The State of the Ocean: An evening on the topic of sustainability

Insights 16.05.2019
Reading time: 3 minute(s)

The world’s oceans are in critical condition. Is it still possible to avert the collapse of this sensitive ecosystem, or is it already too late to make an effective difference? To discuss these questions, and explore approaches to finding solutions for greater sustainability in our stewardship of the oceans, Vontobel organized an evening focused on this theme on May 8, in collaboration with the Swedish Swiss Chamber of Commerce (SSCC) and the Uppsala University Switzerland Alumni Chapter (UUSAC).

For Vontobel, corporate responsibility means addressing the three dimensions of sustainability – the economy, the environment and society – and offering sustainable investment solutions. This triad was also the common thread for a thematic evening hosted by Vontobel together with the Swedish Swiss Chamber of Commerce (SSCC) and the Uppsala University Switzerland Alumni Chapter (UUSAC).

The state of the oceans

The strongest ally we have in the fight against climate change is the ocean. It not only absorbs a large share of the warming, but also stores more CO2 than the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere do together. Carl Gustaf Lundin, a leading marine and polar research scientist working for the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Program, highlighted the critical state of the oceans in his presentation, touching on the death of coral reefs, melting ice, weather disasters, and animals perishing from plastic contamination, to name just a few of the consequences of a warming climate and the pollution of the seas.

Thanks to numerous media reports, the plastic problem has received a lot of attention in the past few months. In Europe, waste management operates relatively well. But the situation in China, India and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and East Asia is quite different: These regions account for almost 90 percent of the plastic waste that ends up in the oceans. This means that often, the largest part of our “personal plastic footprint" is being left in regions we visit on vacation – places with poor or inadequate plastic management, such as Thailand or the Maldives. It is therefore important to specifically support affected countries with appropriate investments.

Carl Gustaf Lundin highlighted the critical state of the oceans in his presentation (image credits: Eva Zingg)

When it comes to microplastics, Europe performs just as badly as the other continents. Ultimately, most of the microplastic in the oceans comes from synthetic clothing, tire wear and urban dust. Car, tire and washing machine manufacturers have a responsibility here – but so do we, as consumers of their products.

Research scientist Carl Gustaf Lundin is skeptical about the various projects to clean up the seas, because only a small part of the total plastic in the seas is actually floating on the surface of the water. In general, he supports extending marine protected areas and increasing investments in the protection and restoration of mangrove forests. His conclusion: It is our responsibility to save the sea, because it could be a matter of decades before the measures we undertake now actually take effect.

Vontobel: engaged on many fronts

A glance at the history of Vontobel confirms the fact that acting sustainably, across many areas of the business, has always been part of the company’s corporate culture. Natalie Ernst, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Vontobel, offered some examples in her presentation. For example, Vontobel has consistently expanded its equity base since its founding. The company ceased trading for its own account as early as 1987, and in 2001, with the launch of the unitary share, it introduced the principle of "one share – one vote". Vontobel itself has been carbon neutral since 2009, getting its energy from sustainable sources, and it donates still-functioning electronic devices that no longer meet its own high performance requirements to the "AfB social & green IT" foundation. And in the area of ​​societal action, Vontobel has supported the International Red Cross for many years (learn more).

f.l.t.r. Björn Wettergren, Carl Gustaf Lundin, Eva Fiorenzoni and Thomas Trsan (Image credits: Eva Zingg)

Investing sustainably

In his presentation, Thomas Trsan, ESG and Impact Investing Specialist at Vontobel, discussed “water” as an investment theme, presenting various avenues for effecting sustainable investments in this domain, for example in water production and storage, water infrastructure, and water efficiency. Many companies operating in the water/wastewater, waste treatment and energy sectors offer potential. By providing access to safe drinking water or to sanitation systems, they are also making a socially valuable contribution as well.

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