Entrepreneur, TV Host, award-winning TV Producer and Director, photojournalist. Hong Kong's Sean Lee Davies is many things – but perhaps closest to his heart is his role as CEO of Project C:Change, a social enterprise and media platform dedicated to driving environmental change and changing attitudes towards conservationism in Asia.
With a new TV series, 'Adventures To The Edge 2', seeing Sean travel across Asia to visit some of the most beautiful and threatened parts of the planet, it was only natural that Sean visited the Volvo Ocean Race Hong Kong Race Village as a guest of Vestas 11th Hour Racing to see for himself the work that the event is doing on both a local and international level to maximise impact, minimise footprint and leave a positive legacy in 2017-18.
Hi Sean! You’ve been working on environmental issues in Hong Kong and the wider Asian region for some time – talk us through some of the issues and challenges you’ve faced in that time…
I set up Project C:Change, which is an environmental advocacy group based out of Hong Kong. We started doing campaigns raising awareness about climate change in 2010, and that evolved into a TV show and an Asia-wide campaign to raise awareness about waste reduction and bio fuels.
I’m also really interested in the illegal wildlife trade. Hong Kong is a hub of this, and it’s something that I thought I could bring my skills in the media to raise awareness about – particularly the ivory trade. This area has more ivory items on sale than any other nation on the planet. We have to step up. It brings up a bigger problem with HK as a society, we are very wealthy but we don’t really take care of our environment, especially the ocean – we benefit so much from our ocean but people don’t really respect it.
What’s the state of environmental awareness in Hong Kong and China right now, and how has that changed since you started Project C:Change?
We always used to think of China as behind the times when it comes to environmental thinking, but I actually think that in recent years Hong Kong has fallen behind the thinking of mainland China in that they’re much more aware now of toxification of the environment, they’re much more progressive on things like solar, whereas Hong Kong has a huge environmental footprint.
If the whole world consumed like we do here in Hong Kong, you’d need 2.5 planets just to survive. In some ways, I suppose you could say that Hong Kong is the victim of its own success, in that it’s a very prosperous state, but as a society it has to change and think about what it means for consuming. I feel that Hong Kong has fallen behind China, Japan, Taipei, Singapore in these respects.
How does an event like the Volvo Ocean Race coming to town help to raise awareness of these issues?
We live in an attention economy. We’re all trying to grab people’s attention, all the time – and the Volvo Ocean Race is a huge event, coming into Hong Kong making a big noise, and raising the alarm about the plastic issue, so of course people pay attention.
It makes sense doing it this way round, but it’s about making sure there’s a follow up, as well as just raising awareness. We need actionable goals and a follow up in the government, to legislate the dumping of waste into the oceans. Just looking around this Race Village at all the school kids running around is fantastic – they’re going to get inspired by all this, and it’s definitely delivering the message at a higher volume.
A key pillar of our sustainability strategy is to leave a legacy, and part of that is to engage school kids via the Education Programme, in partnership with 11th Hour Racing. How important do you think it is to tackle this issue from an early age?
It’s a cascading effect. You educate young kids, and as they grow up they’ll want their parents to live in a more sustainable fashion, and they’ll want to work for companies that operate more sustainably, so it kind of trickles down. It’s very important that the younger generation gets educated and up to speed, and it’s great to see 11th Hour Racing help 12,500 school kids to come through the Race Village in Hong Kong. We’re already seeing massive changes in the awareness of kids in Hong Kong, whether it’s about the illegal wildlife trade or plastic, so it’s definitely there, but the system has to change too, and that takes time.
You’re about to head out on a Volvo Ocean 65 yourself in our of our Pro-Am Races – how do you feel?
I’m honoured to be going onboard. I’ve been sailing for 15 years in Hong Kong and I’ve seen the deterioration of the water before my eyes, in fact recently I’ve just stopped swimming in the ocean because it’s become so filthy. You’re literally swimming in litter, trash, plastic bags, and it’s heartbreaking.
I’ve travelled around the globe and I’ve seen, just like these sailors, the remote places that are impacted by plastic. People see pictures of remote desert islands and they think, ‘oh it’s blue, it’s beautiful, etc’ but they don’t realise that everything is connected. If we do something, we’re affecting animals and other human beings in other parts of the world. Whatever we do in our own lives can impact a turtle thousands of miles away. It’s about this idea of interconnectedness, and I think that’s something that the Volvo Ocean Race does really well. Ultimately, it’s a global event, and it connects the dots between people, business, sport and business around the globe.
Is 2018 going to be a year we look back on and think ‘that was the year that attitudes changed?’
I do think that 2018 is going to be a watershed year. Not because of any particular forethought about it – but a culmination of several movements. The UN got serious about plastic, David Attenborough has a lot of people talking through Blue Planet 2, and films about the issue are getting critical acclaim around the world. Obviously it’s a unique time where all these different awareness campaigns are coming together, and now’s the time to address it. It’s been too long coming, we all saw it but no one connected the dots until now. It’s a global problem that we have to solve collectively and it has to start from the top with the governments. It requires grassroots organisations and more importantly for us to work with businesses to make them wake up and see that they’re responsible for making a change.
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