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Supporting the Bright Minds Challenge

Accenture’s Sander Van der Heijden shares his passion about the transition to renewable energy.
Sander Van der Heijden

Sander Van der Heijden
Managing Director, Chemicals and Natural Resources Accenture

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Explain why Accenture decided to become part of the global consortium behind the Bright Minds Challenge.
Getting creative around our global energy challenge is key for our planet, and Accenture works globally on affordable energy with the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. As such, it was a natural fit when DSM, a global science-based company, asked us to team with them on the Bright Minds Challenge—an initiative aimed at accelerating the transition to 100 percent renewable energy. With many innovation centers and labs globally, Accenture is very active in supporting innovation. This challenge gives us an excellent opportunity to find and work with even more innovators.

What do you hope will be the result(s) of the Bright Minds Challenge, and who can apply?
Without question, we hope that the Bright Minds Challenge will uncover a breakthrough innovation that changes the world!

Accenture encourages members of the public to get involved by spreading the message to help find scientists with renewable energy solutions. Those individuals are then encouraged to submit their ideas. The hunt for solutions has already started, and registration is possible until February 1, 2017 at

Once the submission process closes, a public vote for the top 10 most promising solutions will take place during February 2017. A panel of experts will then decide on a shortlist of the top three and ultimately select the winner, who will be announced in June 2017.

What changes related to renewable energy do you see on the horizon for chemical companies?
On the one hand, we know that chemical companies are large energy users, and that they are trying to transform to low-carbon energy sources. So, they face the challenge of ensuring that the policies and practices at their plants are aligned with the climate change concerns brought to light by programs like the Bright Minds Challenge.

On the other hand, the move to renewable energy brings incredible opportunities for growth to the chemical industry. Especially in solar and storage, new materials will be needed to deliver better solutions. This is an area where chemical companies can take the lead if they make the investments in research and development that are required to bring these new materials to market.

Why are you passionate about the Bright Minds Challenge?
I am convinced that any ecosystem can collaborate to deal with a challenge. As long as society focuses on what unites us (i.e., a sustainable planet for the next generation) instead of what sets us apart, and leverages the strengths of a wide network of individuals and partners, we will be able to make this world a better place in which to live and work. That’s why I am very passionate about being involved in the Bright Minds Challenge. And, I feel fortunate to work at a company like Accenture that brings people together and takes thoughtful actions to make positive change happen, for today and for the future.

What is an interest you have outside of work?
I recently discovered open water swimming, which took me on a personal transformation journey. I was initially frustrated because I continued using my old swimming techniques and was not able to swim 100 meters, let alone 2,000 meters, in open water. I realized that I needed to change the way I swam in this new environment and thus discovered Total Immersion swimming, which is a combination of swimming and Tai Chi.

Once I learned this technique, I became a successful open water swimmer—and enjoy it! It was a powerful, personal insight that learning and applying new skills is a great way to achieve goals that I thought were out of reach. These same transformative possibilities are within reach if we, as a society, innovate to solve our global energy challenge.

So, be sure to visit and follow #BrightMindsChallenge. We all can make a difference!