#12: The powers behind Meijer&Co. Consultancy: Ede Borbély

Mirjam Donáth
3 October 2023

As part of introducing the people behind Meijer&Co., meet Ede Borbely, Non-Executive Director for the sustainability recruitment company.

“Access to sustainable energy is a basic human right.”
In his own words Ede Borbely, renewable energy strategist, is “an upper-middle-class thirty-something guy without a car”, who could easily put you in touch with most person of interest in the Central-Eastern-European energy sector. “I’m familiar withthe context,” Ede says matter-of-factly with the confidence of a young professional who already has “CEO of MOL Solar” on his resume. “I have an oversight regarding the CEE market and understanding of global trends”. No wonder Meijer&Co. asks his advice from time to time as Ede, for the bigger part of his time, acts as Vice President of the climate finance NGO, Bankers Without Boundaries, mobilizing private capital for projects that benefit the environment. (Think of financial advice for the four biggest cities in Spain to become climate-neutral by 2030.)
While Bankers Without Boundaries is London-based, Ede lives in the heart of Budapest. He is a proud biker, whose work often requires him to fly to foreign countries. He always has to answer himself the hard question about the place of air-travel in the long path of building a more sustainable planet. For now, for his role, Ede says, it is important to be able to look at air travel as part of solving the global problem of the climate crisis. He also thinks that air travel gets unproportional scrutiny compared to cement production, for example, when it comes to their share in overall global emission. In the meantime he recently changed his 90 sqm apartment to 50 sqm in the city to be able to live comfortably but still somehow sustainable. “You cannot ask people to give up all their comfort,” Ede says, “but to make compromises step by step, to be mindful for the planet and for next generations”. 

In the 90s, at age seven, he started recycling waste when it was, if not unheard of but un-practiced in Hungary. The only child of Transylvanian Hungarians, who moved to Hungary and started a brand new life when he was only 2, young Ede saw a program on waste recycling on the Franco-German channel ARTE, and introduced the practice to his parents. In a few years when he went to elementary school in the famously run-down 8th district of Budapest, he turned his attention to the question of how to make light and heat affordable commodities for everybody. “I’m a summer kid,” Ede explains cheerfully. “From a social perspective, it was very striking for me to see people lying on the streets in winter.” Together with one of his classmates, they made and distributed hot tea and cookies among homeless people – Ede’s first memory of his calling to become a climate and energy strategist. 
“Usually when you switch on your light in the evening or whenever you turn on your computer, you do not think about what actually powers it, the fundamental infrastructure behind it, or what gives you the power to leverage that infrastructure. I got fascinated about it around the age of ten.”

Sixteen years later, after gaining experience in biofuels and natural gas trading, then in the strategic transformation of energy players at the Boston Consulting Group – in London, Paris, Central-Eastern Europe, and Kuwait –, Ede became responsible for developing teams and the renewable energy strategy for MOL, one of the leading multinational oil and gas companies headquartered in Hungary. Ever since then, he has been inseparable from energy transformation and emission curbing. “I started working in the energy field when it wasn’t the biggest challenge of mankind, but now it is. It reinforced my thinking that I don’t want to work on coal power plants or do energy trading solely for profits.”
When talking about climate change Ede reminds me of the experiment with the frog in the pot full of slowly warming water, who has no idea that he should jump out because the water feels nice and warm, right until it is too late. “We still don’t recognize what is going on around us. Compromises have to be made,” – Ede says, arguing that these accommodations could be so little and designed in such a smart way in society, that they practically become unnoticeable. From his personal green habits, he cites collecting waste separately, being conscious about energy consumption, decreasing the temperature of his boiler to the minimum during warmer months and only gradually increasing it when the weather turns cold, and saving the AC for temperatures above 31C / 88F.

While Ede’s work brought him to London, Paris, Kuwait, Malaysia, and India for long months, he always kept Budapest as his base. He cites precious social connections as the main reason, the same way he convinced his wanderer parents that he must stay in Budapest for his university studies rather than join them to move to France. “I discovered that having a local impact is very important to me,” he explains. “In Hungary, I feel that when I deal with a challenge, which in some aspects is neglected, I‘m the only person who can sort of do it. In a big business center like London or New York, I might have a more decorated career, but I feel that the person one step ahead of me and the one who is one step behind, have equal talent, and equal skillset to do the job just the same”. For Meijer and Co., the sustainability recruitment company, Ede is not only the bridge to the main players in the CEE energy sector but is also an indispensable adviser on the sorts of jobs that open up in the field as someone who can see clearly “the big highways of innovation” and position the region on that development path in the right place.

Yet, Ede Borbely is far from sitting back to relax. At 35, he is in the process to complete his fourth degree at Technical University of Vienna in Renewable Energy Networks. That might seem to be a long way from studying film-making in Los Angeles that he did back in 2010, except if we take James Prescott Joule’s principle of energy seriously: energy, even those driving us to create greater goods, cannot be destroyed, only changed from one form into another. “I’ve always been fascinated by collective efforts, when you have to agree on a goal, find means and ways to do it, and then go through the whole journey together.” Ede’s favorite movie is still Andrei Tarkosvky’s 1979 sci-fi Stalker, but today his fascination with mitigating climate change and fighting global heating comes first – the single biggest challenge of mankind to date. 
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