How entrepreneurs can lead business charge in battle on environment

‘Climate change is one of the greatest wealth generating opportunities of our generation,’ said Carbon War Room co-founder Richard Branson. Maria Figueres tells Mike Scott about the strength of their ammunition
There is any number of organisations that have been set up to tackle climate change, but surprisingly few of them focus on entrepreneurs. The Carbon War Room (CWR) is one such organisation, set up in 2009 to ‘harness the power of entrepreneurs to unlock gigaton-scale, market-driven solutions to climate change’.

Its founders include Richard Branson and its president is Jose Maria Figueres, a former president of Costa Rica and brother of Christina, the UN’s climate chief. While many environmental organisations focus on the problems associated with climate change, CWR starts from the premise that “climate change is one of the greatest wealth generating opportunities of our generation,” Branson says.

However, many of these opportunities are hampered by the market barriers that prevent many simple sustainable solutions with compelling returns from being implemented. A prime example of this is the shipping sector, according to CWR board member and its former chief executive Jigar Shah, who founded solar company SunEdison before joining CWR. “For several years, fuel-saving solutions have been available in shipping that have a payback of less than two years but they have not really been implemented,” he says.

This means that $70bn (£44bn, e52bn) of fuel has been wasted and it happens because there is a mismatch between shipping and cargo owners. Ship owners have little incentive to become more efficient because cargo owners pay for the bulk of the fuel that the ships use.

Until recently, there was no information on the most efficient and inefficient ships, but CWR has published data on 95% of cargo shipping, giving around 60,000 vessels an energy rating similar to those applied to domestic appliances.

As a result, billions of dollars are now flowing to making ships more efficient and ports have greater confidence in regulating the emissions of ships.

Other areas CWR is tackling include the roll-out of renewable jet fuel, a field where Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is one of the leading players, having established a partnership with New Zealand company Lanzatech that creates aviation fuel from the exhaust gases of industrial facilities.

CWR has created a database,, which explains the renewable jet fuels marketplace and provides previously unavailable information to the aviation industry.

Biochar, charcoal created using a process called pyrolysis, is another simple technology CWR is championing. The process produces a soil nutrient that captures carbon from the atmosphere and helps to retain water in the soil, along with a liquid bio-oil that can be used as a fuel. But there is little research proving the benefits of the process, so CWR is working to get a pilot project off the ground.

It is also looking at how to cut emissions in industries ranging from livestock to buildings, from trucking and transport logistics to cement. In trucking, it says that seven technologies – including improved aerodynamics, anti-idle devices, advanced cruise control and GPS-assisted route optimisation – could reduce CO2 emissions from the sector in the US by 624 million tons by 2021, cutting its carbon footprint by 10% and paying back the investment involved in just 18 months.

“What we are all about,” says Figueres, “is helping create good, viable business opportunities out of carbon emissions mitigation. That works well for the economy, it works well for job creation and it works well for the environment.”