Greg Bourne in His Natural Habitat

G Magazine

Greg Bourne was once a senior executive with petroleum company, BP. Now, he's head of WWF. So just what made this poacher turn gamekeeper?

Greg Bourne, WWF CEO

Credit: Anthony Greenaert

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In the Melbourne office of WWF, Greg Bourne sits beneath an alluring poster of actor Pierce Brosnan, who’s promoting a sustainable forests scheme.

While it’s hard to compete with the poster boy’s smouldering pout, Bourne represents another take on the changing face of the green movement : he’s an oilman, a BP executive for more than 30 years, and a one-time adviser to former British Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

As environmental campaigners and business increasingly join forces to tackle the more alarming global issues, perhaps it’s no longer so remarkable that a former BP employee should swap the oil rig for a green gig.

But as chief executive of WWF (formerly World Wide Fund for Nature, and World Wildlife Fund before that), Bourne is still called upon to defend his former incarnation, which he does robustly.

“When people say ‘Oh, you’ve decided to give something back’ by joining WWF, my response is I don’t think I ever took anything away,” he grins. “It’s to do with the contribution you make to society. In the first part of my career, mine was with the economic part of society.

“Then I applied for this job. I could have gone sailing continuously – I love sailing – but to waste your talents seems to me a travesty. So it’s not about giving back; it’s about contributing in a different way.”

Bourne is part of a generation of energy company leaders who have seen the writing on the wall: resources are finite, alternatives must be found. But he also insists that his ethical values as a person pre-date his oil days. He had always been influenced by his parents and grandparents, who knew the necessity of thrift and scorned waste during the Depression of the 1930s. “They didn’t call it recycling; they called it hoarding for a rainy day.”

Early days
The young Greg grew up in Perth with a love of sport, hiking and camping. Graduating as a chemist from the University of Western Australia in 1971, he rose through BP’s ranks, working in drilling and exploration in the Middle East, USA, Brazil, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Canada.

By the 1990s, while working for the oil giant (formerly British Petroleum), he was preparing papers on global warming and renewable energy, an interest sparked by a stint advising Thatcher. She was, he says, extremely interested in the economics of climate change.

He returned to Australia in 1999 as regional president of BP Australasia, retiring from the company in 2003, and joining WWF in late 2004.

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