Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, is a very well known English business magnate, most known for his Virgin Group, which is comprised of over 400 different companies, including the American airlines Virgin America, Virgin Galactic – a venture to operate and market commercial space flights, Virgin Records music label, the online casino Virgin Games, and Virgin Mobile, a cell phone access provider. On top of everything else that Richard Branson does, he is always extremely involved in a number of environmental concerns, including environmental sustainability and climate change. He has been extremely active in a number of initiatives that bring issues regarding environmental sustainability to light. In 2006, he made the pledge to invest $3 billion over a period of ten years into the development of clean fuels, environmental technologies, and renewable energies. Listed below are only ten of the sustainability initiatives Richard Branson has been active with for the last few years.
1 ) OceanElders. OceanElders is a group of highly influential people who have come together to achieve a grand scale, positive sustainable impact on the environment. Aside from Richard Branson, other well known independent global leaders who make up the membership of OceanElders include Ted Turner, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Neil Young, and Jackson Browne. The mission statement of OceanElders is for these global leaders to join together and “Use their collective influence and experience, supported by science and data, to promote ocean conservation, pursue the protection of the ocean’s habitat and wildlife, and preserve its ecosystem and species biodiversity.”
2 ) Virgin Green Fund. The Virgin Green Fund is a premier private equity firm that invests in growth capital in the sectors of resource efficiency and renewable energy throughout the continents of North America and Europe. According to the website, “We deploy growth capital in product, equipment, and service companies with proven commercial success and strong underlying fundamentals operating in our core sectors and geographies. We seek to help management teams increase the value of growth businesses by utilizing our equity, experience, and global networks to help companies seize opportunities and solve problems.”
3 ) Picnic Green Challenge. In 2007, Richard Branson was the chair for the jury of the first Picnic Green Challenge. This challenge encourages men and women to come up with a bright idea that can make a big difference when it comes to creating a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. Age does not matter, how “wacky” the idea is does not matter, and if someone is a real inventor or not does not matter. All that matters is that people see a difference they can make in making the environment better and that they go after it in this challenge.
4 ) Carbon War Room. Richard Branson is a founder of the Carbon War Room. The Carbon War Room brings together entrepreneurs to implement various market driven solutions for climate change. The approach is to “Identify the barriers that are preventing market-based scale up of climate change solutions and thereby perpetuating the status quo.” There are three core functions – a research and intelligence team looks up global research within the carbon-industrial complex and leading market driven innovations; the communications team gets together successful experts, leaders, and entrepreneurs to guarantee solutions are well presented; and an operations team creates “the path to victory.”
5 ) Gigaton Awards. Through the Carbon War Room, Richard Branson and others created the Gigaton Awards. This award honors businesses for taking measurable steps to reduce their carbon footprint and become much more sustainable. The five sectors that are awarded include utilities, industrial, telecommunication, consumer staples, and consumer discretionary.
6 ) Giving an Island for the Lemurs. As an eccentric billionaire, Richard Branson can afford to do what he wants. This includes giving an entire island in the Caribbean to the formation of a reserve for the ringtailed lemur, a threatened species. Illegal logging in Madagascar, their native home, has caused them to lose their habitat and become endangered spices.
7 ) Flick Off. Richard Branson, along with the Ontario Environment Minister, Laurel Broten, created a new coalition to combat global warming, called Flick Off. This initiative was designed to provide education to Canadians across the country about the harmful effects of global warming and what they can do to prevent it. Numerous Canadian companies, including MuchMusic, Roots, and Environmental Defense have joined in to strengthen this coalition and say that it is not enough just to worry about global warming, something has to be done. Richard Branson said, “a huge percentage of the population isn’t aware of how big and positive an impact they can have on the environment by doing simple things. Our goal as a partner in FLICK OFF is to inform, challenge and inspire people to be concerned and to give them a tool to take action. We’re encouraging Canadians to challenge their friends, family and neighbors to get involved and be excited about the difference they can make in the world around them.”
8 ) Virgin Unite. Virgin Unite is the Virgin Foundation’s working name, and is an independent charitable arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Virgin Unite is partnered with over a dozen charities around the world. The main objective of Virgin Unite is to make strong, sustainable change via economic development toward tough environmental and social issues. With offices in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa, the goal is to go to places where there are unacceptable issues, including environmental ones, and provide sustainable solutions.
9 ) Multi – Million Dollar Prize for Greenhouse Gas Removal. In February of 2007, Richard Branson provided a $25 million prize for anyone who would be able to create a new system for removing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. Richard Branson made it known that this was not an award for a carbon capture and storage type device, as it exists, but something that could remove a large portion of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere annually for a minimum of one decade. Known as the Earth Challenge, the projects are currently being reviewed to find a winner.
10 ) Richard Branson Awards his own Businesses for their Environmental Work. Every year, Richard Branson holds the Virgin Stars of the Year awards to celebrate the work of some of the top employees with the company. Richard Branson announces all the winners, and in 2011, he made a new category – Special Award for Environment. The contracts manager for Virgin Atlantic, Mel Weymes, won the award because of her work in reducing waste, including working with staff and contractors to reduce the environmental impact of all the chemicals used for cleaning, creating compost, and everything else. Weymes was able to reduce waste by 30 percent.
Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He is also author of The 2012 Cleantech Directory. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.