Renat Heuberger has been engaged as a social entrepreneur in the fields of sustainability, climate change and renewable energies since 1999. He is the CEO and co-founder of South Pole, a leading provider of global sustainability solutions – their scope includes developing carbon offset projects, building partnerships with business, governments and civil society, and mobilising climate finance to create a better tomorrow. Find out more about how to offset carbon here.
One word that describes you?
What project are you most proud of when it comes to sustainability (of people, planet or profit)?
When we started our work in Thailand and Indonesia back in 2006, nearly all producers of sugar, ethanol or starch simply let their wastewater flow into large ponds, where huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escaped. Over the years, we co-financed dozens of biogas plants – now everybody produces clean power out of the wastewater! We helped transform an entire industry using climate finance.
Which is your favourite part of your job?
Working with my team, full of mission-driven, smart and fun colleagues. With this team, fighting climate change appears all the more possible.
Best advice you’ve been given?
Perseverance alone is omnipotent. It could be easy to fall into despair with all the bad news we hear on the climate, but if we do, we have already lost the race. And we have to win this one.
The latest IPCC Report noted that our planet will reach 1.5C by 2030 (not 2050 as originally suggested). How would you suggest we motivate people to do more in 2019 to help this situation?
People need to understand that we are ALL part of the solution. We have seen the kids taking to the streets to protest against climate change – now the adults need to wake up and listen. Ask your bank, your pension fund, your employer, your government about how they “do more” – but also start with yourself. Every step counts!
What is your company doing to reduce and offset your carbon footprint and inspire others to do the same?
Reducing carbon emissions is the DNA of South Pole. As one of the largest emission reduction project developers in the world, we need to walk the talk. We use video-conferencing for nearly 100% of our internal meetings, and all our employees’ remaining flights are offset. We have developed a global Sustainability Action plan to maximise what we are doing as a company. In terms of inspiring others, South Pole builds coalitions and platforms bringing together public, private, academia actors to accelerate the transition towards low carbon economy.
What is your personal favourite place to stay that’s trying hard when it comes to sustainability?
For sustainable travel, I like to stay local. I’m from Switzerland, so I like taking the train to the mountains during springtime to spend time appreciating nature and fresh air. I don't usually stay in one specific place when I’m abroad, but I’ll look for hotels that prioritise sustainability by creating a positive experience for the local communities, as well as the guests, without compromising the environment.
What other steps do you take to make your daily life more committed to sustainability?
Rain or shine (but not heavy snow!) I cycle to work – that’s the beauty about living in Zurich, where everything is close. Even with three kids, we don’t have a car, but use public transport instead. I also always fly economy, as flying business or first generates as much as 3 times the emissions.
If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?
In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has taken office, and one of his first acts as president was an executive order to transfer the regulation of new indigenous reserves to the agricultural ministry, which is full of agribusiness lobbyists. I would urge him to engage with the evidence, think about the importance of rainforests in regulating the global climate, and not to give in to industrial pressure groups.
What do you think must happen now to help make our planet, people and profit more committed to sustainability?
Solving climate change is probably the largest business opportunity of our century. We must now ensure that nobody is left behind, and particularly people from less privileged areas see the direct benefit – so we can win them all over for the transition to a zero-carbon economy.
South Pole chose to be a strategic partner of NOW. Can you comment on this please.
At South Pole, we work to accelerate the transition to a climate-smart economy and society. To do so successfully, we need all sectors on board. NOW is uniting leading hotels and key players in the global travel industry, so signing on as a strategic partner gives us the opportunity to continue driving the sustainable transition of travel – and at a time when the number of global travellers is on the rise, this is more important than ever.