It’s the kind of call you hope for when you’re running a corporate sustainability business: “We want to be best-in-class in our sustainability efforts, can you help?”. That was almost word-for-word the brief from the team at Ocean Outdoor.
In a world where corporate sustainability has come to be narrowly defined as carbon, and action is almost always based on the low hanging fruit of switching to a renewable energy tariff and offsetting the remainder, Ocean’s understanding of the real issues is progressive. They knew from the get-go that the climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are inextricably linked and that the required response needs to be much broader than purchasing carbon credits.
The fact is, our climate crisis is an ecological crisis: we’re entering dangerous tipping point territory where loss of biodiversity is contributing to global warming and global warming is contributing to biodiversity loss. We must tackle the constituent parts as one multifaceted problem. Corporate sustainability departments have been on a journey in that direction, and adoption of what we now think of as a contribution strategy is rapidly gathering pace. However, it’s still unusual to find businesses jump to the answer as quickly as Ocean have.
It was perhaps inevitable that Ocean would look to our oceans for projects to fund, but happily marine projects are amongst the most powerful on earth. The ocean generates 50 percent of the oxygen we need, absorbs 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, and captures 90 percent of the excess heat generated by these emissions. It is not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also its largest ‘carbon sink’. Covering less than 0.1 percent of the world’s ocean, coral reefs support over 25 percent of marine biodiversity.
Through our partnership, Ocean and partners will be funding four high impact marine projects: coastal carbon removal; plastic removal; turtle hatching protection; and coral restoration.
Let’s look at two of those in particular: plastic removal and turtle hatchling protection. Sea turtles face two enormous challenges to their survival as a species: destruction of nesting sites and plastic in the ocean. Sea turtles can confuse plastic bags for jellyfish: a turtle in the water can’t tell the difference and will often eat the bag, which gets stuck in their stomach. According to WWF, the outlook for these turtles is bleak: for 22% ingesting just one plastic item can be a death sentence. So removing plastics from waterways and reducing the volume of plastic in the oceans, combined with protecting turtles that come up to nest, ensuring that the eggs are undisturbed, and guiding the hatchlings to the sea has a huge impact on their chances.
There are huge benefits beyond the turtles themselves. Healthy oceans need sea turtles. They are a “keystone species”, which means they are an important part of their environment and influence other species around them. If a keystone species is removed from a habitat, the natural order can be disrupted, which impacts other wildlife and plant life in different ways. They ‘farm’ seagrass, which sequesters carbon up top 35 more quickly than land-based trees, and keep it healthy – so protecting sea turtles has considerable carbon co-benefits as well.
Tackling the ecological crisis requires a Herculean effort and broad engagement and involvement, which is why the Pinwheel platform democratises project choices. We call it “taking sustainability out of the pages of the annual report and into the lived experience”. This means that project funding decisions won’t be made behind closed doors in board rooms, but by Ocean clients and agency partners, who’ll both create the budgets via their media spend and influence where the funds are allocated via individual branded platforms. They’ll be able to see exactly where their share of the funds is being spent and the impact they’re having, bringing transparency and engagement to what has historically been an opaque commitment.
This engagement is not just rewarding for those involved: participating in the process of funding allocation drives understanding and involvement in the issues and the solutions, and that in turn inspires action in others. It’s those co-benefits again!
As organisations like Ocean Outdoor bring their sustainability action out of the shadows and into the light, it puts pressure on others to follow; and that’s great news for the planet.