Shell UK’s chairman David Bunch, who is tasked with delivering the oil and gas giant’s net zero strategy in the UK, has been appointed as a non-executive board member of Active Travel England.
Bunch joined Shell in 1997 and, prior to his current role, was the multinational’s senior vice president for retail mobility in Europe and South Africa, helping launch the electric charging service Shell Recharge.
As chairman of Shell UK, the London Business School graduate has corporate responsibilities for the company’s activities across the UK, and has recently led the establishment of the country’s largest electric charging network while aiming to implement a “just and orderly” energy transition from oil and gas.
Bunch’s new non-executive director role at Active Travel England will see him provide the governmental body – which was formed last year to implement the Gear Change strategy and transform the nation’s “travel culture” – with “strategic advice, support, and challenge”.
He will attend Active Travel England board meetings and meet with the management team, which includes former world and Olympic champion cyclist turned cycling and walking campaigner Chris Boardman, permanently installed as the agency’s head last June, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Danny Williams, and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Louise Wilkinson.
Bunch, who says he enjoys cycling and hiking with his family in his spare time, will be joined at Active Travel England by the Office of Rail and Road’s chair Declan Collier. Collier, who was previously CEO of London City Airport and Dublin Airport Authority’s chief, has been appointed as one of the body’s expert advisors, providing guidance on how to make cycling, walking, and wheeling the first choice for everyday trips.
The appointment of Shell UK’s chairman to the Active Travel England board may raise some eyebrows within the cycling community, especially following the controversy surrounding the oil and gas giant’s sponsorship of British Cycling, a move described as “greenwashing, pure and simple” by members of the national governing body last year.
However, Active Travel England – which is responsible for driving up the standards of cycling and walking infrastructure and managing the national active travel budget – has said that Bunch will enable the agency to garner expertise from beyond the walking, wheeling, and cycling world.
“Our Non-Executive Directors, like all government appointments, were recruited as a result of a fair and open process,” a spokesperson for Active Travel England told road.cc.
“David Bunch has significant board level experience and has a wide perspective on projects across future transport integration and decarbonisation.”
The agency’s head, Chris Boardman, also emphasised the need to “think bigger” and compared Bunch’s appointment to British Cycling’s recruitment of experts from outside cycling as part of its drive for Olympic success during the past three decades.
“If we want to give an entire country access to active travel as part of a genuinely sustainable transport system, we need to think bigger than we ever have before which is why Active Travel England’s board is purposefully made up of more than just experts in this one area,” Boardman told road.cc.
“I want our work to be guided by people who have delivered national scale infrastructure, are comfortable speaking to power, and are used to working on a massive scale.
“Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact I’m all about the outcome and I’m delighted to have David on my team to help us deliver a step change in active travel.
“This is the same approach I took when leading the R&D program for the Olympic Cycling Team. The Secret Squirrel Club was made up of people who were experts in their field but knew nothing of cycling. Without fail they were the catalyst for the game-changing tech and we all now know the impact they had on making us the most successful Olympic Team of all time.”
Bunch’s appointment comes less than six months since British Cycling was accused of facilitating ‘greenwashing’ after announcing Shell as a new partner in a deal which runs until 2030.
The widespread outrage which followed the partnership’s announcement saw many now-former members tell us they would not continue to financially support the governing body because of Shell’s sponsorship.
One British Cycling member, a trained ride leader for the organisation’s Breeze women-only rides, said that the energy company “stands for everything we everyday cyclists don’t”, while another who has belonged to the organisation for more than a quarter of a century said that the sponsorship was “greenwashing for them [Shell UK], plain and simple”.
At the time then-CEO Brian Facer, who has since stepped away from his role “by mutual agreement”, said the deal would help “widen access to the sport, support our elite riders, and help our organisation and sport take important steps towards net zero”.
Alex Broadway, SWpix.com
At October’s world track championships Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, where Team GB’s riders raced with Shell branding for the first time, Sir Chris Hoy also argued that the controversial partnership could help inform and influence the oil giant’s environmental policies.
The six-time Olympic champion claimed during the track worlds that many of British Cycling’s staff and riders believe that the deal provides the governing body with the opportunity to “put cycling on the agenda” and give it “a voice” within the fossil fuels industry.
However, many remained unconvinced and highlighted the fact oil and gas still accounts for the vast majority of Shell’s profits, with ‘renewables and energy solutions’ making up just 6.3 percent of the company’s earnings for the second quarter of 2022, as it announced record $11.5bn (£9.4bn) profits.
Just this week, a group of high-profile British runners, including Jasmin Paris and Damian Hall, called on European Athletics to drop Shell as a sponsor after the multinational’s branding played a prominent role at the European Indoor Championships.
“We were both surprised and disappointed to see the very high-profile sponsorship by Shell, the biggest European oil and gas producer and one of the ten most climate-polluting companies in the world, of the recent European Indoor Athletics Championships in Istanbul,” a letter to European Athletics, penned by the New Weather Institute, Green Runners, and Champions for Earth, stated.
“We are asking you to discontinue any commercial relationship with Shell, whether through advertising or sponsorship.
“Allowing athletes to be used as a billboard to promote a company like Shell, normalises a major polluter and gives them a social licence to operate.”