more add up to jobs and economic growth – while helping the environment.

It is one ultimate goal broken into small digestible parts. Within each part are many mini-goals. This requires an army. Many folks have already identified themselves. Now we have to create a platform so we can go out and recruit them. It’s all about having the right goals – and goals upon goals.

[Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens/]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Jigar Shah on July 27th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Jigar Shah is founder of SunEdison, the largest solar services company, and was the first CEO of the Carbon War Room (CWR), where he is a board member today. CWR is a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. As chief executive of Jigar Shah Consulting, he works with global organizations on business solutions to solve climate change. He is the author of Creating Climate Wealth (ICOSA 2013).