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March 25, 2020

Scaling up impact, Lightyear’s story

Founders' column
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Koen van Ham
Chief Design and co-founder

The story of Lightyear is a slightly unusual one. Unlike many other companies, we didn’t start with a commercial product which we then greenwashed by knitting a nice sustainable story around it. Instead, our journey began with five idealistic almost-graduates taking a long, hard look at how best to make an impact on the planet.

We soon realised that the only way to look at sustainability is by seeing the world as one vast and intricate system. There are plenty of moving parts in this system that work independently, but they also need to be in balance with each other. It made us understand the need for sustainable solutions that could run indefinitely – at least in theory – without depleting any natural resources. This idea would eventually inspire Lightyear’s infinity ∞ logo.

Our intention was clear: setting up an impact-driven company where we could use our skills to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. In fact, we came up with a long list of problems ranging from city mobility and sea transport to agricultural challenges and even safeguarding bees. Known jokingly as ‘Koen’s list’, some people still refer to it internally.

Using our solar-team experience

We kept an open mind about where to focus our efforts. But with mobility being one of the largest contributors to climate change, and given our previous experience with Solar Team Eindhoven, we chose mobility. After all, we’d already won the Solar Challenge twice in a row with the world’s first solar-powered family car.

The Challenge had taught us that by being laser-focused on efficiency, it’s possible to design a solar vehicle with unmatched performance. But it also made us realise that nobody would take that vehicle seriously as a conventional mode of transport – at least not until we improved its aesthetics and comfort.

That’s when we decided to set up Lightyear. We teamed up with the sun to build better cars, and it became our mission to provide clean mobility for everyone, everywhere. Using nature’s unlimited supply of light, our aim was to complement it with modern technology and ultra-efficient design.

The systems-approach I mentioned earlier became even more important throughout the development of Lightyear One. It taught us that, while technology and range are important, customers need to adopt the vehicle as a whole. So, unless performance was matched with beautiful design and driving comfort, we knew Lightyear One would never make its way into people's lives and hearts.

Being an impact-driven business, we also know that the more widely our solutions are adopted, the higher the positive knock-on effect on the environment. There are trade-offs to be made of course, but in some ways, the equation is simple. The more we increase our sales by prioritising beautiful design, user experience and excellent performance, the more we can reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

"A look into the future of Lightyear"

The future of impact-driven companies

Impact-driven businesses have a great future ahead, precisely because they merge profit-generation with benefiting society. Businesses like ours will therefore continue to grow thanks to the increasing environmental awareness and sustainable alternatives growing more popular.

Meanwhile, with everyone dipping into the same talent pool, being able to make a positive impact on the world also becomes a huge draw for new employees. Impact-driven businesses can have the pick of the litter when it comes to new talent, which gives them an extra edge in terms of innovation and market share.

It’s clear that we’re on the brink of an exciting transition towards a more sustainability-focused economy. Lightyear is proud to demonstrate that increasing profits and improving the environment can indeed go hand in hand.

Yet, businesses of all kinds can do their bit in making their part of the world a better place. After all, there are still plenty of items left on Koen’s list.

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