One year after Antarctica – Diego’s reflections

Over the next two weeks, as this year’s group of Bainies prepares to head to Antarctica, last year’s participants will share their reflections on how the expedition affected them. Here is the first in the series, from Diego in Mexico. 

They promised things would change: “You will never look at a map in the same way again. Not once will you be able to stare at a map and not have your eyes drift South…”

Looking back, I realize the 2041-experience was life-changing. I’ve changed my life in small, tangible ways: making all my personal flights carbon neutral (which you can also do HERE), convincing my teams to minimize their use of plastic bottles and Styrofoam coffee cups, spending at least one day a week outdoors, deciding to climb Aconcagua in 2016… Little things; but it is the little things that, done over and over for a long time, add up to something huge. Yet, I have also changed in a larger, more fundamental way.

Diego - Antarctica

Diego and Robert Swan in Antarctica

Soon after landing back in Mexico, I began my B-school application process. As you might imagine, the White Continent played a starring role in my essays. (Hey, “I slept without a tent under the austral stars” sounds pretty cool!) The process also led me to conduct research about sustainability practices worldwide. I was particularly interested in a problem that has struck me since my childhood: plastic trash. Here are some quick facts:

Every year, the world produces ~300 million tons of plastic!!!

– 168 bottles per year per person or ~60 million per day in the US

– Some plastic takes up to 1,000 years to fully decompose

– Less than 15% of plastic is recycled, the rest goes to landfills or worse

– Large quantity ends up in ocean – concentrating in 5 gyres, with mammoth impact on    ecosystems, marine life & economy (e.g., $1.27B in vessel damage in APAC alone)

A couple of months later I was assigned to a case with a very large retailer. I was surprised and excited when my manager told me , “Diego, you are responsible for reducing waste and throwaways for three divisions of the business.” Our client goal’s was to reduce waste products worth hundreds of millions of dollars; my own personal goal was to reduce waste products worth thousands of tons of plastic and metal waste. Talk about a “win-win”!

This was, without a doubt, the most satisfying project in my life – both in personal and professional terms. It was also the one where I’ve worked with the highest motivation and purpose. I’m proud to say that it has also been incredibly successful for our client: we saved over ~$200M in waste last year and our client’s target for this year is 2.5x that.

So, how did my time in Antarctica affect me? The weeks spent on the ice, the people I met and the stories I heard filled me with a sense of possibility. The lessons I learned have drastically changed the way I think and live. Not a day has gone by since last March that I haven’t remembered the three leadership lessons I learned from Rob Swan, polar explorer, environmentalist and leader of the expedition:

“Be Positive, no one follows a pessimist…

…Keep your promises, there are people counting on you

…it’s easy to get lost in the world, Stay Relevant!”

And not a day has gone by without my mental gaze drifting South, to Antarctica, either.

 

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