In my career, I’ve probably learned more from the things that haven’t gone to plan as I have from the successes. But learning those lessons requires taking an honest look in the mirror. Not always easy – but I’ve found valuable.
Twenty years ago today, bp adopted a new logo. We swapped the green shield that had stood for our company for 80 years for a sunflower we called the Helios, after the Greek god of the Sun.
And we followed up with $8 billion of investment in wind, solar power, hydrogen and biofuels.
Back then, I was a drilling engineer offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. I was far removed from decisions over corporate branding, but I remember the changes as a moment of pride and optimism – giving our company a new sense of unity and pitching us into a cleaner energy future.
We had good reasons and good intentions for what we did. In 1997 we had been one of the first oil companies to publicly call for precautionary policy action to tackle the threat of climate change. And by 2000 we thought the world would soon introduce carbon pricing at a scale that would make renewables properly viable.
But let’s hold the mirror up here. In hindsight, we moved too soon. The shift we were anticipating didn’t happen quickly or materially enough. Our renewables businesses achieved a lot but struggled to make profit. And ultimately we lost money on much of what we had built up.
But we didn’t lose everything. We kept our US wind business and our biofuels business, and both are performing strongly today. And we retained one thing less tangible but just as valuable: our experience.
This year, we announced a new ambition – to become a net zero company by 2050, and to help the world get there too. We plan to set out our strategy for doing just that soon.
I don’t know whether we’d have the confidence to take these steps were it not for the lessons we learned from our early foray into low carbon and renewables businesses.
And the difference is that now the world really has changed. Demand for renewables is three-and-half times greater than it was in 2009, and the cost of solar power alone has fallen by 80%. Carbon pricing is much more advanced, and we’re advocating for more progress still.