In Depth: The Future of Energy

BP CEO Lord John Browne: Integrates energy, business, and environmental strategy

Lord John Browne, group chief executive of BPOne of the world's most passionate and articulate spokesmen on the perils of global warming is an unlikely activist. But Lord John Browne, group chief executive of BP, believes it is his role as leader of one of the world's most powerful energy conglomerates to make the problem understood — by the industries that produce energy and by the consumers who use it.

Lord Browne spoke to the MIT Sloan community May 2 as part of the Dean's Innovative Leader Series.

Calls for huge cuts in carbon emissions

Lord Browne has turned a good many heads with his activism, achieving exactly what he set out to do — focus a global spotlight on the dangers of climate change. Fortune Magazine and CNN are just two of many media outlets that have put his warnings front and center. And Browne has written articles in such influential journals as Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

His case is this: The world must reduce carbon emissions by seven gigatons — 7 billion tons — a year. That's a massive amount if you consider that individually any of the following would eliminate only a single gigaton:

  • Replacing fossil-fuel-burning power plants with 700 nuclear stations
  • Increasing the use of solar power by a factor of 700
  • Ceasing deforestation and doubling reforestation

If all three of these alternatives were accomplished, along with four more large-scale reallocations of capital and infrastructure, says Browne, the world would stabilize its carbon emissions. Unfortunately, he says, stabilizing emissions might not, at this late date, stop global warming.

Browne says that nations cannot afford to be paralyzed by the limitations of the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. agreement to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They must mobilize and start implementing solutions — immediately. He believes that any forward movement will take us closer to our goals. And if we expect the planet to survive, he warns, we must make every attempt to implement any changes we can.

Making responsible energy good business

But can environmental stability and economic prosperity harmoniously coexist? Browne has used BP as a role model to show that they can.

The corporation is investing $8 billion in alternative energy solutions like wind and solar power, has increased the use of sustainable transport that runs on hydrogen and biofuels, and has made bold strides in carbon reduction.

BP has also succeeded in stabilizing emissions while growing the business — reducing emissions from its own operations by 10% below 1990 levels.

The company has been a sponsor of MIT energy and environmental work since the mid 1970s. It was among the first organizations to sponsor the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.

“Technology is making it possible now to supply alternative energy at highly competitive prices,” Browne says. “At the same time, some of our customers want energy supplied in ways that reduce the risks of dependence on a very narrow range of suppliers. And some of our customers want their energy supplied in a way that reduces the risk of emissions altering the sensitive balance of the world's climate.

“Put these changes together and you have the business case for alternative energy. We aim to use modern technology to create a new business that makes money by responding to the wishes of our customers for secure and clean energy.”

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