Sir Richard Branson – billionaire businessman, philanthropist, adventurer and founder of the Virgin Group – has always had a healthy respect for nature and a steely determination to combat climate change. He was speaking up about the environment even before it became a “mainstream” issue.
But last year, something happened that served to double his resolve. In September, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean, causing catastrophic damage to a number of Caribbean islands and the U.S. state of Florida, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria, which wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico. Also lying directly in Irma’s path was Branson’s exclusive private island, Necker, in the British Virgin Islands, which is also his home. Branson had faced storms on Necker before – but this one was different. It was the strongest Category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, and its ferocity was so terrifying that he, his family and staff were forced to take shelter in a concrete wine cellar to escape danger. “Very, very fortunately,” Branson wrote on the Virgin website, “it held firm.”
When they emerged hours later, however, Branson and his team found an island in utter chaos: one that had been battered and buffeted by 185 mile-per-hour winds. Entire houses had been smashed to smithereens, walls reduced to rubble and trees ripped up and blown away. Debris was everywhere. “It was just like an atomic bomb had hit everything,” he said later.
Branson knew exactly what was to blame for Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Which is why, last December, he launched the Race Against Climate Change initiative, a partnership between himself, nonprofit organization Rocky Mountain Institute, Formula E Team DS Virgin Racing and others. “As myself and countless others experienced earlier this year, man-made climate change is contributing to increasingly strong hurricanes causing unprecedented damage,” said Branson at the time. “The whole world should be scrambling to get on top of the climate change issue before it’s too late – for this generation and those to come.”
If anyone can hammer home that message, it’s Richard Branson. He may seem laid back but, underneath his placid exterior, he’s a driven man. He always has been. It’s that dog-with-a-bone tenacity – the ability to dream big, think up extraordinary ideas and see them through to fulfillment – that has underpinned his incredible success. He’s also willing to take risks and embrace failure (he told Delivered. in an earlier interview that his philosophy has always been: “Screw it, let’s do it”).