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Reith Lectures 2000 HOME | RESPECT FOR THE EARTH REITH
2000
Business Back Next
John Browne


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It is a great honour to be giving one of these lectures, and a great pleasure to be doing so here in Scotland, where I've spent a significant part of my working life over the last thirty years.

That experience has been important, and in particular it's helped me to appreciate that Scotland has been at the very heart of the debate on progress. After all, this country has produced a stream of people including John Reith, who refused to accept the world as they found it and instead applied their knowledge and intelligence to create something better.

It is this sense of progress which is the subject under discussion in these Reith lectures.

Is genuine progress still possible? Is development sustainable?

Or is one strand of progress - industrialisation - now doing such damage to the environment that the next generation won't have a world worth living in?

Concern over future sustainability is not new - there's always been something which appeared to threaten it - fears, for example, that the world would run out of wood, coal, oil or fertile land.

And at such times there were, as now, people who responded constructively and optimistically to such challenges - while others were fatalistic - willing to accept decline rather than determined to reverse it.

So are we just then rerunning history .... a moment which, in retrospect, will seem to future generations no different from those of the past?

I'd like to be able to say 'yes'.

But the answer, I'm afraid, is 'No'.

No, because the challenges are now more numerous and more complex. No, because the necessary answers can't be reduced to a single breakthrough.

Fifty years ago, Bertrand Russell broadcasting the first Reith lecture did so to a nation that accepted the potential and the need for economic growth.

But today the potential for growth itself is in question. There is a fundamental concern about the limits to growth, and a feeling that the way we now live is not sustainable.

America still remains predominantly optimistic but in Europe in particular, including Britain, opinion surveys show that almost half the population have lost their faith in progress. Material living standards may be rising but very large numbers of people no longer believe that the world of tomorrow will be a better place in which to live.

Why? What has created this pessimism? It seems more and more clear to me when I travel worldwide that it is the cumulative impact of key factors such as:

The pressures of population growth. The pressures of urbanisation.

Water shortages.

Environmental challenges. The quality of the air we breathe. The pollution of oceans. The loss of species as habitats are transformed. The gathering evidence of a fundamental change to the climate caused by human activity.

Sustainability is about the environment and biodiversity, but there are other factors as well.

The pressures created by a world in which global markets operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ... and by the removal of the comfort and protection of the old ways of working.

It is as if history were constantly accelerating.

We are in a world without certainty - except for the certainty of change. A world where national cultures and the credibility of institutions of democracy are challenged by global competitive pressures.

The uncertainty and fatalism I've described is also fuelled by doubts about science itself . Some of its uses - such as the genetic modification of crops - produce huge public scepticism, and even fear. Again, while US opinion continues to believe that progress is directly associated with the advance of technology, in Europe two thirds of people are sceptical of the link.

So what can a businessman say or do in response to these challenges?

Perhaps I am expected to make the speech of the accused standing in the dock. That's not how I see it.

I believe business is constructively engaged in resolving these problems ... and I believe that changes in technology and in the way the global economy works are giving the means to deliver genuine progress. If I had to plead from the dock that would be the essence of my case. And it is certainly my motivation.

Business is not in opposition to, but has a fundamental role in delivering sustainable development - to meet the needs of today's world without depriving future generations of their means to do so.

That's a strong assertion and for some counterintuitive - so I realise it has to be justified by something more than an assurance of good intentions.

In essence it is about enlightened self interest.

The simple fact is that business needs sustainable societies in order to protect its own sustainability. All the concerns I have summarised are issues for us too.

And I say this because very few businesses are short-term activities. Most want to do business again and again over many decades.

And this is especially true of the businesses which are most often criticised - those, like mine, which are in the business of extracting and developing the world's natural resources. We are by definition - whether we like it or not - long term players. We have to live with the consequences of what we do for decades. We can't pack up and go home when the going gets tough.

But in order to sustain what we value, we have to be prepared to change. And the sort of change which business promotes is the application of technical advances to meet human needs.

Historically, all the fears of shortage I mentioned at the beginning - of food, of water of land - were disproved by change - by technical breakthroughs which substituted one thing for another, and through fundamental shifts in productivity which moved the boundaries of the possible.

Now to an unprecedented extent, technology has the ability to repeat that process - embracing a radical and transforming change beyond all previous experience - in other words not a rerun of history but something very different.

We face a revolution in the way the economy works driven by new technology. A revolution which I believe will have major beneficial consequences for the environment and indeed for all the issues under discussion in these Reith lectures.

