Hosting the Leadership and the Environment podcast has led to a lot of conversations on leadership and the environment. As an entrepreneur and adjunct professor of leadership, I talk to many who want to become leaders.

Many shun working on the environment because they think it will distract from their career and leadership ambitions.

They excuse themselves from acting on the environment with the complaint

But acting on the environment will distract me from getting ahead.

Are they crazy?

There is national and global demand for environmental leadership. How do they miss the opportunity to advance at any level if they act?

I don't know. Fear? Anxiety?

I only hear a lack of imagination. Most who think they are choosing leadership by following traditional paths set by others' values may not know it, but they're choosing the rat race.

Business environmental leadership

A recent guest shows the leadership opportunities you can create for yourself.

With no industry experience, connections, or money, Sandy Reisky followed the huge demand he saw for renewable energy production. Without relevant background, he could do no more than attend industry events. He did, which led him to learn, connect, and plan.

The results?

Among many other results, he started a company from scratch in 2009 that now builds about 10% of Americas new wind energy installations (on average over the past three years).

Sandy is the Chairman of Apex Clean Energy, where he served as CEO from 2009-2016. Apex builds, owns and operates utility scale facilities.

In 2015, Apex led the US market for completion of new wind facilities with over 1 Gigawatt of installations. Since entering the renewable energy industry in 2000, his companies have developed over $4 billion of wind and solar facilities now operating around the country. He was founder and president of Greenlight Energy, a leading independent wind energy company that was acquired by BP in 2006.

Sandy was also the founder of Axio Power, a utility-scale solar developer acquired by SunEdison in 2011, and Columbia Power Technologies, a pioneer in wave energy technology. In 2014, Sandy was appointed to serve on the Virginia Energy Council by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

He tells his story on the podcast, so I recommend hearing his struggles and triumphs from him. If you do, prepare to learn of how much opportunity has been all around you. Besides wind, he's worked in solar and waves.

He also shares where he sees new opportunities with demand for leadership.

If you want to lead in the environment (or anywhere), Sandy is one of the most accomplished people to learn from. You don't have to start billion-dollar companies or supply national-level power to make a difference, but the opportunities are there at every level.

The next big wave

Spoiler alert: Sandy's choice for his next big direction is in energy conservation. The nonprofit he founded, Generation 180, is a non-profit that advances the transition to clean energy, supporting a cultural shift in energy awareness through original, engaging content, digitally-enabled campaigns, and an empowered volunteer network.

In other words, it leads people by focusing on people.

(On a personal note, I found their mission compelling enough to come to my first volunteer meeting with them in New York (I don't have any more free time than you)).

If you read my last environmental Inc. post, The Joy of Helping the Environment, you know the joy I believe you can find in environmental leadership today. Generation 180's video below embodies the forward-looking, productive perspective that I think works.

And I think it's a lot more fun. I consider it the future of environmental leadership.

Published on: Feb 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.