First of all, can you tell us a little about your background — how you got to where you are today?
I’ve long been a passionate advocate for action on climate change, spending a decade studying the Earth systems and specialising in monitoring the polar regions with satellites. I launched a couple of public awareness projects a few years ago and started filmmaking, after which I became acutely aware of the role businesses must play in pushing a sustainability overhaul. That’s led me to what I’m doing today, driving environmental change through business.
The waste that pours out of the fashion industry every day is immense, and in an effort to make a dent here and approach the issue from a scientific and logistical standpoint, I joined Offcut Caps, While the unnecessary waste created in the fashion industry is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg as far as humanity’s damaging behaviour goes, we want to prove that recycling materials can be done in a way that manages to preserve people’s style, while actually doing a solid for the environment. Offcut Caps breathes new life into materials on their way to the dump. We turn them into the kind of products that remind people that they can make trendy, environmentally conscious decisions when they buy clothing. Or buy anything for that matter.
Tell us about your trans-continental Antarctic journey? Where will you be heading on this passage, and how long do you expect it to take?
The traverse is a 2,300km round trip across the Ross Ice Shelf. It will take about 2 months to complete in its entirety. First we will stage a hot water drilling site through the ice shelf and then undertake a route, traversing to another drilling site scientists would like to access next year. Four of us will undertake this route proving, which could take over a month. We’ll be heading as far south as 84 degrees, about 600km from the South Pole.
What global challenge(s) are you driven to solve? Tell us about your innovation, venture or work. What are you doing that is different to others in your field?
The global challenge I’m driven to help solve is climate change and a more responsible use of the resources we have on this planet.
I realise that this isn’t going to happen by people uprooting their lives, but by helping people make small decisions that will represent a paradigm shift in our behaviour. With Offcut, we sell bespoke hats online like many other retail outlets, but we wanted to differentiate ourselves in the way we source materials. One of our biggest points of difference is how we put these hats together – they’re manufactured from materials destined to add to our giant waste problem. With Offcut we are giving consumers an option of environmental responsibility in their purchasing decisions, while keeping them fitted in gear they’re stoked to wear. We’ve also partnered with the incredibly cool organisation, Trees for the Future, who plant a tree for every hat sold. They’ve already planted a humble…. 115 million trees around the world.
What drove you to want to complete this intrepid quest? How will this benefit your work?
The science is incredibly valuable. But before the science can happen there is a colossal logistical effort to get us to a point where this can happen, and still be done safely. The planning for this traverse has been underway for a year.
What are some of the risks you’ll have to contend with throughout your journey?
There are all sorts of hazards in the Antarctic; from the obvious management of the cold, to the less obvious hygiene issues, we won’t be able to shower for 2 months! But by far the highest priority is avoiding crevassed terrain. This is why such a huge effort has been put into planning ahead to identify safe areas.
Antarctica is one of the last frontiers of truly undiscovered territory left on the world. For us to even map out our traverse route required extensive satellite imagery and airborne data. This information was essential to helping us understand what is happening to the ice so we could figure out the best and safest approach possible.. As with any environment like Antarctica (there’s not many out there…) there are no guarantees, so we’ll learn a lot once we’re actually on the ground. Safety is the highest priority and if it isn’t possible to complete the traverse safely, we’ll turn around and work out another plan.
What does it mean to become an Edmund Hillary Fellow and how do you foresee it impacting your work?
My goal is to secure the future sanctity of our beautiful planet. I’ve always involved myself in ventures that in some way support this overarching goal. While disruption to me is trying to redirect the behaviours causing climate change, I can appreciate other manifestations of disruption.
As someone that has spent my life fighting for a cause I believe in, a key factor to joining any organisation is how they select their team. In my last few weeks getting to know the new cohort of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, I’ve realised how serious they were in selecting people that are creating meaningful, positive change in their respective industries. From what Anne Marie is doing in providing measurements for human rights performance with the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, to Fellows trying to change the way we share value globally, it has directly inspired the way that I approach my own work.
We’re only a couple of weeks into a three-year collaboration, but I’ve already been able to see the value of what’s happening at the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. It’s given me chance to spend time with an incredibly diverse group I never would have met otherwise, and put our heads together to form creative solutions to some big, pressing problems. It’s also a massive talent injection into New Zealand, and I can see it contributing some great progress across a range of sectors.
I personally look forward to leveraging some of their connections to help scale some of my bigger ideas.
You’ve been named a fellow in the namesake of Sir Edmund Hillary and now you’re attempting a quest that only Edmund Hillary has completed. Has this played in your mind at all as you head off into the unknown?
This traverse is not following in the footsteps of Hillary, well only for a bit. It is the first traverse of a similar scale New Zealand has mounted since Hillary. Hillary took part in the Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a Commonwealth effort to cross the continent, in its entirety, for the first time. Hillary set out from Scott Base laying depots for Fuchs and the rest of the team that were crossing the entire continent toward Scott Base from the other side. Our traverse as a round trip will actually be much further than Hillary’s, but to a different part of the Antarctic and for a very different reason.
We are heading to an area called Siple Coast where scientists are very interested in measuring what is happening to the ice and the bedrock beneath it. This will help build a big picture of how the Ross Ice Shelf might respond to a warming planet. The Ross Ice Shelf is a huge floating area of ice and it acts like a cork in a bottle slowing down huge areas of ice that are moving toward the ocean behind it. The loss of ice shelves results in acceleration of grounded ice toward the ocean, this causes acceleration in rates of sea level rise, something that will, of course, impact millions around the world.
The aim of this traverse is to find a safe route so the scientists can access this area and eventually get data that will help improve estimates on how much melting ice caps in Antarctica are contributing to the global sea level rise.
While we might be travelling further than in Hillary’s traverse, it’s worth noting how much technology has changed to help us with our journey. Those guys had nothing. No GPS, no satellite data, we even have an instrument mounted on the front of the vehicle that looks for crevasses ahead of us. Of course there is a downside to this, we really see what’s going on out there, and I think sometimes ignorance is bliss! The major hazard when travelling in the Antarctic are crevasses, huge chasms hidden beneath a thin snow cover driven by the incredible forces the ice has exerted on it. Mapping, navigating and avoiding these is the focus of our job. At the end of the day we are trying to identify a safe route for scientists to access another part of Antarctica.
How will your research help us to know more about climate change? Can you briefly outline the relationship between Antarctica and climate change (for the uninitiated!)
The scientists are working hard to understand how the Antarctic will respond to a warming ocean and atmosphere. There are 60 meters of global sea level rise locked up in ice on the continent. There are certain areas that are losing ice and it is concerning. Scientists need to get a better understanding of how the Antarctic will contribute to this sea level rise in the future.
What do you think the future holds for you and your work in New Zealand?
New Zealand presents an incredible opportunity for innovation, it’s small, adaptable and agile – things can move fast, in society, business and government.