Energy executive and marathoner Leigh-Ann Russell on why she is taking the road to net zero

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ALLY Energy

When you speak with Leigh-Ann Russell, it quickly becomes apparent why she joined the Women & Allies in Energy team for the New York City marathon. After all, she’s already leading a “marathon” of a different sort. As executive vice president of innovation and engineering for bp, she oversees a team of 5,000 people working to deliver bp’s purpose “to reimagine energy for people and the planet,” the company says.

“We are not only trying to get our company to net zero by 2050 or sooner, but our goal is to help the world get there too,” Leigh-Ann explains. “I don’t believe the world can get there unless energy companies are part of the transition.”

Her work fits right in with the marathon team’s motto, “Running toward net zero.” 

“At bp, we were one of the first energy companies to come out and say we will get to net zero by 2050 or sooner,” Leigh-Ann says. She knows that many people are skeptical. “I always say, ‘Come and spend a day with the executives at bp. Speak to us and ask whether we’re serious about this. You won’t doubt our commitment.’”

Leigh-Ann is the mother of an 18-year-old daughter “who needs a planet to inherit that's inhabitable. I would not be able to do my job if I could not look at my daughter and say, ‘We’re playing our part to get to net zero so that the world can have a better future.’”

There's also another reason that this marathon team speaks to her. It’s the same reason she first became involved with ALLY Energy, and its CEO Katie Mehnert: a commitment to drawing more women into the energy sector. “When I met Katie, I welcomed her agenda and ambition. And when I was asked to run this marathon to help raise the profile of women in our sector, I could not say no!”

Both Leigh-Ann and Katie are committed to increasing all forms of diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI is essential for building the energy workforce of the future. This includes not only categories such as gender, race and ethnicity, but others as well, including social mobility and neurodiversity. “I am from a poor background and my daughter is neurodiverse,” Leigh-Ann says, adding that she is passionate about helping everyone who has to “overcome challenges in life.”

The upside to challenging yourself

In addition to serving as a metaphor for people coming together on the road to net zero, the marathon also represents another important lesson -- that of setting aside “comfort,” Leigh-Ann says. She’s a big fan of the books The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter and Outlive by Peter Attia.

“We are built for being outside our comfort zone,” Leigh-Ann says. This is really key to a happy and productive life. So, marathon running, and running in general, is part of getting out of my comfort area and doing something that challenges me.”

The same idea applies to the energy sector, she notes. As the industry works to transition to net zero, its core business or its ‘comfort zone’ continues to be producing oil and gas but it’s moving into other forms of energy. In 2020, bp made that pivot official, declaring its ambition to become an integrated energy company.

“From hydrogen to biofuels, wind, solar, and EV charging, we’re growing new lower carbon businesses, products and services, together with decarbonizing our traditional oil and gas portfolio. It’s a hugely exciting time.”

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