Speaking to Richard Branson, it’s instantly clear he loves nature. On a Saturday morning, Richard is calling from Necker Island whilst, in his own words, “looking out at the beauty of our world.” It’s this beauty that Branson has committed himself to protecting over the last five years, by pioneering the “war on carbon,” creating initiatives to battle climate change, and most recently, funding the development of alternative and sustainable fuels.

“I have a number of businesses that are possibly damaging the world, airline businesses and the like, and therefore I have a bigger responsibility than others to balance my books,” he says. “I believe if we can use our brain power we ought to be able to get on top of the problem of global warming, and we ought to be able to come up with alternative sources of energy that will not eat into our food supply, but will power our planes, trains and automobiles in a manner that is not damaging our environment.”

The need for alternative fuels has peaked in recent years, with the supply of natural oil unable to meet the ever-rising consumer demands. “The world is running out of conventional fuels, particularly oil; we did a study recently which showed the demand for oil will exceeds supply in about four or five years time,” he explains. 

"Because I live on an island I don’t actually have any cars, but if I did I would own a battery-operated car."

Environmentally-friendly solutions

Branson has been recognized for his commitment to environmental causes, and was honoured with the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award in 2007. The recognition came months after Branson developed the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million prize awarded to the person or group able to design a system for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But the aim is to not only create an environmentally-viable option, but an economically-viable one, too. “We’re working with people who have come up with ideas, and seeing if we can make that economically work,” says Branson. “If they don’t work economically, they’re unlikely to work at all.”

Branson, along with the Virgin Group, is doing his part to develop such systems, largely by funding the research and development of bio-fuels. “The two fuels that we think are most hopeful are isobutanol, a derivative of sugar, and algae. We’ve come up with the fuels, and now we’re investing in them to develop them as fast as possible, then going through all the Civil Aviation Authority tests, to make sure they’re safe to use.”Branson is also among the founders of the Carbon War Room, a centre in Washington committed to removing giga-tons of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. Again, it is the balance between environmental responsibility and economic practicality that Branson wishes to achieve, working with industries rather than against them. Simply put: “Carbon is the enemy.”

Practicing what he preaches

It’s clear that Branson has established himself as a leader in the field of sustainability, but his commitment to green living also extends into his private home. Along with utilizing solar and wind power on the island, he ensures his home is as green as possible.

"Because I live on an island I don’t actually have any cars, but if I did I would own a battery-operated car. And obviously little things like light bulbs, I try to make sure they’re as environmentally-sensible as possible.”

Branson’s love affair with his home and natural surroundings is palpable, even in the face of stormy weather – literally. “The weather is a bit too good here actually, I think a hurricane is either headed our way or heading by us. Some people say global warming will cause a few more hurricanes because the sea will heat up. But who’s to know.”