Let’s say you own an airline…

April 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm | In futurismo, green, innovation | 2 Comments

Here’s an interesting question: where are today’s business leaders when it comes to solving pressing social and economic issues that affect our common wealth (and health)?

The other day, Fred Wilson’s post, No conflict, no interest, broached this question by describing a major historical precedent, the creation of the New York City subway system around 1891. Back then, “conflict of interest” didn’t fundamentally hobble participation by business, although that changed during the course of the 20th century:

In this day and age, having a financial interest in something means you’ve got a conflict and your opinion is somehow “tainted.”

But that wasn’t always the case. (source)

The New York City subway system was shepherded into existence by the Steinway Commission, which consisted of a team of differently-minded (and differently-interested) men.

Does that happen any more today, or does “conflict of interest” prevent it?

As it happens, I recently learned about the Carbon War Room, co-founded by Richard Branson of the Virgin group of companies (which includes Virgin Atlantic Airlines).

The Carbon War Room‘s front page states:

Our global industrial and energy systems are built on carbon-based technologies and unsustainable resource demands that threaten to destroy our society and our planet. Massive loss of wealth, expanding poverty and suffering, disastrous climate change, water scarcity, and deforestation are the end results of this broken system.

This business-as-usual system represents the greatest threat to the security and prosperity of humanity – a threat that transcends race, ethnicity, national borders, and ideology.

Maybe there’s some productive and welcome “conflict of interest” at work here. With carbon-based fossil-fuel-burning travel as one of the key pieces in the Virgin group, it seems a risky proposition to declare a “war” on carbon, but that’s the plan at the Carbon War Room.

In the section Strategy & Tactics we read:

The Carbon War Room has identified 25 battles across 7 theaters that are material to winning the war against climate change. Each battle accounts for over 1 billion tons (or more than 2%) of global anthropogenic CO2e emissions annually.

The battles encompass the full spectrum of challenges that must be met to implement a post-carbon economy, from energy to agriculture to carbon storage. Once the determinants of a battle’s outcome are understood, the Carbon War Room plans targeted operations to achieve victory.

Our agents of change are entrepreneurs of all kinds – including business entrepreneurs, corporate intrapreneurs, and non-profit/ social entrepreneurs. Critical to our success, entrepreneurs will be directed to engage all means and tools necessary to disable and replace business-as-usual systems. They will drive the innovation establish new sustainable practices, while unlocking wealth, security, and wellbeing for the world’s inhabitants.

The other co-founders are Craig Cogut (of Pegasus Capital Advisors) and Boudewijn Poelmann (of Holland’s National Postcode Lottery). For more on who’s involved, check out the Executive Team and Executive Board pages.


A featured event listed on the front page is an upcoming summit, Creating Climate Wealth at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Looking through the agenda, it’s clear everyone involves means business.

And maybe that’s just what we need.

(Hat-tip to Guy Dauncey for the initial pointer to the Carbon War Room.)


  1. But did you see what it actually recommends for aviation? Biofuels not reduction. 🙁

    Comment by Jared — April 7, 2010 #

  2. I know – that sucks. But until we get nuclear-powered airplanes… /ducks
    I can’t imagine they’ll stay with that idea for too long, unless it’s biofuel derived from non-food sources. Maybe we can use our soon-to-come sewage treatment to generate jet fuel, haha.

    Comment by Yule — April 7, 2010 #

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