I think of it as a "connected economy " but connected in ways we have never known before. Connected not just from one person or company to another, from one buyer to one seller - but connected as the brain is connected - as a network of multiple and simultaneous linkages.

The connected economy is beginning to give us the ability to create new marketplaces and to integrate and manage complex systems at a distance and with great precision and speed. It is also giving us the ability to spread and share knowledge instantly.

What has all that got to do with the environmental challenges we're facing?

First, the shift in productivity is dramatically changing the way in which resources are being used.

One of the first projects I was involved in as a young graduate was the development of the Forties field in the North Sea - over 2bn barrels of oil in hostile waters one hundred miles from Aberdeen, 120 miles north of us here in Edinburgh.

That development, which itself was revolutionary at the time, required the construction of four large platforms from which the wells went down to extract the oil 7,000ft below sea level. 56,000 tonnes of steel.

Now, a similar development could be done with a single platform - because technical advances now allow us to drill horizontally under the seabed for up to seven miles.

That drilling is not random. Thanks to modern computing and communication we can now steer the drill bit in real time, with information feeding back to a computer screen onshore in Aberdeen as the drilling tip goes through the rocks offshore.

But, and this is the second point, the connected economy isn't just about productivity - it is also about learning and the way in which knowledge and best practice can be developed, disseminated and applied on a global basis. This, after all, is one of the great benefits of globalisation.

One way of seeing this is to focus on two of the problems at the very heart of environmental concern - climate change or global warming ... and the quality of air in the world's cities.

Let me start with climate change.

The latest authoritative scientific reports on climate change make clear - in the most careful, rigorous language - that indications of a human effect on the climate are mounting. Tom Lovejoy, in this lecture series, has already referred to this.

The research goes on. The conclusions so far, of course are provisional - but then as Karl Popper has noted - almost all science is provisional - research never ends.

In the real world we have to act on the balance of the available evidence, and everyone has to do what is in their power to confront the issue. Precautionary action is justified, and even those who disagree should recognise that in a world where knowledge is openly available, the scope to carry on denying a widely perceived problem is very limited.

Whilst some advocate doing nothing, others advocate doing anything. Climate change requires a measured approach that tackles the environmental threat without undermining economic growth. Those who seek to use climate change to push an anti-business agenda damage the prospects for partnership. We're in this together. Theatrical gestures are no substitute for concerted action to find solutions.

So what can we do?

Actually, quite a lot. Let me give a few examples from the experience of the company I work for.

We are progressively extending our knowledge of how to reduce emissions.

Ten or twenty years ago, the oil industry was symbolised by the flares which shone above our platforms. My company's aim is now to eliminate this practice during the next three years, except on the rare occasions when safety is in question.

Or again, the transfer of crude oil from pipeline to tankers in the Firth of Forth caused emissions of as much as 80 tonnes per day.

Now, thanks to technical advance, we have a facility which captures all those emissions. And that is also one technology which will spread around the world as more will through the clean development mechanisms of the Kyoto Agreement.

Another example relates to natural gas.

A project in Wyoming and New Mexico will realise a saving of more than 20,000 tonnes of methane annually which is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 430,000 tonnes.

Steps like these are significant contributions to the goal of our company - which is to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from all our operations by at least 10 per cent from a 1990 baseline by 2010 - and within a single year we have already achieved almost a 4 per cent reduction.

And, of course, we're not alone. Many, many other companies are taking constructive steps in the same direction. As one example, Shell has just announced plans to build a pilot emission-free gas-fired power station in Norway.

Climate change is one of the two key issues on which I wish to focus. The second is the more immediate reality of air quality - a primary issue of environmental concern to people around the world - and particularly those who live in cities.

There are numerous causes, of which the transport sector is just one. But again, we can't cross the road and pretend the problem doesn't exist.

Our role is about applying technology to produce fuels which are cleaner. The process is progressive and continuous.

For example, we are offering cleaner fuels thanks to advances in refining technology at places such as Grangemouth thirty miles from here.

We've eliminated lead, and lowered sulphur and benzene levels in our diesel and gasoline throughout the United Kingdom. We'll be selling cleaner fuels in over 40 big cities around the world by the end of this year. Technology is delivering.

That in itself is part of the business process - to start from what you know, to deliver that, to spread best practice using all the technology now available, and simultaneously to learn from experience.. and to look for the next step.

