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These Billionaires Made Their Fortunes by Trying to Stop Climate Change

They’re among the first to profit from climate solutions—but they won’t be the last.

By Tom Metcalf and Pei Yi Mak

Four shareholders in China’s giant supplier of electric-vehicle batteries have built a combined fortune of $17 billion. An Australian businessman has created a $7 billion net worth from recycling. A ten-figure stake in a hydrogen fuel cell trucking company has minted an American billionaire.

These are among the 10 largest fortunes derived primarily from the growing business of climate solutions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With a combined green net worth of $61 billion at the end of 2019—about three times the market capitalization of oil services firm Halliburton—the billionaires on this list represent the emergence of a superrich vanguard in the fight against global warming.

The list exemplifies the green economy’s growing heft and diversity. It ranges from household names such as Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk to the lower profile founders behind some of China’s biggest companies. Their rise to the apex of capitalism has been underpinned by fervent investor demand.

Investments in businesses that address climate change or encourage sustainable practices are surging. Assets managed using a broad definition of this approach—integrating environmental, social, and governance factors into investing decisions—reached $30.7 trillion at the start of 2018, about a third more than two years earlier, according to a report funded by a group of financial companies, including Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. The popularity of green investments, one of the fastest-growing areas in finance, is now so large that European lawmakers are working on rules to define them.

“The next big success story is green finance,’’ William Russell, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, said in a December interview on Bloomberg Radio. “The momentum in that space is enormous.’’ The capital and interest flowing into sustainable enterprises is helping underpin a new breed of fortunes, as exemplified by those on the list.

“Sustainability is now a key offering for many of our clients,” says Eléonore Bedel, head of sustainable and responsible investing and impact investing at BNP Paribas Wealth Management.

Researching the ranking revealed only a handful of climate-focused fortunes that crossed into ten-figure territory. In the next decade there are likely to be many more, including from startups developing solar-powered grills and electric planes.

Growing demand for plant-based foods could soon produce two billionaires: Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown and Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown (no relation) both own stakes worth hundreds of millions of dollars in their respective companies. Both firms have created a market for a meat replacement that doesn’t come with the environmental cost of livestock, which accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s so much pent-up demand in ESG institutional money,” says Bill Tarr, co-founder of Motiv Partners. “When a Beyond Meat comes along, money floods in.”

It’s a shift from the narrative of wealth creation that dominated the 20th century. John D. Rockefeller became the first billionaire in history on the back of Standard Oil, followed swiftly by dynasties built on emissions such as the Fords and DuPonts.

But the carbon economy remains dominant. Oil tycoons, industrialists, and car titans make up more than a quarter of the world’s 500 richest people tracked by Bloomberg, including wildcatters such as Harold Hamm, refiner Mukesh Ambani, and BMW’s Susanne Klatten. The world’s most valuable company—by far—is newly listed Saudi Aramco, with its $1.8 trillion market cap.

Greenhouse gas emissions have risen at a rate of 1.5% a year over the past decade. Government funding for renewable technology has been shrinking, squeezing many of the fortunes on the ranking, while those backed by fossil fuels have enjoyed a renaissance these past few years. Aloys Wobben's wind turbine maker Enercon has said it faces “grave” challenges to its business in Germany after a nationwide wave of legal challenges launched against new wind parks choked orders.

“Green wealth is highly dependent on innovative technologies succeeding, which means these fortunes can be wiped out in a heartbeat,” said Kingsmill Bond, energy strategist at Carbon Tracker, a think tank that examines the impact of climate change on capital markets and investment in fossil fuels. “But people who successfully carve out new niches in this new economy will be the owners of the wealth of the future.”

Take Mário Araripe, a Brazilian tycoon who first built a fortune in property before being converted to the lucrative promise of wind power. “Brazil’s national anthem says the country is a giant by its own nature,” he said in 2017. “People always thought that was because of gold or other underground treasures, but I don’t believe that. I think it’s because there’s wind.”

