It is not every chief executive who, after meeting with non-governmental organizations, complains that they should have challenged him more effectively. And it is certainly not every oilman who would speak at a conference, which I chaired, organized by Greenpeace, shortly after the environmental group had stormed one of his offshore platforms. Yet while he may not always look or act the part, John Browne is an oilman's oilman. He became CEO of BP in 1995, and since then he has absorbed Amoco (1998), ARCO (1999) and Burmah Castrol (2000) while driving his company into Russia. BP is now the second largest of the oil majors after ExxonMobil. Browne has turned a two-field British company, focused mainly on the North Sea and Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, into a global player.
By 2003, Browne had successfully rebranded BP as the green oil company. Some environmentalistsand many othershave mocked the Beyond Petroleum motto and doubted BP's corporate commitment to be "green in everything we do and say." But Browne seems committed to the cause. As early as 1997, in a speech at the Stanford Business School, he acknowledged the problem of climate change, the first leader of the oil industry to do so. BP claims its efforts at controlling emissions have added $650 million of value in three years, for an investment of just $20 million.
The path of an oil leader is rarely smooth. In 2002, Browne was forced to cut BP's production forecasts three times in two months. But Browne is tough and prepared to play a long game. In 2001 BP announced that it was looking for his successor. It then noted that the post would not be vacant for seven years.
Elkington is the Chair of SustainAbility
From the Archive
Warming Up To Green: How the unlikeliest companies see the reduction of carbon emissions as a path to profit