If you want to make a difference, you need to be “on the boat”, according to BP’s Kirsty Salmon.
There is no nagging voice at the back of Kirsty’s mind telling her she is on the wrong side of the climate change debate, working for the bad guy.
While start-ups have a part to play in the energy transition, Kirsty is convinced majors like BP – her employer since 2011 – will crack the “dual challenge”.
Her role as senior advisor, New Energy Frontiers/Biosciences, is to help BP find opportunities to turn the waste it produces into feedstock that can be used by itself and other companies.
The approach fits in with the concept of a circular economy in which resources are used for as long as possible.
She said: “I chose to work for BP because I realised after working for a start-up that the only people that are going to get this done are big companies with deep pockets. Start-ups just can’t do what needs to be done.
“I now stay with BP because it is the big companies that need to change the most, but they can provide the direction and technology and have the resources to drive forward.”
An example of the work BP is doing can be found in its Infinia technology, which enables plastic waste to be transformed back into new, virgin-quality feedstocks.
BP plans to construct a $25 million pilot plant in the US to prove the technology, before progressing to full-scale commercialisation.
Kirsty said: “Plastics are good for us. We just see plastic in the ocean but it has made our lives better. For example, it has made cars lighter and improved gas mileage.
“Food stays on our shelves longer because of plastic. We do have a plastic waste problem and BP can help with that.
“Start-ups can come up with ideas but BP can make these things become reality.
“I would not work for BP if I didn’t think they were serious. I’m a biologist. I get asked a lot why I work for BP.
“I tell people can have much more influence when I sit on the boat and move the boat, than working for an NGO that just rants at BP and then nothing ever happens.”
Kirsty, a Canadian, said she had a daughter who was passionate about the environment.
Does she get any stick from her?
Kirsty said: “My children know what I do. They don’t ask me why I work for BP.”
Peter Evans, BP’s environmental engineering lead, also has children, who can throw in the odd grenade at the dinner table.
He talks to his children about the dual challenge and hopes they understand.
Peter said: “There’s nothing like a kid to give you a difficult question. They have no filters and there’s something very good about that.
“It makes you explain what we do in a language you can understand.
“It makes you properly question what your targets are and why we do what we do.”
He agrees with Kirsty that firms with financial clout are the best candidates to deliver the transition.
“We need big companies to undertake big projects,” he said. These are the sorts of companies where things get done.”