Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Asim Buksh

Asim Buksh is a man who likes his cars. for work he drives a 2009 Land Rover; for play, a 2009 convertible Jaguar XKR. As Pakistan's premium importer of luxury brands, from Dolce & Gabbana to Jimmy Choo and Jaguar, part of his job is promoting his wares, even if they are not exactly politically correct. "I always thought about going green," he says with a chuckle, "but I never really saw how it could fit into my own life."

That all changed early this year when, prompted by his 9-year-old daughter's environmental evangelism, he checked out his carbon footprint on a website. It was appalling, he admits. But he also realized that there was no way he would ever stop driving or flying or living in a luxury house. "Instead, I decided to offset my energy consumption with energy replenishment." In Pakistan, where 43% of the population lives without access to the electrical grid, he saw an opportunity not only to help his country, but to ease his guilty conscience. After doing some research he decided Pakistan was ideal for solar power and established Buksh Energy.

At first, Buksh, 39, who lives in Lahore, started small, importing solar lanterns for fishermen and rural residents. Then he moved into solar pumps for wells, the principal source of irrigation for farmers on the rolling plains of his home province of Punjab.

Traditionally, the wells (750,000 in Punjab alone) are run by diesel generators — inefficient, costly machines that pollute the environment. Buksh calculated that an $8,000 solar solution could be recouped in two years' worth of diesel costs, but few farmers had the cash up-front to switch. That's when he came up with the idea of green microfinancing — small loans for green solutions that could be paid back at the rate it would cost to purchase diesel. "Pakistan is facing a 3,000-megawatt shortage right now, and 89% of the population is unbanked," says Buksh. "Here is a solution that helps both those problems."

By early winter, more than 100 solar-powered wells will be in place. But Buksh has much bigger goals. In 10 years he wants to see at least 5% of Pakistan's total energy demands met by renewable resources. To that end, he wants to move quickly from micro to macro, and develop large-scale solar-energy plants and hydropower. "Five percent of Pakistan's current energy demands is equivalent to 8 million tons of oil," he says, with a hint of wonder. "Not only does that help the environment, but also our foreign-exchange reserves. That in turn impacts how our government spends its money. That's the kind of impact I'm really after."

By then, he says, he might be driving a Prius — the better to promote his latest brand: conservation.