Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a racecar and solar panels

Leilani Munter has become a high profile ambassador for change via her motorsports career, reaching 75 million people and proving that love of fast cars and caring about the planet aren't mutually exclusive.

Well, I’ll be.

I’ve obviously been living in a deeper, darker hole than I realised because I only discovered Leilani Munter yesterday.

This intriguing young woman clearly has some flaws. Firstly, she married a kiwi. Secondly she doesn’t live in Australia. But that's it; everything else is pretty damn cool and we can forgive her. Here’s why – she stands up for what she believes in and is successfully blending a massive passion for things that go insanely fast and a commitment to environment.

Personally, I applaud this approach because the reality is very few of us are perfect and we all have to deal with the hand we are dealt in life and that often means compromises. The first speech I ever heard about environmental issues and climate change was way back in the late 1980s. I was alarmed that I didn’t know of the issues before and utterly deflated at the end because at the time I worked in a car plant during the day, a motorcycle shop in the afternoon and built two-stroke exhaust systems for race bikes on the weekend.

I was the problem.

“It's all I know, the only skills I have,” I said to the presenter. “How can I make a difference, I can’t start my life over again and re-learn everything?” His sage advice was gold: “Stop trying to be perfect and just make a small step that is achievable. Do that until it becomes normal, then take another step. Then repeat. If every human did this, imagine what would happen.”

Although it took many years before I could change industries, I went home and found two small things that I could do immediately and made them part of my life and haven’t stopped since. It might sound like a cop out or a compromise but my view is that for most people, life is all about compromises between what we can do and what we have to do. But everyone of us can make small changes and be part of a bigger shift.

Leilani embodies this same spirit, it seems. She is doing what she can, influencing where she is able and offsetting her impact a little more as each day passes. I call this “environmental pragmatism”.Leilani is imperfect, but she also has some staggering skills and leverages them to do what she feels strongly about.

The impressive list of “extremely cool things” that Leilani has achieved is long, but here’s a selection:

– Finished second in a Norwegian hill climb in a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Ford Focus, then drank the water from the tailpipe.

– Stock car and open wheeler racing driver including NASCAR Elite and Indy Pro Series.

– First carbon neutral race car driver..

– Ambassador of the National Wildlife Federation.

– Featured in the new TV series Fast Forward on Planet Green and regular appearances on talk shows.

– Joined the board of advisors for The Solutions Project.

– Discovery’s Planet Green named her the #1 Eco Athlete in the World.

– Coco Eco Magazine named her “One of 2010’s Most Influential Women in Green.”

– The Huffington Post picked Leilani as one of their “Creative Minds 2011: People We Expect Great Things From.”

– Delivered more than 70 keynote speeches at Earth Day, American Renewable Energy Day, Opportunity Green in Los Angeles, Women of Independence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and both Cleantech and Powershift in Washington, DC amongst others.

– Guest at briefings at the United Nations and the White House.

– Columnist for the Huffington Post.

– Worked as a photo and stunt double for Catherine Zeta-Jones.

– And, fittingly, her home has a Tesla Model S electric car in the garage, solar panels on the roof, a veggie garden, a 550 gallon rainwater collection system, LED lighting, and a worm farm to compost her food scraps.

Leilani Munter has become a high profile ambassador for change and through her motorsports career reaches 75 million people. As she said in a recent interview “There are plenty of environmentalists who are huge race fans. Liking fast cars and caring about the future of the planet are not mutually exclusive.”

There is only one question I have – where is Australia’s Leilani Munter?

Nigel Morris is director of Solar Business Services