It is impossible to predict the next steps with any precision - but some possibilities are already becoming evident. The mix of fuels used to produce energy will continue to change.

The opportunity, for instance, to substitute natural gas as the dominant fuel source in power generation.

That will build on the dramatic advances in the efficiency of turbines which make gas the fuel of choice in both economic and environmental terms.

Or the opportunity to produce cars with engines and fuels designed together in ways which would eliminate virtually all emissions.

We and others are working on that with like-minded people in the car industry.

And in the medium term, to expand the opportunity to produce energy commercially from photovoltaic power - and in the longer run from hydrogen, the cleanest of all fuels.

So it will be clear to you that I believe technological change will help us avoid the harsh trade off which some deem inevitable, between the desire to increase living standards and the desire to preserve a clean environment. But only if we don't kill off our ability to develop new technology. Sustainable development requires successful companies.

The question to the accused is whether business can be trusted to do all this, or to put it another way - what keeps us honest? I believe it is the connected nature of four crucial relationships in which we are involved - with our employees, with our customers, with our shareholders and the public, and with governments.

The first is internal - with our employees - 80,000 people worldwide in our case.

These people care enormously about these issues. They are citizens too. They have families and they have hopes and fears about the future.

Companies are only as good as the people who work for them. The people who make up and shape society are the same sorts of people who work in companies like my own.

When we are competing for the brains and the energy of the brightest and the best against the fashionable and apparently lucrative world of the dot.coms ... we do not ignore the values of society and particularly of that new generation. People want to work for something they believe in.. and to make a contribution to the progress of the world in which they live. And if business is to succeed it has to offer them the opportunity to do just that.

That's why our very commercial targets now themselves embrace environmental and ethical objectives. They do so, partly because our employees demand it. And our customers demand it too. We are all part of a society which wishes to protect sustainability. We have a shared responsibility.

Let me now turn to the relationship with shareholders and the public and how this underpins trust.

An old Russian proverb, quoted by President Reagan to President Gorbachev during a summit on nuclear disarmament captures this perfectly, "trust but verify"

Companies are radically altering their Annual Reports to include detailed information about environmental and social performance alongside their financial accounts. Performance is now measured on many dimensions and success is defined in a holistic way.

I believe this new approach to corporate reporting is also entirely consistent with the economic revolution which is now upon us. One of the great gains from the connected economy is transparency - because that is the key to confidence and trust, and to the granting of permission by society for companies to pursue their activities and to continue to make progress.

It is that sort of transparency which I think will in the end overcome the scepticism and doubts which exist about science and about the linkage between technical advance and genuine progress.

Transparency is not just about publishing numbers. It is also about establishing clarity as to where responsibility lies. This goes to the very heart of relationships with government .

It is said, and I think has even been said in this series of lectures, that the power of companies has increased while the power of Governments has declined. I don't think it is quite so simple. As Bertrand Russell once said, " from any single perspective power always seems to be elsewhere" and that is more true than ever in a connected economy - where every decision is dependent on the decisions of others.

I believe there are some issues which companies should not decide, and where instead we should seek agreement at governmental levels to set some rules and standards. For instance, should exploration and development in pristine and other sensitive areas of the world be permitted?

Companies have a duty to participate in this debate, particularly when it comes to discussing how developments can best be carried out. But whether an area currently closed for development should remain closed forever, or remain a development option for the future, is a matter where the final decision should be left with governments. We have a duty to inform the debate, but not to resolve it.

It would be disingenuous to pretend there isn't a problem here. If companies themselves unilaterally close the option - and take for themselves the decision which should be taken democratically - they run the risk of suffering competitive disadvantage when less scrupulous companies subsequently step into their place and seize the opportunity if and when it becomes available.

In this connected economy companies and governments both need to honour their responsibilities.

The relationship I've talked about should give society the confidence to trust business to deliver sustainable development - on the basis of enlightened self interest. But of course this means that companies must play their full role.

If one were to listen to our sternest critics, the sort of progressive initiatives I've mentioned - such as reducing emissions - shouldn't be happening, because they cost money and they offer no immediate commercial return. They would argue that competitive and commercial pressures militate against such measures. And they would say this is why some countries and companies are unwilling to move in this direction.

But that is to take a very narrow and limited view of what is in our interest.

In my view, such measures are not only desirable on social grounds. They also make perfect business sense.

The enlightened company increasingly recognises that there are good commercial reasons for being ahead of the pack when it comes to issues to do with the environment.

