Spotlight on technology, business travel and saving the planet

Corporate actions and personal accountability will be transformational in the campaign to protect our planet. And technology will be pivotal to efforts.

World Wildlife Day 2024 is March 3. The theme is Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation. In support of driving innovative solutions to help protect our planet and all its inhabitants, we had a conversation with Gavin Sheppard, conservationist, environmentalist and Chief Executive Officer of Pinwheel, a technology platform that connects stakeholders with impactful carbon removal and biodiversity projects. Here’s Gavin’s POV on the relationship between technology, the multiple aspects of sustainability and how the business travel industry can get more involved.

Gavin Sheppard CEO Pinwheel

What is Pinwheel?

The story of Pinwheel starts in 2019 when a few friends and colleagues and I started to talk about how we might play a role in restoring our planet. Our position is simple: compensation and offsetting for harm as part of the relentless drive towards organizational net zero claims won’t bring about the change needed. We can restore our planet if businesses, their staff, and customers undertake on-the-ground planet-repairing projects that focus on contribution to positive action.

This year’s WWD theme is all about the role technology can play in conservations, specifically wildlife protection. How does Pinwheel use technology to drive sustainability?

The last few years have seen a consensus that the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are inextricably linked and cannot be tackled or solved in isolation. Our approach at Pinwheel is informed by behavioral science insights. We talk about the SAVE method: Make engagement Social, Actionable, Value added, and Easy. We have built a technology platform that allows businesses to engage their most important stakeholders – typically customers, clients or colleagues – in the process of choosing projects to support that sit outside of their value chain – like carbon removal, keystone species protection, habitat restoration, etc. Our technology means that interaction can take place via branded platforms or in any digital journey. Boston Consulting Group says giving individuals a say in the projects a business supports increases trust in the brand in 73% of cases.

We use technology to track and visualize project funding and impact, and to verify and monitor projects in our portfolio. It’s also central to our projects on the ground, e.g. using satellite imagery or deploying amphibious vehicles for seagrass restoration.

What you do sounds a lot like offsetting, which has become quite controversial. How is it better?

Offsetting alone isn’t the answer. It imagines that you can take a project, often involving nature, and confidently say it can compensate for a ton of carbon emitted from fossil fuels and safely store that carbon. That simply isn’t true. You can’t just plant a few trees and hop on a plane with no worries.

The big problem offsetting sought to address is real – we need trillions of pounds of climate and biodiversity funding in coming decades. As set out by the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), the key is to reduce carbon quickly and use carbon removals for the small amount of carbon that cannot be avoided. Alongside this, SBTi recommends companies invest in “beyond value chain mitigation” (BVCM) and that’s what we do. BVCM generates climate and biodiversity funding, but not in the form of offsetting. The approach focuses on organizations asking, “What fund that has the biggest impact for the planet?” Rather than, “How can I buy carbon credits that enable a claim about my own business?” It reframes the objective from one of compensation to one of opportunity, and that has significantly better outcomes for the planet and business.

Can you give an example of some of the projects you have which are using tech to protect wildlife / biodiversity?

We have some amazing, compelling projects in our portfolio who use technology to drive high-quality sustainability impact, such as:

How can business travel maximize the benefits of all of this?

Travelers are inquisitive, so bring them into the sustainability discussion and decision making and make them a partner in the process. Sustainability should be something you do with travelers, not for them. Reward their inquisitiveness by letting them experience the solutions for themselves and empower them to choose how they want their travel to support planet repair.

Also, there has been a real tendency to talk in logical, scientific terms. We hear about net zero, carbon neutral, and offset a lot, but do people truly understand those terms? Build education into every aspect of your managed travel program. Recruit eco warriors and sustainability champions within your organization to lead information and education sessions.

Finally, how would you encourage travelers to be more sustainable?

  1. Don’t bury your head in the sand: Real change will only come about when we all make changes.
  2. Enjoy the journey: Taking the train, a boat, or even walking or cycling when you get to your destination is not only more sustainable, but also a richer experience. When we view travel as part of the experience, it becomes less about something we need to do as quickly as possible.
  3. Make it count: Save business travel for “mission-critical” meetings, events and situations. Plan to get as much done as you can, but also be kind to yourself. If the last few years have done nothing else, they’ve helped us make virtual meeting technologies part of our norm.
  4. Break out of the carbon tunnel vision: It’s not just about the carbon we emit, it’s about the plastic we use (and leave behind), the habitats we trample on, the biodiversity we disrupt. Think about sustainability in the round, reduce your footprint on the natural world and support businesses with the best eco-credentials.
  5. Don’t overlook the small stuff. Tiny gestures can make a world-changing difference. Try throwing a handful of seed bombs into a flowerpot or spot on your lawn. The balls, a mix of seeds, compost and clay, break down when it rains and root into the ground. The result: beautiful, colourful flowers. The bees will thank you. Another idea might be to find a local litter clean-up project or organize one. Invite your colleagues, friends and family to join you. Contact local authorities for help finding an assignment. They may be willing to provide equipment, like gloves, bags or litter pickers.

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