Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest, and windiest continent on earth, with an average annual temperature of -50ºC. It contains 70% of the world’s freshwater and 90% of the world’s ice. It is home to many species of penguin—but no polar bears.
For 12 AkzoNobel employees in the company’s Mission Antarctica leadership program, it proved a most effective classroom for studying the issues of sustainability and, in particular, leadership as it relates to having a positive impact on the environment.
“My journey to Antarctica has helped me to better understand the climate, the changes that are obviously taking place around the globe and the ways in which we can help to protect the environment,” said Julia Ivanov, senior technical chemist in AkzoNobel’s global personal care division. “I also appreciate the responsibility I have to motivate others to do the same—by putting my words into actions and by taking on leadership responsibilities with the full knowledge that assuming that someone else will do this is not an option.”
The group was part of the Inspire Antarctic Expedition led by the noted polar explorer Robert Swan in the spring of 2009. In all, 71 people from 28 nations and a variety of firms including Coca-Cola and Hewlett-Packard, gathered in Ushuaia in southern Argentina to participate in a nearly two-week adventure that began with passage on the expedition vessel Ioffe south to Cape Horn and through the notorious Drake Passage, a stretch of ocean infamous for its rough seas and mountainous waves.
Photos courtesy of AkzoNobel
Once in Antarctic waters, the expedition participants engaged in a series of projects, educational hikes and team-building exercises to learn more about themselves, the value of working with colleagues from different cultures and backgrounds, and preserving a continent that is as fragile as it is beautiful. The AkzoNobel group donned painter’s whites to paint E-base, the education station built by Robert Swan and colleagues on King George Island out of recycled material and powered by the sun and wind to illustrate the great possibilities in renewable energy even in the harshest environment on the planet.
Excursions in small inflatable Zodiacs and lengthy hikes brought the group up close to towering icebergs and mountains, expansive glaciers, and several species of the wildlife indigenous to the frozen continent, which include, in addition to penguins, fur seals and humpback and minke whales. Evenings on the ship were devoted to presentations by Robert Swan and various experts on sustainability and climate change, followed by further discussions of these topics and the need to assume a leadership role in inspiring and creating awareness of the urgent need for sustainable change.