Such sustainable fortunes are likely to be bolstered by capital. Investors—especially the family offices of the super rich—are increasingly making sustainability central to their strategies. TCI Fund Management, the company that hedge fund manager Christopher Hohn runs, recently warned companies in its portfolio to step up their climate change action or risk divestment.

If such a sentiment continues to take hold, it could eventually remake the world’s wealth rankings.

1
Zeng Yuqun, Huang Shilin, Pei Zhenhua, Li Ping
NAME

Zeng Yuqun, Huang Shilin, Pei Zhenhua, Li Ping

NET WORTH

$16.7bn

COMPANY

CATL

COUNTRY

China

GREEN NET WORTH

$16.7bn

CATL is China's top electric-battery maker and supplies firms including Daimler, Toyota, BMW and Volvo. The company was founded in 2011 and marked a gamble on Chinese subsidies for the market. The global market for electric vehicle batteries is expected to be worth $500 billion by 2050.
Did you know?
CATL's stock has more than quadrupled since its June 2018 initial public offering.
2
Elon Musk
NAME

Elon Musk

NET WORTH

$27.6bn

COMPANY

Tesla

COUNTRY

United States

GREEN NET WORTH

$14.6bn

Elon Musk owns around a fifth of electric vehicle maker Tesla. He's chief executive officer of the Palo Alto-based company that also provides solar and energy storage systems. Its Gigafactory 1 is the highest volume battery plant in the world.
Did you know?
Tesla vehicles have been driven more than 10 billion miles to date, resulting in combined savings of over 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
3
Aloys Wobben
NAME

Aloys Wobben

NET WORTH

$7.3bn

COMPANY

Enercon

COUNTRY

Germany

GREEN NET WORTH

$7.3bn

Privately held Enercon is one of the world's largest wind turbine companies with a 6% share of the global market for new onshore installations in 2018, according to its website. Wobben developed his first wind turbine in the 1970s and set up Enercon in 1984. The firm installed 54% of Germany's new onshore turbines in 2018, but more recently has faced turbulence. The company has said it faces "grave" challenges to its German business after orders collapsed in 2019.
Did you know?
Enercon's E-126 turbine has a rotor diameter of 127 meters.
4
Anthony Pratt
NAME

Anthony Pratt

NET WORTH

$6.8bn

COMPANY

Pratt Industries

COUNTRY

Australia

GREEN NET WORTH

$6.8bn

Pratt runs the corrugated box business his family started in 1948. He's behind Melbourne-based Visy Industries and Georgia-based Pratt Industries, which is the world's largest privately-held 100% recycled paper and packaging company. The group also has clean energy plants to help power its mills.
Did you know?
Pratt Industries says it enables daily savings of 68,000 trees, 4,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and 28 million gallons of water.
5
Li Zhenguo, Li Chunan, Li Xiyan
NAME

Li Zhenguo, Li Chunan, Li Xiyan

NET WORTH

$3.4bn

COMPANY

Longi

COUNTRY

China

GREEN NET WORTH

$3.4bn

Longi Green Energy Technology is the world’s biggest maker of high-end monocrystalline solar products. Established in 2000, it supplies more than 30 gigawatts of solar wafers and modules worldwide annually, about a quarter of global demand.
Did you know?
Longi is the world's most valuable solar company with a $16 billion market cap.
6
Jose Manuel Entrecanales
NAME

Jose Manuel Entrecanales

NET WORTH

$4.9bn

COMPANY

Acciona

COUNTRY

Spain

GREEN NET WORTH

$2.9bn

Acciona's energy business uses wind, solar, photovoltaic, hydroelectric, biomass and solar thermal power to produce enough electricity for more than 6 million homes. Entrecanales diversified the construction group founded by his grandfather into renewables after taking over as chairman in 2004. The company's energy unit contributed 60% of the group's earnings in 2018.
Did you know?
Acciona has been carbon neutral since 2016.
7
Lin Jianhua
NAME

