Branson on climate…

Richard Branson has made another major announcement today, committing over $3 billion to “climate change”. From the reports I’ve read (1, 2, 3) it seems a lot of this money is going into biofuels research for moving the Virgin fleet to oil alternatives.

One of the quotes is telling:

"High oil prices is what has been needed to wake the world up to deal with this problem," he said. "The only way global warming will be whipped is if we can come up with alternatives to oil that are affordable."

Any money being funneled into sustainable bio-fuels development is welcome in my view. But there is obviously a huge financial incentive for Virgin to switch – especially given Branson’s recent investment in a biofuels company.

I think there’s another business imperative at play here too – protecting the future viability of his transport business lines. I often wonder what boards and CEOs of today will say to shareholders in the future as oil prices continue to rise, carbon taxes come into play, and liability issues for failure to avert business risks related to climate change start to drop. It’s a smart move by Branson, and of course he knows how to get the maximum PR spin for his bucks.

I’m not being cynical in saying the above, btw. I actually think this is great news, regardless of the motivation. I can’t help but think of our government’s commitment of AUD$100 million over 5 years, and how that pales into (relative) insignificance against the US$1.5 billion over 5 years committed by one company. At the time of the AP6 meeting in January the Prime Minister urged businesses to do their part. I wonder what Mr Howard has to say about this?

Update: Hugg points to the video of the announcement:

  • For a very long time environmentally friendly alternatives to anything have not been well received by the business community at large due to a short-sightedness driven by profit and a short term view. Recycling is now an accepted part of Australian life but it’s taken a long time. In fact, we recently had some British relatives over who were amazed at what we were able to recycle. It got to the point where they were asking which bin to throw things in, twas quite a laugh actually. My point though is that recycling initially wasn’t seen as viable business but has since turned into a major industry. Branson is the consummate businessman, and like every businessman, wants to increase his profit margin. So I totally agree with you, he’s looking at protecting his fleet and looking after the longevity of his empire (long term thinking in business = radical) but, I think the most important point of his announcement is that he’s putting a giant Virgin rubber stamp on alternative fuels and will demonstrate that you can increase profits while looking after Mother Earth. As an aside, I’m really surprised that after all this time he hasn’t invested in the Olive industry and created his own oil company. If he did we’d finally be able to buy true Virgin Olive Oil 😀

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