7 April 22

In search of lessons from the planet’s last wilderness - 6 key takeaways

Triple Point’s Head of Sustainability, Lindsay Smart reflects on her experience joining the carbon-positive expedition to Antarctica run by the 2041 Foundation. Led by polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan, the expedition included a hugely diverse set of people: over 150 participants and 18 expedition leaders, from over 30 countries.  

“I’ve had this amazing experience, a very unique and privileged experience. It feels like a jumble of personal and professional that I need to unpick, but here are my initial key takeaways.”

A hugely diverse group: The makeup of the expedition provided me with a far broader perspective and set of insights than I’d expected. The roles of participants varied widely, from members of the Indian Government, an Energy Company CEO, specialist Sustainability Fund investors and an Obama Scholar, to sustainability/impact consultants, climate experts, wildlife and environment specialists and undergrad and postgrad students across a variety of disciplines. Motivations varied too; some were on a personal voyage of discovery, or to pivot their careers, others came to share their stories of how they have contributed to sustainability solutions – in some cases being personally invited by Robert Swan. Others came in search of collaborators or simply to offer support to the cause in whatever form that might emerge.

“What I had not counted on were the personal stories of individuals who are fighting for the environment, for equality, for sustainability in many forms from countries all over the world. These have sparked a desire for action different to the one I expected.” 

Education and young people: Several of the speakers were students who have set-up advocate groups to drive action on climate change. In one instance a young student from the US has already written a book and has a podcast on how to take action against climate change. So much talent and enthusiasm all directed towards fighting climate change and creating equality in opportunity, across nations and through generations. The topic of education was strong throughout the cohort. Among the teachers on the expedition, many felt that ensuring the next generation are literate in climate and ecology is essential. On a very personal note, I will be returning to my son’s pre-school to speak about my experience, and I will continue to look for ways to engage with schools and would like to explore how this might filter into some of TP’s activities.

Water and plastic: The other message which came out clearer than ever was water and plastic. This is not news to any of us, but it was brought home by seeing plastic on the beaches in Ushuaia, some frozen in Antarctic sea ice, and within the guts of animals through photographs shared by the ship’s expedition team. Ocean bound plastic is attacking water ecosystems from the base, impacting the livelihoods of so many countries and communities around the world. The Head of Sustainability at HP shared insight on their approach to reduction of ocean-bound plastic to be recycled and used in product development. Their approach was not perfect, but certainly gave food for thought. What can we do to make our mark on this problem? How much plastic waste a year do we currently create – how can we reduce it? How can we support innovate programmes which look to create solutions? This includes everything from food-related waste, to stationery, to IT equipment. Opportunities to invest in water saving technologies or support associated initiatives should also be high on the agenda. Check this out for size.

Social inequality and climate change: It is well documented that the poorest in society are expected to be the worst effected by climate change. The inequality of the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change are already being felt around the world. Several presentations from Brazilian nationals highlighted how women are being negatively impacted as the lands that generate their livelihoods are being overtaken for large scale logging or agriculture; I learned of similar issues through monoculture farming in Costa Rica. Positively, the work in India to preserve wildlife is a great success story but mired in the challenge of how to now manage increasing conflicts between growing animal and human populations in limited space. I came away feeling we must place greater emphasis on accounting for the ‘just transition’ in our activities, and particularly importantly in the activities of those we may be exposed to through supply chains. 

Carbon and climate: The science is very clear, that we need to move towards electrification, powered by renewables, battery storage, a complete cessation of burning fossil fuels, increased energy efficiency, an end to deforestation and an increase in nature-based sequestration solutions, if we have any chance of reaching net zero by 2050 and keeping to a 1.5 degree C increase within, or close to, that time frame. In almost all scenarios it looks like we will overshoot 1.5 at some point, unable to keep within the 500 gigatonne budget. We must move fast on these existing solutions. In parallel we must work to scale hydrogen technology and carbon capture and storage. The IPCC are very clear that above 1.5 will have severe societal and environmental impacts. It remains the target we must shoot for. Finalising the implementation of our net zero roadmap is an imperative – as will be striving to meet the targets we set.

Product evolution: Any product evolution should carefully consider the IPCC’s carbon budget and the implication for future technology needs to reduce the risk of stranded assets; we should also actively consider how nature-based solutions could feature in emerging products. We should continue to strive to improve how we account for sustainability in our investment decision making and the sustainability outcomes our products achieve. Exploring the global need for our existing products is also relevant. A senior member of the Indian Government spoke about the technologies they need and their active search for collaborators. 

“I came away with a very clear sense, that there are far more talented and accomplished people than me trying to fight this fight. The world will change, if we are smart we will be on the right side of the wave of change. Triple Point is made up of terrific talent, we should tap this to drive our sustainability actions, to build on what we have and take it to a new level. And furthermore, we can now also tap an amazing global network of another 150 plus people for inspiration and collaboration.”