Our oceans need a wave of change

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09 June, 2015


Insights from the CEO



Peter Bakker

Our fate is closely tied to that of our oceans. Let’s keep the promise of healthy oceans in a healthy planet with healthy beings.

My feet are buried in sand. Seagulls sing out as they ride the warm breeze blowing above me. In the sun, with the water’s edge a breath away, a beautiful beach is always an amazing mental refuge.

In the real world however, the beauty of this landscape is not always guaranteed. Our oceans are under severe stress due to human impact causing rapid deterioration: acidification, warming, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution. The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and climate change are projected to exacerbate the influence of direct pressures from overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution.

UNEP estimates that 10 – 20 million tons of plastic end up in our seas every year, feeding the five vortexes of plastic waste across the world’s oceans. According to the Ocean Conservancy, if we continue to pollute our oceans at this rate, by 2025 there will be roughly one ton of rubbish in the sea for every 3 tons of fish. And as waves of plastic wash our shores, it causes the death of a million birds every year.

The impact of this deterioration goes far beyond the ocean itself and touches upon the broad spectrum of sustainability challenges with socio-economic consequences. Oceans are not only home to countless species – more than 3.5 billion people depend on oceans for sustenance. They are a source of livelihood and economic stability. They also play a crucial role in generating oxygen and mitigating climate change by absorbing CO2 and heat while influencing weather patterns that determine rainfall.

On June 8 we celebrated World Oceans Day. Healthy oceans are a prerequisite for a healthy planet. Ocean pollution and mismanagement are at the forefront of the global agenda. But, so are the different opportunities for preservation and sustainable management.

Business has an important role to play in preserving our oceans. Many companies are dependent on marine ecosystem services, and they are also responsible for part of the pollution and affected by its consequences. We are all concerned, both as individuals and consumers.

At the WBCSD, we are working with the Race for Water Foundation, among others, to raise awareness about marine litter, a circular approach to resources management and upcycling.

Restoring ocean health, beyond cleaning the waste already accumulated, depends on using our resources efficiently, making sustainable consumption choices, and managing our waste effectively. Together with our member companies and partners, we are working to bring about a mindset shift and identify solutions that can prevent marine pollution at the source.

Our new U.S. Materials Marketplace business solution, developed in partnership with our Global Network partner US BCSD and the Corporate Eco Forum, brings together over 20 major companies with operations in the U.S. to promote business-to-business material reuse opportunities. We aim to do this by creating a network that turns waste into value – where one company’s waste becomes another company’s raw material. Ultimately, the project aims to identify critical success factors to scale up materials reuse projects globally.

The degradation of our oceans clearly demonstrates that the end of the “take, make and dispose” era has come. By finding new value in waste, circular thinking shows that we can create new opportunities instead of using an isolated solution that just shifts impacts down the line to another manufacturer, provider, or consumer. Circular solutions can break through silos to deliver integrated benefits for the environment, economy and society.

Our fate is closely tied to that of our oceans. Let’s keep the promise of healthy oceans in a healthy planet with healthy beings.

Peter Bakker