Virgin CEO Josh Bayliss Reflects on Climate Action
New Zealand-born Josh Bayliss, CEO of multi-billion-pound brand the Virgin Group, which holds a stake in Virgin Atlantic, discusses with BusinessGreen journalist Michael Holder how corporates should respond to consumer outcry over climate change.
There has scarcely been a more a precarious time to operate a globally recognisable brand. Consumer awareness of ethical and environmental issues is higher than ever, bringing with it far loftier expectations for the products and services people spend their money on, Holder reports on the UK news site.
For a consumer-facing brand like the Virgin Group, which holds investments traversing a variety of markets and industries, the stakes of potentially tarnishing the sheen for its brand could scarcely be higher.
Bayliss is acutely aware of the pressure of meeting consumer expectations. “For us that brand has got to be driven by purpose in order to really ensure that we’re talking the right language to people,” he tells BusinessGreen. “So it’s got to be something that engages with them. And that means we’ve got to think about the issues that face communities we’re a part of, and we’ve got to think about our role in relation to the environment.”
Bayliss has been with Virgin since 2005 working across a number of different companies within the stable, which no doubt helped impress on him the power of the firm’s brand. A qualified solicitor from the University of Auckland, he went on to serve as the company’s general counsel before rising to CEO in 2011, a role which gives him overall responsibility for the Group’s capital investments and stewardship of the Virgin brand. Like Branson, he is vocal about the urgent threat posed by climate change, and the key role that business can play in tackling it.
“My honours paper at university in 1994 was on sustainability, and even then it was clear to me that humankind needed to change its behaviour patterns,” he explains. “The fact that my own children, who are teenagers, are saying ‘why aren’t your generation and generations before doing more to bring this change about?’ – the fact that this is now out on the streets is no surprise to me at all. And I think it is incumbent upon us, in partnership with governments and civil society, as businesses, to do more.”
Bayliss is open about the challenge of decarbonising Virgin’s aviation businesses, and remains adamant the company is capable of achieving net zero emissions within the next 20-30 years. “Yes, absolutely, that’s clearly the objective,” he insists.
To that end, he highlights efforts to ensure the Virgin Atlantic fleet boasts the youngest and most efficient aircraft, as well as moves to train pilots in more efficient flying methods and encourage the use of low carbon vehicles to ferry planes around on the ground.
But most importantly “we’ve got to change the fuel”, Bayliss admits. “We’ve got to move towards a more sustainable and renewable source of fuel.”
Original article by: Michael Holder, BusinessGreen, May 10, 2019.