Green Pioneer: Howard Johns, CEO of Southern Solar

We are delighted to celebrate Howard Johns, founder and CEO of Southern Solar as this month’s Eco Hero.Howard set up Southern Solar in 2002 with two friends, as a proactive approach to environmental activism. Today, he’s also the Director of OVESCo.

We are delighted to celebrate Howard Johns, founder and CEO of Southern Solar as this month’s Eco Hero.

Howard set up Southern Solar in 2002 with two friends, as a proactive approach to environmental activism (“protesting is mostly saying no:so I started to say yes”). Today, he’s also the Director of OVESCo, and until earlier last year was Chairman of industry body Solar Trade Association. He’s a vocal proponent of renewables and, as you would expect, particularly solar-harvested energy.

He worked with his local community in Lewes (aTransition Town) to set upOVESCo– a company which has set up community-owned renewables schemes, and helped residents reduce their carbon emissions.

Greenhouse’s director, Anna Guyer, wanted to add a few words on why Howard is her Eco Hero.

‘Howard Johns is one of those great visionaries who decided to set up up a solar company, Southern Solar, to change the way we produce energy one roof at a time.He gives so much of his time to campaigning on solar, to educating and informing people of the opportunity and potential to harness the power of solar long term, and in creating an organisation with a genuine commitment to community energy.’

Tell us about Southern Solar – what’s your mission?

We help people reduce their bills and impact by turning their building, land or community into a solar power station and helping them to play their part in building the new decentralised low carbon energy system.

What motivates you?

Many things. This amazing life and the beautiful planet we live on. Watching my boys growing discovering life and the wonders therein. The thought that we can solve the problems we face and that change is really happening. Having a great team of people to work with who are determined to find a way through the obstacles we inevitably face. Seeing small actions and inspirational people make huge changes.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Haven’t got there yet! But had a lot of fun along the way, lots of small steps that I am proud of, but still working on something really great!

What are the challenges you face?

Surviving in a mad shifting market where government policy can have such a negative impact on business and consumer attitudes.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Many things: Telling the stories of change – from the centralized polluting monopoly power station, to the community owned, local renewable democratized one. Working on some international projects that could be real demonstrations of how solar can change the energy landscape. Developing a number of new community funded energy initiatives – which could touch thousands of people!

Where do you want to take Southern Solar next?

I am keen to throw off the geographical limits we have given ourselves to previously; the solar revolution is truly underway around the world. I am very excited to take our skills and experience and help people in other countries to access this marvelous technology. More positive impact, more carbon savings, more green energy generation, more energy security, more very happy clients, more inspired team members at Southern Solar, more of our collective money going to solutions rather than the status quo. The last year has been the hardest one for solar in the UK for many years, but I am determined to use this as a springboard to better things.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

So many things:..I always think a smile is a good place to start. But, hey, you can redesign your whole life so that you are doing what you really want to do, in something that has a positive impact on people and planet, and live a simple life, where you don’t define success and happiness by the mediocre trappings of consumer capitalism, but by the richness of the relationships with all around.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

I would stop for a moment and take care to deliver the most rousing, inspiring, motivating and moving speech by any prime minister since Churchill. A call to action for the whole country and the world about why change has to happen faster, and why it is going to be a great journey we will walk together. The journey of bringing our species back into balance with the natural systems of our home the planet earth, and to create a more fair and happy society in the process. For me it all starts with inspired leadership. Then I would sit down with my cabinet and plan the simplest and swiftest actions that would have the biggest changes: end fossil fuel subsidies: cancel Trident: stop all Nuclear new build: pledge to take the country 100% renewable by 2030; :..I could go on!

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

Right now it has to be the $5 solar lantern. This little beauty of a product is currently revolutionizing the lives of hundreds of thousands of rural poor across the world. $5 dollars of light that replaces dirty, dangerous and polluting kerosene, pays for itself in three months, increases health and well being of the users, and creates a whole load of micro business to boot.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

One of my early inspirations was a book called Shapeshifting by a guy called John Perkins. It inspired me to set up Southern Solar.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

I am a huge music lover (and have DJ’d for the last 20years!), so it could be anything from world to funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, dubstep, folk, 60s classics, house or even a bit of classical. This week it would probably be Bobby Womack – The Greatest Man in the Universe, which is an awesome album.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Follow your heart.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Let’s hope it is going to be President Obama this coming few years. But for certain I am totally inspired by the works of Muhammad Yunus – one of the spin off companies from the Grameen bank – Grameen Shakti just completed it 1 millionth solar installation! Not bad going for a banker!