In Maldives, Sir Richard Branson Calls for Sustainable Travel

  • Sir Richard Branson at Soneva Fushi’s jetty.

    Sir Richard Branson at Soneva Fushi’s jetty.

  • On the approach to Soneva Fushi resort, host of the 2011 Slow Life Symposium.

    On the approach to Soneva Fushi resort, host of the 2011 Slow Life Symposium.

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He offered examples from his own initiatives. “We have created the Carbon War Room to do things that not only help to green cities, green islands, and green shipping, but that also create jobs,” he said, referring to the website he recently launched with the aim of drastically reducing the use of traditional jet fuels. Toward this end, Branson’s team began by tracking the routes and efficiencies of cargo ships worldwide. Providing data on 100,000 vessels online allows customers to choose the most energy-efficient among them, saving carbon and money in the process.

They then launched the Green Capital Global Challenge, a program designed to improve energy savings in cities. “It’s such a simple scheme, just looking at all the ways to make buildings better, to save energy and money,” said the 61-year-old founder of the Virgin Group. Launched last fall in two U.S. cities, the initiative funds makeovers of buildings that, according to Branson, should not only repay investment costs in energy savings, but also generate billions of dollars in increased economic activity through the creation of 17,000 jobs. In the future, he hopes to get more funding partners onboard and roll out the program in cities across the world.

If Branson seems all over the map these days, that’s because he is constantly on the go, involved in scores of campaigns. A few days before our meeting in the Maldives, he was in Shanghai, speaking against the harvesting of shark fins alongside basketball star Yao Ming, one of China’s most famous athletes. A week later, he was scheduled to travel to New Mexico to open his Virgin Galactic Spaceport. He said that Virgin Galactic was on track to begin taking tourists to the edge of space in 2013, with 500 space tourists having already paid US$200,000 for advance bookings.

And there is more, much more. Even though space tourism is getting most of the publicity, Branson said his Virgin Oceanic venture would be even more amazing. The endeavor will see a single pilot take the world’s most advanced submarine 11 kilometers into the deep blue, with the first dive slated to explore the Mariana Trench later this year. “In some ways, it’s more risky than going into space, and the pressure in the ocean will be greater,” he said.

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