When famous British explorer Robert Swan OBE was just 11 years old he set himself an ambitious goal. “It was my dream to be the first person to walk to both the North and South Poles,” he recalls. “Twenty-two years later I fulfilled that dream.”
Robert is the first to acknowledge that his journeys through the Arctic and Antarctic were motivated chiefly by his hunger for exploration and to fulfill his personal ambition. However, as he witnessed evidence of man’s impact on the environment during his many travels, his outlook broadened drastically. “On the expedition to the South Pole, I walked under a hole in the ozone layer,” he says. “At the North Pole, I saw sea ice melting four months early.”
These experiences vividly demonstrated to Robert the precarious fragility of the Polar Regions. Once his original mission was accomplished, he elected to use both his profile and experience to promote greater awareness of the critical environmental issues facing the planet. “Rather than joining Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, I chose to work with business and industry,” he explains. “I decided that the most effective thing I could do was work to produce champions for the environment within companies.”
A simple mission
Robert has since organized and led a series of Inspire Antarctic Expeditions taking with him not only scientists and environmentalists but also the business leaders of tomorrow. “I show them the great ice caps and explain how and why they are melting. I give them a story that they can take back to inspire people within their organizations.”
It’s a simple mission, but the implications are far-reaching. Few people would deny that mankind’s present actions are having a significant impact on the environment and that individual businesses have a role to play in limiting long-term damage to our planet. Encouraged by environmentalist icons such as Peter Scott and Jacques Cousteau, Robert also seeks to raise awareness of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Trust (also known as ‘The Madrid Protocol’ after the city in which it was signed in 1991), which protects the Antarctic from commercial exploitation for a period of 50 years. Robert is determined to ensure that organizations of all kinds will be fully aware of the environmental issues at stake when the Protocol is renewed in 2041.
KPMG on ice
KPMG is among the global businesses sending people on Robert’s expeditions and, as the explorer observes, the organization’s participation extends beyond its own environmental policies. “KPMG has seriously engaged in environmental and corporate sustainability issues,” he says. “The company is not only committed to looking at its own practices it is also advising other businesses.” This year Leah Jin from KPMG China and Brad Sparks from KPMG International joined Robert on an Inspire Expedition to explore parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.
KPMG’s commitment to responsible environmental practices is underlined by its Global Green Initiative (GGI). The initiative launched in April 2008 and comprises a three-tiered response to the challenge of climate change. As well as supporting environmental projects and encouraging employees to reduce both their own and their clients’ carbon footprints, the GGI aims to monitor the combined carbon emissions of KPMG’s network of member firms with the aim of reducing that footprint by 25 percent by 2010 from a 2007 baseline. Meanwhile – in line with Robert Swan’s observations – KPMG’s growing Global Sustainability Service practice is advising clients on strategies to reduce their impact on the environment.
There are already strong links between personnel working on the GGI and Robert Swan’s Inspire Antarctic Expeditions. KPMG Senior Manager Brad Sparks is currently on a two year rotation working on the implementation of the initiative. Energized by his journey with Robert, Brad says the experience has made him a more effective climate change ambassador within KPMG.
“To reach our firm’s ambition of a 25 percent reduction in emissions we’ll need the support of all KPMG employees,” says Brad. “An initial step in building that support is raising awareness of climate change and taking those opportunities we all have to make a difference, both at work and at home,” he says.
But it’s far from an exercise designed simply to satisfy a corporate or organizational policy. The opportunity to encounter the South Polar Region at first hand has also had an influence on Brad’s own outlook. “On a personal level, the expedition is enabling me to further build upon my understanding and respect for the earth, as well as provide me with a new perspective on the critical challenges facing our planet today,” he says. “I think the trip has energized me to work even more on an issue that I was already passionate about.”
Brad also feels that the trip has conferred benefits that will enhance his effectiveness as a manager. “The Inspire Antarctic Expeditions are designed to challenge participants to take personal responsibility for their impact on the environment,” he says. “This emphasis on personal responsibility will help build my own leadership abilities,” he says.
In an age when images of Antarctica’s crumbling ice caps have become a hackneyed portent, a journey to this endangered region provides a jolting insight into exactly why climate change remains such a pressing matter. By supporting Robert Swan’s expeditions, KPMG is playing its part in ensuring that sustainability remains at the top of the boardroom agenda.