Sustainability is Business & Business is Sustainability

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Lessons from the Volvo Ocean Summit

Just last week, on June 27th, all 7 teams participating in the Volvo Ocean Race successfully circumnavigated the globe with a big finish in Den Haag, Netherlands. As the teams sailed for 9 months through 11 harbors spanning from Cape Town, South Africa to Auckland, New Zealand, a series of Ocean Summits were held in conjunction with the race in an effort to bring stakeholders ranging from politicians to scientists to CEOs and athletes around a critical issue: ocean plastic. This race really was the proper catalyst to bring us all together around this topic. If there’s one thing the Volvo Ocean Race can’t do without, it’s the ocean. It’s the stage on which anything can – and will – happen, and yet it is itself under attack from something small but powerful: plastic.

 

If you follow our instagram @seagoinggreen, you will know that our team here at Sea Going Green was fortunate enough to attend the final and capstone Volvo Ocean Summit in Den Haag. Alongside industry experts, academics, and the racers them selves, we participated in the world’s premier platform to bring about action regarding ocean health. The official theme of the final, two-day summit, The Future of Our Oceans, was fueled by the many, and differing perspectives within the diverse audience.

 

Oftentimes I feel helpless when I go to the grocery store. Everything from my avocados to tomatoes, and bread is wrapped in plastic whose real utility will never come close to matching the multitude of problems it creates later in its life cycle! Rarely do we really take a moment to ponder what happens to our waste - let alone plastic waste. With regards to plastic in the ocean, the statistics are staggering. More than five trillion pieces of plastic currently litter our oceans, with eight million tons being added every year. Record-breaking sailor Ellen MacArthur even claims that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. That is, unless we do something about it. Reversing the integration of plastic-based goods and accessories into daily life is a challenge everyone must undertake. Removing single use plastics from the foundation of modern consumerism, however, will need to come from top down leadership at the government and corporate level. As per Captain Moore, a legend and keynote speaker at the Ocean Summit Den Haag, we at the corporate level “need life cycle analysis that incorporates externalities.” The long lasting effects of a good must be factored into its design process and price such that the dangers plastics pose can be used to prevent it from unnecessarily entering products and ecosystems.

 

Captain Moore also discussed how the uprise of plastic seemed to happen behind a closed curtain and now is the most common material in our households. It is a material that entangles and kills but never eats and ends up getting eaten by marine life around the world and moves through the kingdoms. We make the equivalent of every human on earth in plastic every year and it’s time to stop throwaway living. It is up to governing bodies, local, national, and international alike to take initiative and drive private enterprise towards a sustainable and plastic free future. Our oceans depend on it. It is up to private industry to be the leaders in this field and demand more from their competitors. It is up to the people to become educated and knowledgeable about issues which directly and indirectly impact their health, wellbeing, and prosperity.

 

Did you know that humans are exposed to the dangers of microplastics before birth?! Plastics are pervasive, dangerous, and a problem about which all stakeholders will need to come together. Of the many breakout sessions I attended, none solidified the need and potential for industry to fully adopt sustainable business models than “A Path to Zero-Emissions Shipping.” It was during the panel comprised of stakeholders from Royal Dutch Shell, Deltares, Maersk, and TU Delft that  my favourite dialogue of the conference emerged. The panelists, along with their niche expertise awakened the audience by connecting the real challenges of ocean shipping, risk perception issues, market driving forces, and technological limitations in order to depict the barriers keeping the ocean shipping industry reliant on fossil fuels. By no means will transitioning away from dirty shipping be easy, but some of the innovation on showcase at the conference were beyond impressive. Enhanced gps modeling to bring commercial shipping routes closer to favourable winds and currents, wind assistance technology, and rotary sail propulsion sail solutions are all on the brink of creating widespread disruption within the industry -- as long as stakeholders can align their incentives and agree upon underlying foundation of why sustainability is the future - both for economic, social, and environmental reasons.

 

We can change – and the good news is that it begins with small steps. Switch your plastic bag for a reusable one. Carry a refillable water bottle. Talk to others about doing the same. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the planet. Let’s turn the tide on plastic in 2018!