Theoretical knowledge is important, but only first-hand experience promotes a deep understanding of sustainability. We share this conviction with the polar researcher and environmentalist Robert Swan, OBE, a former Special Envoy for the United Nations’ environmental program. He has regularly explored the seventh continent since 1989. In 2014, two ALTANA employees joined one of his expeditions for the first time.
The two staff members were Michela Michelotti, quality and EHS manager at ELANTAS Italia, and Dr. Michael Bessel, laboratory head at BYK’s Wesel site. They returned as passionate ambassadors for sustainability and climate protection.
After a stormy crossing from Tierra del Fuego through the Drake Passage, they not only experienced the magic of nature during glacier hikes, boat trips, and unique encounters with humpback whales.
They also got a glimpse of the effects of climate change, having seen glaciers melting with their own eyes.
It is clear to the ALTANA ambassadors that “Antarctica has to be preserved as a nature reserve,” as Dr. Michael Bessel said. Mining of raw materials there has to remain prohibited even after 2041, when the UN moratorium expires. So, the ambassadors assert, resources have to be protected worldwide. An initiative launched by Swan called “2041” represents these objectives.
“The trip to Antarctica made us aware that we have no time to lose,” says Michela Michelotti, summing up her experiences. “If we want to live in harmony with nature and the environment, we have to act now. Everyone can contribute to global resource protection, at work, in private life, everywhere.” During lectures at the ALTANA Global Management Meeting, in their respective companies, and in their local surroundings at schools and with opinion makers, the two colleagues have since advocated improved climate protection including personal action.
With their activities, the two ambassadors have given people food for thought about how to act sustainably in daily life. In addition, they have initiated new projects at ALTANA, including training on the topics of waste separation and projects related to energy conservation at the three ELANTAS sites in Italy and a survey of employees at BYK’s Wesel site. The survey found that awareness of sustainability is very pronounced and the employees are prepared to act.
“The ALTANA Group has been committed to protecting the climate for years, for example by maintaining its own energy and environmental management system certified in compliance with ISO 14001. Now it’s a question of protecting resources on a personal level in everyday life. That’s easier than one might think, and it gives us a feeling of satisfaction. We not only convey this message within the company, but also outside of it, at schools for instance.”
Michela Michelotti, ELANTAS
This proves that ALTANA’s commitment in recent years has borne fruit. “Many ALTANA companies are certified in accordance with ISO 14001,” says Michela Michelotti. This, she adds, is proof that ALTANA takes climate protection and resource conservation seriously. “But the expedition also gave me an important new perspective. Ultimately, sustainability is a question of communication. Those who champion it have to be persuasive on an emotional level.”
She and Robert Swan see eye to eye on this. “We have the opportunity to effect positive change,” asserts the former UN Special Envoy. “But each individual must recognize that we have to change our personal actions.” It is wrong, the polar researcher says, to associate saving energy with a loss of comfort or with restrictions, as was often the case in the past. “In point of fact, it will help us all survive,” says Swan.
“I'm happy that ALTANA is taking responsibility for the opportunities of future generations and, together with the ambassadors, motivating people to promote sustainability.”
Robert Swan, OBE, Founder of the "2041" Initiative, Polar Researcher and Environmentalist