Superheroes in the Field

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Sir Richard Branson

2012 Superhero for Earth Award

Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, legendary entrepreneur and business leader, is known for pushing the envelope with his Virgin Group. More than 400 companies exist under the moniker, the most well-known including the Virgin Records music label, the American airline Virgin America, cell phone provider Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline.

Branson’s initiatives toward environmental sustainability and climate change involve and are seemingly as diverse and complex as his network of companies. 

In 2006, he pledged to invest 100 percent of his transportation companies’ profits over a decade-long period into clean fuels, renewable energy, and other environmental technologies.

When it comes to biofuels, Branson’s put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is attitude is ambitious beyond others. In conjunction with Virgin Atlantic’s 2008 success being the first commercial airline to fly a biofuel-powered flight, Branson declared the goal of having his airline’s fleet powered by at least 30 percent biofuel by 2020.

This led to partnerships with biofuel innovators, such as LanzaTech, to develop fuels with measures-of-order lower-carbon emissions than traditional fossil fuels. LanzaTech’s efforts extend to producing its fuels in part by capturing and recycling waste gasses from industrial steel production.

It also spurred his launch of The Carbon War Room, a network of entrepreneurs and business leaders dedicated to sharing the best thinking toward accelerating and scaling solutions toward a low-carbon economy. According to Branson, one of the major challenges toward implementing biofuel use is securing the capital needed to produce them on a commercial scale. The Carbon War Room facilitates the cross-industry conversations that can channel resources to overcome this kind of barrier. The end goal is to lead a global effort that brings together experts, entrepreneurs, and company leaders to achieve profitable, gigaton-scale carbon emissions reduction.

Branson notes that his efforts toward energy efficiency and biofuels are not entirely altruistic. From a business perspective, what is environmentally beneficial is often beneficial to the bottom line, as well.