CEF Spotlight

Insights from the Edge of the Earth: CEF in Antarctica

CEF delegates to Antarctica Janet Morris and Darren McGann share highlights from their journey and reflect on how the experience has impacted them.

Last month, Janet Morris of HP and Darren McGann of KPMG returned from the 2041 group’s “Leadership on the Edge” Antarctica expedition.  As representatives of the Corporate Eco Forum, they experienced a rare first-hand view of our Earth’s Antarctic wonders as well as the growing impact of climate change on this polar region’s fragile glacial tapestry.

“I have participated in many seminars on leadership and sustainability, but Rob Swan’s ‘Leadership on the Edge’ takes these experiences to a new level,” said Janet Morris, HP Americas’ Small Medium Business Market Lead and winner of the 2010 CEF Member Challenge.  KPMG Sustainable IT Leader Darren McGann also represented CEF on the expedition, which included 65 participants from 19 countries.

“Every participant represented the top of their field in terms of sustainability experience, knowledge and collaboration,” said McGann. Expedition members represented a wide variety of occupations and industries. Included were students, young professionals, policy makers, CEOs, journalists, NGOs – even a UNFCCC delegate from Indonesia. Team members continually shared expertise through informal discussions and formal presentations on topics such as cap and trade, energy policy and climate science.

Most powerfully, this knowledge exchange and networking took place over two weeks as members experienced the dramatic natural environment of Antarctica first hand. Morris and McGann spoke to CEF editor Maryann Thompson in an attempt to convey the excitement, inspiration and learning experienced on the 2041 expedition.

Maryann Thompson: Describe the most significant highlights of the expedition.



Janet Morris: Our first continental landing at Neko Harbor was one of our most scenic and captivating experiences during the expedition.  Our zodiacs arrived near a large colony of Gentoo penguins.  From the shore, we hiked and made our ascent to a ridge opposite a very active glacier.  Huge crevasses and large blocks of glacial ice were dramatically tipping toward the sea.  Despite the distant thundering of the glacier’s movements and the chattering of Gentoo penguins rising from the coast below, it was a strangely peaceful and graceful scene. I felt like I had finally arrived in Antarctica.

Darren McGann: I remember that thundering of distant glaciers in the distance from my first night of winter camping. Several of us slept outside in bivvy sacks under the stars in -1 Celsius weather – a balmy night in Antarctica!  Before we got into our sacks for the night, the campers sat around a glow stick instead of a campfire. There were expedition members from eight different countries represented and we discussed sustainability, climate change and policy. The conversation was especially impactful considering our location and each member’s unique expertise.

It was really surprising and impressive to meet people from around the world and find out that we have so much in common. The other members of the expedition – whether from Oman, Egypt, China or Canada – are every bit as passionate about sustainability as we are.

Maryann: Do you feel you were able to see any instances of climate change in action?

Janet: Yes, our at dawn arrival amidst the Tabular Iceberg’s of the Larsen B Ice Shelf.  I recall so vividly that morning, Rob Swan’s impassioned words on the events of the Larsen B Ice Shelf rapidly “breaking off” in 2002. “When you go home and people ask you is global warming happening… Remember this moment. You are in the Larsen B Ice Shelf and it should not be here!” I was gripped by those words and by the staggering scene of the massive tabular icebergs stretching across the horizon.  That moment is one I’ll always remember and has made me consider my actions toward alleviating climate change with even greater conviction.

Darren: Absolutely. I remember when the Larsen B shelf broke off in 2002 after 12,000 years of stability. It was the size of Rhode Island! Seeing the remaining shelf fragments in person in the beautiful colors of sunrise together with the entire expedition team atop the ship took everyone’s breath away. We were all speechless at the sight of this evidence of global warming.

Maryann: What professional inspiration did you acquire from the journey?

Janet:   Being physically present at the 2041 E-Base was a tangible example of how people can convert their passion for climate change into inspired reality.