Lin Jianhua

NET WORTH

$2.9bn

COMPANY

Hangzhou First Applied Material

COUNTRY

China

GREEN NET WORTH

$2.9bn

Established in 2003, Hangzhou First Applied Material mainly produces films for solar panels, accounting for more than half of the global market, according to its website. It has a market cap of $3.7 billion.
Did you know?
The company's shares surged more than 80% last year.
8
Wang Chuanfu
NAME

Wang Chuanfu

NET WORTH

$4.2bn

COMPANY

BYD

COUNTRY

China

GREEN NET WORTH

$2.4bn

Wang Chuanfu set up BYD in 1995 and it is now the largest electric vehicle maker in China with revenue of 122 billion yuan ($18 billion) in 2018. It is converting Shenzhen's entire fleet of buses, taxis and trucks to plug-in electric vehicles.
Did you know?
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has owned a stake in the company since 2008.
9
Somphote Ahunai
NAME

Somphote Ahunai

NET WORTH

$2.4bn

COMPANY

Energy Absolute

COUNTRY

Thailand

GREEN NET WORTH

$2.4bn

Somphote Ahunai started Energy Absolute in 2006 to manufacture palm oil. It expanded its business to biodiesel production and then into renewable energy in 2011. It introduced Mine Mobility, the first-ever electric vehicle designed and produced in the country.
Did you know?
Energy Absolute's Mine Mobility passenger vehicle is priced at about $38,000.
10
Trevor Milton
NAME

Trevor Milton

NET WORTH

$1.3bn

COMPANY

Nikola Motor

COUNTRY

United States

GREEN NET WORTH

$1.3bn

American startup Nikola Motor is developing hydrogen-powered trucks whose fuel costs will be 20% to 30% cheaper than diesel. Its technology uses solar power to split water into hydrogen that can be used for trucking fuel.
Did you know?
The U.S. unit of brewer Anheuser-Busch placed an order for up to 800 semi trucks from Nikola Motor in 2018.

Methodology

Net worth figures are as of Dec. 31, 2019 and are based on calculations by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. To qualify, the majority of a fortune valued by Bloomberg must be derived from and actively focused on business activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as renewable energy or electric vehicles. Fortunes derived from the same company are grouped together. The green net worth figure excludes any portion of the fortunes not derived from such activities. The value of pledged shares are excluded from the calculation.

Photography: Getty

With assistance from Venus Feng, Andrew Heathcote, Blake Schmidt, Feifei Shen, Jack Witzig, Brian Parkin, Pierre Paulden, and Charles Penty

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Summary | 9 Annotations
An Australian businessman has created a $7 billion net worth from recycling
2020/02/07 01:54
A ten-figure stake in a hydrogen fuel cell trucking company has minted an American billionaire.
2020/02/07 01:54
These are among the 10 largest fortunes derived primarily from the growing business of climate solutions
2020/02/07 01:54
Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown and Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown (no relation) both own stakes worth hundreds of millions of dollars in their respective companies.
2020/02/07 01:55
Both firms have created a market for a meat replacement that doesn’t come with the environmental cost of livestock, which accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
2020/02/07 01:55
But the carbon economy remains dominant. Oil tycoons, industrialists, and car titans make up more than a quarter of the world’s 500 richest people
2020/02/07 01:56
Privately held Enercon is one of the world's largest wind turbine companies with a 6% share of the global market for new onshore installations in 2018, according to its website. Wobben developed his first wind turbine in the 1970s and set up Enercon in 1984. The firm installed 54% of Germany's new onshore turbines in 2018
2020/02/07 01:57
American startup Nikola Motor is developing hydrogen-powered trucks whose fuel costs will be 20% to 30% cheaper than diesel.
2020/02/07 01:57
Net worth figures are as of Dec. 31, 2019 and are based on calculations by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index
2020/02/07 01:58