By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News December 29, 2010
A close encounter with polar bears in northern Manitoba on a recent trip has left a trio of corporate partners shocked about the extent of global warming and renewing commitments to reduce their environmental footprint in partnership with customers.
"It's such a heart-wrenching way to learn a very hard lesson about climate change," said David Moran, director of public affairs and communications for Coca-Cola in Canada. "We've used the polar bear in our marketing material for over 80 years. So for us, the polar bear has a particularly warm place in our hearts."
The trip was organized by conservation group WWF-Canada under a theme of "seeing is believing." Moran and other corporate executives on the trip said it was particularly shocking to see the mammals stranded by large waves coming into the shore in November.
"You know that they (polar bears) are virtually starving because they need the ice to hunt," said Moran.
"Without the ice, they can't properly feed themselves, and so it's such a graphic way of saying how climate change is impacting everything around you, but more importantly, this unique Canadian icon."
One executive from LoyaltyOne, the parent company of the Air Miles reward program, said he was also left speechless by what he saw, even after being trained by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore to raise public awareness about climate change.
"It kind of felt like a little bit of a punch," said Andreas Souvaliotis, chief impact officer and general manager of Air Miles for Social Change, a division of the company that focuses on promoting greener lifestyle choices. "You are just seeing such a dramatic degradation in terms of what these poor bears have to live with."
Souvaliotis said it also helped drive home the point that humans are causing these dramatic changes in the climate.
"The thing that I found absolutely dramatic is that we're up there in November and we're standing on a beach, on an arctic beach, and all we're seeing is waves," he said. "There was not a hint of ice."
Polar bears are listed under provincial legislation as a species at risk in Manitoba, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as in the U.S. But it is only designated a species of "special concern" by the federal government in Canada, which is home to about 15,000 of an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world.
"It's not the same everywhere," said Peter Ewins, a senior officer for species at WWF-Canada. "Polar bears are most threatened at the edge of their range and the least pressurized, right now, in the central and northern part of that range."
But he noted that the long ice-free season is representative of a trend over the past 30 years of shorter winters and earlier springs that will have an impact on some regional populations and biodiversity.
"You can't just have 800 polar bears marching north, expecting to find a place to find food, because there are already polar bears there," he said.
An insurance industry executive said he's hoping that images and stories he brought back about the trip will also inspire employees and customers to start changing their habits and prepare for more changes in the climate that are already affecting his sector.
"Our greatest exposure as a company has gone from fire claims, which used to be the biggest exposure to our business, to water damage claims — weather-related events," said Adrian Hall, director of personal specialty insurance and corporate communications at RSA Canada "So we are seeing a shift."
In fact, water damage claims grew from 20 to 50 per cent of all property-related claims within Canada over the past nine years, according to statistics from the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The statistics also estimate 1.23 billion water-damage claims, industry-wide in Canada, for 2009.
Meantime, Coca-Cola said it has committed to reducing its own environmental footprint, while continuing to grow its business through new initiatives such as the introduction of Canada's first every heavy-duty hybrid electric trucks for shipments. The beverage company is aiming for a five per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions over the next five years and is also hoping to raise awareness in advertising for others to do the same.
"I think all companies are going to awaken to the environmental reality," said Moran. "The question is: Are you going to be an early adopter, a leader, or are you going to do the bare minimum? But I don't think any company can avoid the reality of what's happening to the environment."
Read more: http://www.canada.com/technology/Close+encounter+with+free+polar+bears+shocks+Coca+Cola+exec/4037085/story.html#ixzz19cVYSylV
Click to view image: 'Polar Bear'
|Liveleak on Facebook|