Rob and his team spent seven years cleaning and recycling the waste that others had randomly left over the years at Bellingshausen.  In 2008, The 2041 Group then established an educational base powered entirely by renewable energy.  The base serves today to educate students from around the world about Antarctica, climate change and renewable energy.

Darren: The entire concept of the “Leadership on the Edge” program was professionally inspiring. The ability to tie leadership and sustainability together is entirely new and exciting. I will always be able to leverage my experience as a participant in my career.

Janet:  We embraced a new challenge when 52 of the 65 expedition team members jumped into the sea for a “Polar Plunge.”  To our surprise, the ship’s captain also jumped in and in full uniform.   He was a stately and reserved gentleman – everything you would expect a ship’s captain to be. It was an important and subtle lesson in leadership for me. By joining us that day, the Captain took a “risk”, removed a barrier and by doing so, he gained our even greater admiration.

Darren: Being around so many great leaders was a source of inspiration for me and I’m sure the group interaction was a professional catalyst for all of us. I was learning from some of the most experienced people in the entire world. And the experience continues even after our return: We are already trading emails with people back and for across the globe and moving ideas and projects forward.

The interaction with other members has given me a better idea of how to frame sustainability in our organization with top management. As change agents in our companies, we have to do a better job of framing the opportunities with leadership and other stakeholders. Learning from other 2041 team members’ experiences was extremely insightful.

Maryann: Do you have any advice for fellow CEF members on what they can learn from your journey?

Janet:  A year ago, HP launched a program in the US co-founded by Randi Braunwalder called the HP Eco Advocate Program.  My formal role at HP is technology marketing and I am also one of a growing number of volunteer HP Eco Advocates, representing HP’s Environmental Stewardship and resources to customers and partners.   This program allows our company to extend HP’s Environmental Team Resources more broadly to employees who also have a passion for sustainability. The experience I gained through this HP program was a key contributor in my being able to participate in this expedition.

If I think about the success of any company, much of it can be measured by employee engagement. The more you empower employees with a passion for sustainability based on first-person experiences and solid, rich knowledge, the greater the enthusiasm and leadership for the company and our environment.

Darren: Without a doubt, the experience of participating in 2041 has provided KPMG a competitive advantage in the business world. I guarantee that the knowledge, resources and contacts that Janet and I gained on this journey will help our companies benefit from the world’s thought leaders in sustainable business. I can email a UN policy expert and get a response back in five minutes. In fact, while on the expedition, we received a message from the environmental minister in the Chinese government talking about how China was tracking our progress on the Internet, how proud they were of the Chinese participants and how important alternative energy would be to the future of China – pretty amazing!

In the few short weeks that I’ve been back at KMPG, I feel like I’ve brought many new ideas to our Living Green Committee and a burst of new energy to work. I’m especially excited to share what I’ve learned about renewable energy and apply that knowledge.

Only 65 people take part in 2041’s Leadership on the Edge journey each year. It is an honor but with it comes tremendous responsibility. I think any CEF member company would benefit tremendously from sending an employee on the next expedition. In terms of professional enrichment and career enhancement, I’d recommend 2041 over a graduate program any day.

During the trip, Janet and I served as ambassadors for CEF, often explaining the organization’s mission and goals. We quickly became aware that CEF’s solid reputation preceded us. In fact, one presentation on the ship by Rob Zipplies cited a “must read” article on sustainability: “Why  Sustainability is Now a Key Driver of Innovation” co-authored by CEF founder M.R. Rangaswami!

Janet: The expedition was definitely a differentiator, unlike any experience either of us have had before. Darren and I both want to thank the Corporate Eco Forum for this life-changing opportunity.  We are very grateful and inspired!

Learn more about the expedition by following Janet Morris’ blog, “Antarctica Expedition 2011 Transforming Footprint to Fingerprint” and click here to see more photos from the journey.

Sign up for CEF Newsletter
* = required field