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Citizen science: employees helping clean up the world

As businesses adopt more-innovative approaches to support sustainable development goals (SDGs) the input of their own staff to create environmental solutions could become even more important. 

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One such approach is providing staff with citizen science pathways to allow non-scientifically trained individuals to work with researchers to gather meaningful data to tackles real world issues

"When tailored to a company’s core activities, citizen science can have powerful impacts that benefit the company and broader environment.”

This people-powered approach increases the scientific community’s capacity to build valuable data sets rapidly. Data is used to inform appropriate policy, innovate product design and manufacturing, and drive more sustainable practices.

When tailored to a company’s core activities, citizen science can have powerful impacts that benefit the company and broader environment including the:

  • provision of evidence required to shape policy and practices;
  • improvement of employee environmental and scientific literacy leading to more informed decision making; and
  • empowerment of individuals to create positive change.

Pack your bags

Since 2001, Amcor, one of the world’s largest packaging companies, has partnered with Earthwatch Institute Australia to send over 200 employees on scientific expeditions around the globe.

Focused on the global waste crisis, Amcor employees have worked with scientists from Southern Cross University and CSIRO gathering data on debris hotspots around the world including Queensland, Indonesia, South Africa and Peru.  

Teams collate data on marine debris volume and type which provides insight to ecological risk and the source of debris, its country of origin and source industry.

Combined with statistical models of oceanography, this data prompts local remediation action and helps government and industry build targeted solutions for the region. Solutions may include education campaigns, product innovation, infrastructure improvements and/or economic incentive schemes.

Better understanding the causes of marine debris and how so much of it originates from regions with poor waste management and recycling, has motivated Amcor to become the first packaging company to commit that all their products will be recyclable by 2025. 

They have also committed to use more recycled plastics in their products and to work with governments and NGOs to increase the amount of plastic packaging that is recycled, helping to keep it out of the environment. 

”As a product development engineer I plan to give customers a glimpse of the impact we observed on the environment when we discuss the sustainability of new packaging opportunities,” Amcor Product Development R&D Principal Engineer, Dennis Kittel says.

“Making better decisions on raw material selections with suppliers can result in improved sustainability and higher quality of the recycle streams.” 

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Pic: Amcor employees categorizing debris found in the Whitsunday Islands. The citizen science expedition revealed that what is thought to be a pristine Australian destination, is in fact one of the highest debris loads of beaches in Australia uncovered by Southern Cross University. Source: Provided

People power

HSBC has been actively engaging staff worldwide in citizen science projects for over 15 years.

Working with Deakin University and Earthwatch Australia, staff are actively engaged in researching carbon sequestration within wetlands.

Wetlands store 20 to 40 times more carbon than terrestrial forests which means they play a critical role in mitigating climate change. The data collected by HSBC employees builds the case for wetland conservation and provides the information required to develop a blue carbon market in Australia.

HSBC is committed to financing the transition to a low-carbon economy and has strict sustainability sector policies, including those related to freshwater infrastructure, Ramsar Wetlands and UNESCO World Heritage sites. The citizen science days provide an opportunity for a deep dive into the importance of sustainability for business.

Employees from across the bank come away with an understanding about how the decisions made by companies can have environmental impacts and with a broader understanding of how the application of financial mechanisms can deliver positive environmental outcomes, such as through green bonds, green loans, and Sustainable Development Goal-linked bonds.

This is all while connecting them in a tangible way to the very ecosystems the bank aims to protect through its policies. 

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Pic: HSBC and Qantas employees undertaking carbon sequestration research in Sydney wetlands, helping to supply data that will aid the development of the Blue Carbon Market. Source: Provided

No company can create sound policies or frameworks without strong scientific facts.

By involving employees in citizen science, the industry is able to actively contribute to solving environmental problems, while also taking advantage of opportunities that may fuel growth and product design, reduce costs, build reputation and mitigate business risks.

It is a win-win for companies and the environment. 

Take part

World Clean Up Day is celebrated globally on 15 September. It creates a great opportunity for employees to take part in debris clean ups in their local natural environment but can also offer a people-powered pathway to becoming a citizen scientist.

If you are interested in becoming involved in a citizen science project, contact Earthwatch Institute or make a donation to support critical research. 

Cassandra Nichols is the CEO of Earthwatch Institute Australia, a member of the Australian Business and Biodiversity Initiative Steering Committee and an active member of the Australian Committee for International Union for Conservation of Nature (ACIUCN). 

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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