Of course there are valid concerns which exist over the role of business. The track record is mixed and enlightenment is not universal. But if you look objectively at both the technical progress which is being made, and at the impact on business behaviour of the connected, knowledge driven economy the judgement must come down in favour of optimism.

I remain an optimist not because I deny the problems - they are real and substantial as other lecturers in this series have shown. Nor because I believe that the existing pattern and structure of development can be sustained - it clearly can't and shouldn't be.

But because I believe that sustainability is built on change - as it always has been.

Without a green revolution the world couldn't have fed the 2 billion extra citizens who've been added to its population since 1960.

Without the investment in basic engineering which provided sewerage systems and clean water the towns and cities of the world would have been overwhelmed by sickness and disease.

Sustainability is not about freezing a system at a particular moment in time. It is about recognising where the system is close to reaching the limits of its capacity and acting to forestall those risks. And that requires constructive engagement from us all.

My optimism then springs from the fact that such positive change is happening all the time around us. That is what makes this such an exciting time to be alive.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Sarah Boyack, Scottish Minister for Transport and the Environment: 93% of our businesses in Scotland are small or medium sized enterprises. So how do we work with them to begin to get them to see the self enlightenment, the collective enlightenment, to look to the future for sustainable development - on issues like waste or energy or travel - where it's more difficult to think the long term because there are short term pressures and short term economic pressures. So how do we work with those sort of organisations to bring about the change and the connectedness that you were talking about in your lecture?

John Browne: The key is I suppose the incentive. How do you get people to start thinking in this way? - that is where I think there is the vital and real role for government - to start the process off, not necessarily to finish the process, but to start it off giving people a way of feeling proud about what they're doing, giving them some financial help, but above all I think giving them the knowledge to do what is necessary to do the business better. And I think in that role government has a vital position.

Jeremy Peat: - Chief Economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland: I'm somewhat less optimistic than you are that pure enlightenment is the way forward. I'd like to suggest that there maybe some necessity to introduce some form of market based instrument that provides the correct signals for companies large and small in this area. I would emphasise the importance of efficiency and competitiveness in the world going forward, and I believe that the market does work efficiently, but it needs the right signals as well as the enlightenment.

John Browne: In extremis I think you're right - clearly there has be a level playing field and those who are prepared to opt out of explaining what they're doing with transparency, feeling accountable for what they have done, setting targets, coming back and showing how the targets have been fulfilled, then there needs to be something which constrains those who are not prepared to play that game, for they will in the end be free loaders on a society that's trying to do something different.

Bill Speirs, General Secretary, Scottish Trade Union Congress: Coming to the practical issues that you raised, very correctly - of the role of democratic governments in a world of globalisation : - we've had a very interesting decision recently by the United States Judiciary that they're prepared to intervene in the operation and the structure of the biggest, most powerful company in the world - Microsoft. Would you see that as a positive or a negative development?

John Browne: There is a clear role for governments to look at the nature of competition, and to make sure that competitive forces are alive and well - that companies don't simply by their sheer scale chill the nature of innovation - companies do actually conduct themselves in a way which is level and appropriate for all the customers, and encourage people to compete with them, as it were, so that better and better things can be produced. I believe that's been actually a fundamental basis for so much of competition regulation in the world. The consequences in specific cases I think have to be looked at on their individual merits.

Prof. Gareth Owen, Heriot-Watt University: I'd like to ask Sir John about the role of renewable technologies and also the relationship between your companies and the development of renewable technologies - and the impact that can make in the future?

John Browne: I think it's an interesting misnomer that we in every introduction are called an oil company. We're not an oil company - we're a gas company with oil, with lots of other associated energies. Renewable energy is one of those things. Technology is very much improving and we are improving the photo-voltaic section of renewable energies - so called solar energy. It is a great form of energy because photons from the sun are abundantly available everywhere in the world. The key is how to make them convert into electricity very, very efficiently and very practically. We have a business that's growing at about 20% a year in this area. It takes a long time however for any of this to have a very big impact on the world because it starts from small roots. The roots are small enough to say if you added up all the solar energy in the world and added it up for a year it would power Germany for 3 days. Now that's better than one and it will get bigger and bigger at 20% growth rate at least it will get very much bigger as time goes by. But not immediately. This is all to do with transitions in the mix of fuels.

