Steve Sawyer, the former secretary-general and founder of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), has died of lung cancer on July 31, it has been revealed.

Sawyer had been secretary-general at the organisation since the trade group's foundation in 2007 until June last year, before assuming the post of senior advisor.

During Sawyer's time at the helm, global wind-power capacity increased sevenfold from 74GW to 539GW.

“Steve had a passion for wind like no-one else I have known in my life and has been instrumental in our efforts to globalise the industry and bring wind into the centre of the global energy debate," said Morten Dyrholm, chairman of GWEC and group senior vice-president of Danish turbine maker Vestas. "This legacy should inspire us all to fight even harder and with ever more resolve to realise a 100% renewable-energy system."

In a statement, GWEC said: "He contributed significantly to the development of the wind industry in places such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa. He was a prominent speaker in public and private forums, and wrote innumerable articles, blogs and position papers."

Before joining GWEC, the American spent 30 years at Greenpeace International, where he rose to become executive director from 1988-93. He was also an original crew member of the Rainbow Warrior vessel, which was infamously sunk by French intelligence services off New Zealand in 1985 — when Sawyer was on board celebrating his 29th birthday.

A Greenpeace International obituary writes: "He was by his own admission a card-carrying hippy when a Greenpeace canvasser knocked on his door looking for a donation. Steve volunteered instead. He went door to door in the Boston area as a Greenpeace canvasser himself, before joining the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in January 1980 to campaign against the transport and discharge into the ocean of radioactive wastes.

"To his colleagues, Sawyer will be remembered for the qualities of his leadership: his stubborn courage, his ability to inspire against overwhelming odds, his absence of ego, and his faith in the power of loyalty, integrity, rationality, and commitment. He was Gandalf to a rag-tag fellowship of underdogs, reminding those around him, by his own example, in the face of one existential threat after another, that we cannot choose the time that we are born to, and that our most important task is to decide what to do with the time that is given us."

He is survived by his wife Kelly, his daughter, Layla, and his son, Sam.