Imagine Shell putting its brains and billions behind renewables


Verzeker toegang tot betaalbare, betrouwbare, duurzame en moderne energie voor iedereen

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 7 Energy – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy for all.

I have an office in the backyard. In my shed, as my friends call it, I have written dozens of articles about Shell. For example: “If Shell does not invest in renewable energy it will become the Kodak of the 21st century”. My pen was not as powerful as I hoped. I imagined myself as a retired journalist on the day Shell would go bankrupt. I would be in my seventies. I would finally be proved right and I could finally say “I told you so!”

Unless, of course, Shell changes course. Imagine if Shell were to put its brains and billions behind renewables – 25 billion a year. Imagine if Shell were to build wind farms instead of going to sea to look for more oil. Or if they were to build solar fields in the Sahara. This would accelerate the energy transition. The other major oil companies would follow and the world would be fossil free just in time to stop climate change.

OK, the management of Shell doesn’t listen to my logic; Shell doesn’t listen to journalists, activists, or the government. Actually in the Netherlands it’s the other way around. Who are the only people the Board of Shell listens to? Shareholders. They own the company.

Therefore I started a movement of green shareholders in Shell. We push Shell to do the obvious: become a renewable energy company. Change the system by entering it. We called our movement not “Told you so” but “Follow This”.

The heroes of our mission are shareholders in Shell. First, there are the new shareholders. Everybody can buy one green share in Shell on our website and send an e-mail to the CEO of Shell saying “Hi Ben, I’m your newest shareholder because I believe you can change the world.” He assured me several times: “I read them all”.

Second, there are the existing shareholders. After we launched our movement, many existing shareholders signed up to Follow This. For example, a family in Den Bosch who owns half a million euros worth of shares in Shell, but feels uncomfortable with their shares being in an oil company that continues to heat up the planet.

And, last but not least, there are the pension funds. They want to make their portfolio sustainable. Who wants his pension money in companies that ruin the world and go bankrupt by the time they retire? Nobody.

When I tell people about Follow This, some people give me a compassionate look and say “That’s a noble cause.” Sometimes I see them think “This guy is naive. That’s not how the real world works.” They are entirely right, this is not how the corporate world works – so that’s exactly what we are going to change. And we are on our way: the number of green shareholders is almost 1.800 and counting. We raised 5 million euros in shares, which is the threshold to submit a shareholder resolution for the shareholder meeting in May. This resolution reads “Shell will become a renewable energy company” and dominated Shell’s shareholders meeting.

We are currently talking to large institutional investors to get their input for a new resolution. With their input we could get the votes of a quarter of the shareholders in May 2017. Then Shell will see enough shareholder support to stop looking for more oil and start looking for new sustainable business models.

Why bother about Shell? Because there is no alternative, not for Shell and not for the world. With the major oil companies slowing down the energy transition, hundreds of billions will be lost in stranded assets and climate change will become climate disruption. We all know that in 20 years from now we will have to explain to our children what we did about climate change. We are the first generation who will experience climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.

I always thought I was not in the position to change the world, until I found the leverage. The leverage of Follow This consists of shareholders in Shell. You can be part of that leverage. Through the simple act of buying one green share in Shell, we can also speak on your behalf at next shareholders meeting. If you already have shares it’s even more simple: just vote for our shareholder resolution. You don’t have to be an expert to ask for the obvious. Together we can show Shell enough support to do the obvious and change the world.

Mark van Baal

Mark van Baal

Founder of Follow This, a movement of green shareholders in Shell.
Follow This supports Shell to speed up the energy transition to a renewable energy supply.