Dr Camilla Toulmin, International Institute for Environment and Development, Edinburgh: I get increasingly worried about how we seem to be living in a set of parallel worlds which were so clearly exemplified by the riots in Seattle at the end of last year, and also in the anti GM crop movements which demonstrate really a very deep level of concern felt by many people about the consequences of continued economic growth and globalisation and the absence of public trust. I wondered how an organisation like BP tries to engage with such debates and tries to position itself in this changing field of public opinion?

John Browne: I suppose that the first level answer is that we do actually engage. To us it's very important that we talk to people not as it were like ourselves. We need actually to talk to people with a wide variety of opinions and seek out what is actually the issue at hand and whether the issue at hand can allow for a solution. It maybe that opinions are so polarised that it is impossible to reach a point of some understanding. But I think these situations are rare. I think on a wider debate there's a clear role for business - bringing together technology, experience, world-wide understanding, and a sense that business always has, which I believe it should have, which is everything we do is progressive - saying that's what we offer. We ask government to make decisions on behalf of democracies of selections of people they represent. We then ask I think those who wish to test both to come and see how the two things can be put together. That's the best we can do, and it does work. It does work - not always however.

Host, Kate Adie: Before we take more questions from our audience here in Edinburgh I'd like to widen the discussion. A debate on sustainable development linked to these Reith lectures has also been taking place on the Internet. I'd like to read you some of the comments. From Tasmania Fred Grunier e-mailed his suggestion that governments should use interest rates to encourage ethical investment. He says "there should be a penalty on loans used for land speculation and lower interest rates for small businesses which are ecological sound."

Mark Warner from England writes: " probably the most important factor in achieving sustainable development is a growing awareness by individuals and society as a whole of the need to create value rather than wealth. Value creation is the way to sustainable development. Capitalism is the way to hell.

Finally this from Andrew Ketley who says he comes from both the UK and Germany. He quotes Sir John Browne's comment that "successful companies are committed to sustainable development because they're interested in the long term and in doing business again and again". But says Mr. Ketley "what Sir John completely fails to mention is that while companies may be interested in their long term economic survival, their shareholders and creditors in the main are not. For the banks and the big institutional investors what matters is short term profit." Sir John is Andrew Ketley right? - you may be on the side of the angels but your shareholders are in it only for the money?

John Browne: Well it's very kind of him to make a fault line but the fault line I don't think exists. Shareholders in the end invest in the long term, not necessarily the same people the whole time, but there's a bulk of shareholders that do that. What I think they want to see as banks do is good plans. They want to see people lay out what they want to do over a run of years and then come back and tell them how they're doing from time to time. That's how I believe you keep shareholders and you keep banks with you. If you give them a plan, give them targets and you give them a report back then I believe they're into this for the long term. Certainly for my company, it takes ages for us to do lots of things like develop oil fields in the North Sea. It took almost 10 years even then and even with the best technology now maybe we could cut it by 50%. 5 years is a long time. That's the sort of patience that banks and shareholders need to have and do have.

Kate Adie: Now any more questions from our audience here at the Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh?

Christopher Cairns, Environment Correspondent at the Scotsman: One of your themes that you've mentioned is that new technology will be able to deliver sustainable development - that's presumably partly the justification for exploring for more oil and gas - for example the Atlantic margin. Is it justifiable for you to rely on as yet unproven technologies to deliver sustainable development when the precautionary approach - i.e. relying more on renewables would seem to me more sensible?

John Browne: I think it is an interesting concept of whether we can only rely on today's technology to do anything in the future. I totally disagree with that and I think had anyone done that we would not have had the Internet. We certainly wouldn't have micro processors at the speed presently available. Nor actually would we have had the development of the North Sea gas industry or oil industry. At the time the first steps were taken no-one had an idea of how to actually use the technology in a way which made sense. Actually the technology wasn't available. And it's only taking those steps and learning from those steps - building with the idea that you can always do something better does the technology arrive. Simply to rely on today's technology for the future and not to allow a variety of technologies to blossom and bloom such as much cleaner fuels, emissions-free electricity generation - all these things that can be done in a rich tapestry of different ways of getting to an answer which I believe leads to sustainability - to deny all that I think would set back enormously the progress of the world and the world economy.

Christopher Cairns: You've said in the past that you think new technology will allow us to be able to burn all the oil and gas that we need to meet world demand and not ruin the environment - so these new technologies that you seem to be investing in are technologies to allow you to continue to use old fuel rather than investing in what some people would say are the real technologies of tomorrow which are the renewables?

