Henderson Island is an uninhabited member of the Pitcairn Islands archipelago in the south Pacific Ocean measuring 37 square kilometres. While unsuitable for human habitation, the island boasts remarkable diversity given it’s size. It was previously considered one of the world's last two raised coral atolls whose ecosystems remained relatively unaffected by human contact. That changed in 2017. A routine research trip to the island yielded results of a different kind. As a result of the South Pacific Gyre nearby, the island now had the highest density of plastic debris anywhere in the world. The beaches contained an estimated 37.7 million items of debris together weighing approximately 17 tonnes. It’s a staggering number for an island that size and it doesn’t look to get better any time soon.
We are at a crossroads in regards to our climate. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic as CO2 levels continue to rise, species are going extinct in unprecedented numbers due to habitat loss, and animals are routinely found on beaches with stomachs full of plastic debris. The consumption habits of the most economically advantaged, and all the activities related to it, are having a direct affect on the planet. The poorest among us are the most affected as a large proportion of these communities live closely with the land, unlike the majority in developed nations, so what happens to the earth affects them more immediately than it does us. Climate change is resulting in crops and yields getting worse in addition to severe droughts which ultimately lead to starvation, uncertainty, and unrest. This is no way to live, especially when you are dealing with the results of actions you likely had little to no part in creating.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Innovation in the environmental sector abounds with all levels of government, private, and not-for-profit organisations coming together to encourage engagement from developed nations and help create large scale solutions which can be implemented thoughtfully and cost effectively. Social innovation, for instance, is discussed at the international level, in the OECD and at the highest political level in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. It is a major component of aid programmes targeted at developing countries in an attempt to help offset the devastation they’ve incurred as a direct result of climate change. Some organisations are taking it a step further still.
Our CEO at Pela, Matt, often speaks of a Responsibility Economy - the straightforward definition being that organisations take responsibility for the stuff they make from birth to death. It’s an important idea when it comes to creating more sustainable future and helping keep the environment clean. A critical part of that responsibility is to innovate within the key systems we rely on and to involve everyone in the value chain, from the producers and manufacturers right through to the end-user.
Our end users, for instance, are our most ardent activists. As heirs of the current global crisis and the future that will bring, our community, the majority of whom are Millennials and Gen Z, are taking an active role in seeking out and supporting organisations who are taking on the responsibility of global stewardship. They are pushing innovation, adopting green innovations early, and challenging organisations to be better in not only the product or service they sell, but through their entire supply chain.
So what implications does this have for us locally and what can you do to help? The most impactful action is still to be a conscious consumer, which simply means consuming less in material goods and energy, avoiding plastic as much as possible, upcycling, and trying to buy local whenever possible. Those are the most immediate actions you can take. That said, long term solutions are still required and I believe Kelowna is uniquely placed within an amazing innovation ecosystem to foster ideas and create solutions that can make a difference on a global scale. With both UBC and OC participating in innovations programs and the recent opening of the Innovation UBC Hub with the support of Accelerate Okanagan, our future leaders, with the support and guidance of current leaders, have a real chance at creating social and environmental impact.
Pela has grown faster than we can keep up with over the past year, an achievement not generally attributed to an organisation that creates physical products. That tells us that people are hungry for solutions; they want to live a life that is less intrusive to the environment around them. Time is ticking faster than we’d like but the mindset is shifting from taker to caretaker. If we mean to create real impact for the future of our planet, it needs to be all hands, and minds, on deck now.