14 March 22

In search of lessons from the planet’s last wilderness

Triple Point’s Head of Sustainability, Lindsay Smart is venturing on a carbon-positive expedition to Antarctica run by the 2041 Foundation. Led by polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan, the mission of the expedition is to engage businesses and communities on climate science, personal leadership, and the promotion of sustainable practices. 

A trained zoologist and marine biologist, Lindsay will build on her academic understanding by experiencing Antarctica: the planet’s last wilderness and crucial in the fight for climate stability. She’ll walk with allies, share ideas, and join a global network of leaders battling the climate crisis. In this article, Lindsay explains what she hopes to achieve on the expedition.

"Triple Point are all about trying to do the right thing. About looking up and out and seeing the direction of travel, and responding to it. Innovating and grabbing opportunity. Being sustainable is part of doing the right thing. We don’t always get it right and it isn’t always easy, but the genuine commitment from the top and throughout the company is why I joined a year ago. Eleven months later I didn’t expect to be invited to go to Antarctica, but then maybe more fool me, because perhaps I should have expected the unexpected.

As an individual I think sustainability is important, and that financial institutions that intelligently embed sustainability make better returns and drive change. How a business becomes sustainable can take many forms; but I had to think carefully about how this trip could add value to TP’s sustainability journey.

Why is Antarctica so important?

First things first. Let’s talk about Robert Swan, the Explorer who leads the expedition. I’d met him once, he was impressive, but embarrassingly I’d never heard of him before. Yet he is the stuff of expedition legend. He’s the first man EVER to walk to both the North and the South pole. Now I’ve read his book (thanks Dad for immediately getting me a copy!) and all other morsels of info on him – I am fully versed in just how impressive he is for his expedition activities alone. Beyond this however, it is his fierce and lifelong ambition to protect Antarctica that is so inspiring. To preserve it as a reserve for peace and scientific research, and to preserve it because it is crucial in the climate change challenge.  A challenge of course which we all face, and which plays a massive role in how we move forwards as a sustainable and responsible investor.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the world’s largest current, draws deep cold water from beneath our oceans up to the surface, where it exchanges heat and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere before being dispatched round the planet again. Without this action our world would be even hotter. The importance of this current, is just beginning to be understood. But we know enough to know that Antarctica and its ocean is critical in moderating the earth’s temperature and keeping sea levels stable. Its preservation is paramount.

But many don’t realise the Continent is under a ticking time bomb. Antarctica is currently protected by a Treaty to maintain it as a demilitarised area, a zone clear of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste and used only for the purpose of promoting international scientific cooperation. But in 19 years The Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961, enters re-negotiation of moratorium and many now fear finding continued agreement to preserve the last wilderness on Earth will fail.

Robert’s Foundation 2041 was set up with the express mission of drawing attention to this risk and seeking to ensure the continued preservation of Antarctica. Importantly, he does this by engaging businesses and communities on climate science, personal leadership, and the promotion of sustainable practices.

What’s the point in me going?

I pick up the phone to Jeff Bonaldi – he runs the expedition logistics. The conversation went something along the lines of …“OK, Jeff, of course I want to go. But should I go? Help me understand how this is going to make a difference. I don’t want to just be a tourist.”

Jeff said a bunch of things, but one was the hammer blow “there are just some things in life you have to see first-hand, you can’t really understand, and you can’t really speak with true authenticity unless you have on the ground experience”.

This struck a cord. The reason I do my job is because I believe it is worthwhile. Authenticity is important to me. And Jeff had a point about grounding your knowledge. Not only was this trip going to allow me to experience climate change firsthand, but equally important, I would be with explorers and scientists – sharing and learning from their expertise and insight, with others who want to find solutions through business.

It’s impossible to forget though – it is a very long way to go.  Couldn’t I just learn all this at a conference, on a course, or by reading a few more research papers? And how could all this help Triple Point?  Jeff was pretty emphatic on this point. “NO!”. “No, you cannot do this in a conference suite. You cannot build relationships, and develop ideas with this kind of global network, without experiencing the place together, the experience, the science, the sole focus – this is the way to spark ideas, create lasting relationships and instigate change when experience is taken back home.” 

I thought about this, and the conferences I’d been to all over the world during my career. One particular experience surfaced: when in South Africa, there was an away day opportunity for a group of responsible investment specialists to visit a farm outside Cape Town, which was a thriving business with housing, schooling, and medical facilities to ensure the wellbeing and progression of its employees. It was an investment opportunity, an impact investment opportunity. That tangible experience and an opportunity to speak with beneficiaries was the most meaningful conference experience I’d had to date. Capital moved off the back of that away day. Investors who attended that trip started to allocate to a new type of investment opportunity. 

This expedition brings together business leaders and practitioners to learn and work together to think about real-world solutions.  And alongside is a tribe of exceptional and talented younger people, just setting out on their careers, to bring an uncompromising view and develop the next generation of leaders.

I believe the future of business lies in recognising that we have to value the natural capital we all rely on. The long-term success of global economics relies on this. Businesses that see this as an opportunity to innovate and to drive better behaviours are far more likely to contribute to a sustainable economy and be the beneficiaries of it. This expedition offers a melting pot of shared experience and global connections with the potential for great business inspiration and opportunity.

Bad mum?

But then the reality check. I’m a mum. Could I leave my four-year-old son for this long? I’d never done that before. Does that put me in the bad mother camp? He’s old enough for me to explain the situation. And if I pitch it that I’m an Octonaut on a South Pole expedition I can probably get his buy in. That turns out to be right – he expects me to go and race penguins and meet Peso (his favourite Octonaut character, who is a penguin for the uninitiated). My angst around this is probably mine not his. My husband has also been unbelievably supportive.

Have I made the right decision? Much of the value in this trips lies in what I can make of it – the experience, the network, the ideas I come away with. 

The power of sharing experiences

But there is one other recent experience which makes me hopeful about the benefits. I noticed that the North and South pole were on the topic list for my son’s preschool activities. So, I dropped them a note to see if they might be interested in me chatting to the children when I got back from my expedition. It turns out they didn’t want to wait that long and asked me to speak before the trip and then come back again after! So just a week ago, I went along and sat in a circle with 21 children aged three and four to talk to them about my trip, to tell them that I wanted to help understand how to protect Antarctica, because it is so important to our planet, and I wanted to meet new people who I might be able to work with to make this happen.

They listened. Not only did they listen. So did the teachers. Following a 25-minute presentation I received a barrage of questions in the room and afterwards. A 25 minute talk, before I’ve even been, has set those children on a journey too. A recycling project is now planned along with learning more about protecting our planet. The teachers are engaged, other parents are engaged.

I was stunned. If 25 minutes can result in that level of interest and inspiration, what can two weeks first-hand experience with a global network lead to? Surely some good, and a fresh injection of pace to Triple Point’s journey of innovation.

And yes, the trip is carbon neutral. Positive in fact. And yes, I’m offsetting the flight"

This article was written by Triple Point's Lindsay Smart