John Browne: This is like saying the only use of copper is to take electricity and take it from a to b. That's not true. There are lots of other things that copper is used for - or take silicon which is sand. I mean sand is used for building. That's certainly true. But it's also the substrate for the most powerful micro processors in the world. I think you have to think of different uses and adapt and adopt products as we go forward. I think the argument about whether more exploration should be permitted is complex. But I think of it like this: to explore for oil is to have the option to develop it. We have no idea how much oil we will need. We don't know whether all the oil will be developed over time. I expect quite a lot of it will. But to deny the choices to the world in advance of having a clear cut solution to substitute is I think premature in the extreme, especially as the technologies I think allow us to make very very different things that we haven't thought of in the past. The gallon of petrol that you buy today bears no relationship I think to the gallon - and it was gallon in those days, that you bought 10 or even 20 years ago. It's a very different substance and I can't believe it won't stop changing. It'll change a lot as indeed will the engines that burn it.

Alan Clement, Wark, Clements and Co: Sir John you talk very movingly about the connectedness and partnership of the new economy. It is often claimed that the reason these companies are honest and progressive is they believe in profit sharing. Do you think that's true and if so what are your companies in this regard?

John Browne: Well I think the distribution of profits to different parts of the economy is something which is changing the whole time. For us yes we do this. We don't do it with profits directly but we do it with distribution of the underlying ownership of the company - that is to say shares and options. It has to make sense to people of course, and it has to be something which is adopted and adapted on a global basis depending on the particular culture of the place and many people still in the world, it may surprise you, do not agree that employees should own parts of a company, and indeed many employees in some parts of the world don't want to do that. They simply want to be paid and go home and rest easy. The distribution of profits is definitely changing but I think reflected better by a distribution of ownership which is continuously changing and will continue to change again in the future.

Kirsty Leishman - Change Partnership in Scotland: I also confess to being one of the two of Reith's grandchildren present. One thing I guess Reith may have in common with BP Amoco is the controversy he created and the unpopularity at times to which Reith responded by keeping a list of people he hated. How can BP Amoco respond to the inevitable controversy and indeed popularity across the world - such an organisation may well create based on the value of honesty that you described in your lecture?

John Browne: Well I believe first you can't hide - even if you wanted to hide, you cannot and should not and must not hide what you do. What limits the decisions we make? Well it is in a rather formal sense the policies we have to do with setting the boundaries on how far would we go on ethics? How far would we go to engage with a government and society that maybe has less than a perfect human rights track record? The limits to which we are prepared to go on the environment on safety on our health of our employees and so forth? And these are publicly available. But it's also I believe something which is moderated - the decision making is moderated by what's in the heads of the people who are the employees of the company. There are clear limits to what people will and will not do. But having done that I think then you have to say this is what I am going to do and then report against it - and there will not be continuously applause from a hundred percent of the global population at every stage. In fact I would be surprised at any stage. There will always be something in an organisation like mine operating in over 100 countries in the world that annoy someone or someone finds deeply disagreeable. These are the things that we hold to ourselves. Of course we're not reckless - but we recognise to make progress we do have to do things that aren't universally popular, but we believe that they are sound and occasionally there are mistakes and it's up to us to fix them very quickly and openly.

Host, Kate Adie: You may hold some things to yourselves - is one of those a hate list?

John Browne: No we don't have hate lists.

Lorraine Mann: I live in the Highlands of Scotland where I do a number of things including some campaigning against nuclear dumping and representing a number of renewable energy companies professionally. When exactly do we get to the point of acknowledging that an entire technological route that we have been pursuing was in fact with the benefit of hindsight a mistake and when we do discover that what should we do about it?

John Browne: Well if I may answer the question outside the context of your background - there are always quite big strategic mistakes made by the world - whether for example in our case as a company we a long time ago, probably before anyone will remember, this was in the 70s - it seems like history. That's the l970s. We concluded that there was such an abundance of crude oil that the best way to deal with it would be to make it into animal feed. We invented the most brilliant I think technological process so to do. And fortunately - fortunately the price of oil went up so the technology couldn't work. So it was abandoned and a very, very good thing too. I think the recognition of the mistake normally is on the basis, at least in business, of two things - one is the economics in the end don't work so it becomes very, very expensive indeed to do something. And secondly the sheer pressure I think from the shareholders, governments, the staff, the employees I think very importantly too and society generally. And then I think things get changed. In our company's case I'd say there's half a dozen stories I can tell you like that.

