Project Better World
Landmark 500th volunteer visits Arctic's edge as part of Earthwatch–Shell employee engagement program.
Shell employee volunteer Josh Kovacic (4th from left) with expedition members on Earthwatch project Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge in Churchill, Canada.
In February 2012, Earthwatch corporate partner Shell sent its 500th employee volunteer on an Earthwatch project as part of its long-standing employee engagement program Project Better World.
Lucky number 500, Joshua Kovacic, is an engineer for Shell in New Orleans. He joined the Earthwatch team at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba, Canada, on Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge from February 14 to 23 this year.
To mark this important milestone in the Earthwatch-Shell partnership, we caught up with Josh, after he came in from the cold, to find out how he got on at the edge of the Arctic.
What inspired you to apply to take part in the Project Better World program?
“As the son of an ecologist, I grew up learning about different ecosystems and developed a strong interest in the interactions of organisms with their environment. The human impact on global processes fascinates me because of the widespread implications to our entire way of life. If this impact is already being felt more prominently in areas like the Arctic, then we need to take advantage of as many opportunities to learn more about the impacts in these areas - and what it could mean to global processes further down the road. I had heard of the Earthwatch program, and when I found out that Shell sponsored participants through Project Better World, I knew immediately that I wanted to apply— and Dr. Kershaw’s Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge expedition was the opportunity I was most intrigued by.”
What were the highlights of your time on the Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge expedition?
“While it was fairly cold at times, the highlights of the expedition for me were definitely the time spent outdoors - snowshoeing to worksites, digging snow pits, collecting samples - but also building an igloo and getting to go dog-sledding on our day off. Dr. Kershaw’s research team was extraordinary, as were other Earthwatch participants on my expedition - which made the entire experience much more enjoyable. It also just so happened that we were in Churchill at a particularly good time to view the northern lights, which were amazing.”
How do you feel you have contributed to scientific research?
“We worked long hours collecting and analyzing samples, and populating data in support of research into snowpack and permafrost in a location that is a critical indicator of the progression of changes in our climate. Our work provided the 12th year of a statistically significant dataset that can be used as a context for comparison to changes seen in the past, present, and future - in Churchill and other locations around the world. In combination with other ongoing research efforts, this adds resolution to the picture of what’s happening to our climate, what continuing changes we might expect, and what factors might be influencing these changes. Even though we only provided a small portion of the overall data, it is efforts like this that ultimately will provide the information needed to paint this picture. Being able to contribute in this way is very rewarding.”
How do you think the Project Better World program benefits Shell employees and Shell as a business?
“The biggest benefit of the Project Better World program is that it educates Shell employees, who in turn will share their experiences and communicate what they’ve learned to their colleagues at Shell and externally as well. In this way, it helps to build awareness among employees of the importance of environmental resource conservation, and matters of energy and climate change - issues that will increasingly shape our lives, our customers’ lives, and our business indefinitely. This increased awareness will help Shell as a business to lead the way in addressing the challenges of developing energy resources while minimizing impacts to the environment.”
What is your message to Shell employees thinking about applying to take part in Project Better World?
“Research the available projects so that you understand the requirements and opportunities, and get in touch with others who have participated in past expeditions. Understand how your involvement supports your development and will enhance your role within Shell. Then put it on your individual development plan and coordinate with the leadership in your business area so that when the opportunity arises, you can take full advantage of it! The tasks and conditions can be very demanding, but also very rewarding. It’s a tremendous experience, and one you will never forget.”
Canadian Inuit “inukshuk” monument and frozen landscape, Churchill, Canada.
The Shell–Earthwatch partnership began in 1999, and over the years many employees from different business groups have participated in Earthwatch projects all over the world. The program aims to inspire employees to share their knowledge with colleagues and generate increased awareness of environmental and sustainability issues.