Hugh Raven: I live in North Argyle on the west coast of Scotland where we've recently I think seen increasing evidence of climate change. And I wondered Sir John whether, and if so how you could use your influence as a leader of the oil industry to try to persuade your peers in the United States in particular to take more seriously the threat of climate change and perhaps begin to take seriously their responsibilities after the Kyoto agreement?

John Browne: We've done an awful lot of discussion with the rest of the oil industry. I suppose that we took a position as a company which I firmly believe in and I believe all the people, in fact I know that the vast bulk of the people inside the company believe in on a personal basis which is that precautionary action had to be taken to mitigate the emissions of CO2 and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When we took this position we were not I think the most popular oil company in the club of oil companies. In fact I believe someone once said that we had signed ourselves out of the church - whatever that meant. I believe however a lot of discussion is now going on. And the good news is that a lot of companies work in partnership - governments require us for example to work in partnership which means that the influence of thinking, technology, and approach begins to spread. So compared with 3 years ago I'd say the oil industry is in much better shape, but much more to do, much more to do. It will take time to persuade everyone that the right course of action is to take some precautions.

Dr Brian Fenton, Scottish Crop Research Institute:: You talked about the importance of transparency to business. Do you think that governments are sufficiently transparent?

John Browne: I think when you ask a businessman this question the answer is usually no. I think in any big system like governments there can always be more transparency. But the transparency everyone really wants is the bits that governments are less likely to give which is - where really is the money going? - what's really happening to the things that everybody wants to know about but can't actually see because they're secret? It's those sorts of things. Business has not been very transparent up until relatively recently. A lot of mistakes in business have led to a lot of policies being put in place and of course the whole change of the way in which information spreads around the world in an extraordinary way has encouraged people to be more and more transparent. It's probably going to happen to government too as time goes by.

Linda Fabiani, Member of the Scottish Parliament: Respect for the Earth to me also means respect for the Earth's people and unfortunately some multi national companies have very poor reputations in regard to the indigenous peoples in poorer countries amongst which they work. I'd like to ask you whilst talking fine words about the environment how important to multi national companies do you think human rights are?

John Browne: I believe our role is to engage wherever we can and to demonstrate that we're actually doing something that makes a difference - that makes a difference and a positive difference - however small. BP of course stayed in South Africa during a very tough time during Apartheid bringing our own employees to a different level of educational qualification, maximising the number of black people working inside our company. This was not wholly popular at the time but it sowed small seeds which in the right environment subsequently grew to enormous trees - some great people were available to populate part of the government - great people were there to populate part of industry. I think the same is true in more modern experiences. Engagement does allow people in Columbia for example, it helps in certain parts of Russia or the republics of Russia where education programmes can help build a different way of life and a different way of thinking. I think the specifics are all different depending on where you are. To me the test is when you're gone, have you left something behind? And have you actually invested in the society of which you want to be part of? That test is a very difficult test to apply because it's a long time in the future. So you have to do it by steps - whatever steps you can take wherever you are - until someone says you can't do it anymore. And that's the government's role.

Kathryn Ferguson, Edinburgh resident: You mentioned in your speech the specific example of crude oil leaking into the Firth of Forth. I think it was 80,000 tons a year. As someone who surfs in the Firth of Forth I'm pleased that that problem has been rectified but I was wondering do you think you are regulated by outside bodies enough and are you regulated at all - forgive my ignorance?

John Browne: Well the first I'd say is yes we are regulated all over the world in a whole variety of different forms. Sometimes we're regulated as to specific things we must do. In some places in the world we're regulated - you must improve the environment by so much - so much more objective driven regulation, which is very much more the style in the UK for example. One correction on the Firth of Forth. We weren't putting the oil in the water - was actually evaporating as a mist into the air and so no-one really noticed so ...indeed we did not for a long time. We didn't quite understand and then we realised that it actually would not be a good thing to let this go up in the air - just a little mist the whole time. And that what had to be done - it had to be recovered and rather more importantly recovered and actually retained, because there was very little point in recovering it and then burning it because then simply what was going up in one form would go up in another form. So it had to be recovered and retained and that I think is the big breakthrough of what's happened just a few miles from here and something that could be done in lots of similar places I the world where there are people living round oil terminals, filling up tankers and it's better that this oil be recovered rather than go into the local atmosphere which potentially could affect people.


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