World-class adventurer, extreme sportsman, author and entrepreneur Albert Bosch has done it all … from climbing the world’s seven highest summits to a solo trek across Antarctica to competing in nine Dakar Rallies and multiple ultra-marathons, to this month releasing his latest book, The Future Explorer (only available in Spanish at the moment).
Bosch stopped by SB ’15 London in November (in the middle of literally running “coast to coast” across England) to share some insights with attendees about how his adventuring led to a passion for sustainability (see his presentation here). I caught a few minutes with him afterward to learn more.
Can you share a little bit more about how your adventuring life created your passion for sustainability?
Albert Bosch: It was an evolution, because sometimes we — sport people, adventure people or companies — look for daily targets, daily profit, daily goals, daily purposes, daily dreams. That is how I’ve lived my life. But there was a moment that I [realized] that I was using/consuming nature in all ways, in my activities … I always say that I love nature, I earn my [living] in nature, I enjoy nature — but I didn’t do anything valuable for nature. So there was something wrong in that. I [thought], I [spend] all of that time in nature — I have to be an ambassador of nature, of the planet, because I am in front of a lot of people looking at my activities — young people, businessmen, housewives, sportsmen.
I think people that are in sports and have the fortune to have visibility — we have a responsibility. Everybody [does], but people who can be an example of behavior for others have a bigger responsibility. And that was an evolution — I became conscious of that during my 7 Summits project, and consciousness is the first stage to responsibility. And if you are responsible, then there is only one step ahead: You have to put it into your actions, your daily actions. My commitment comes from real consciousness, not from marketing. Of course I use marketing because I have to finance all my projects and so on, and that’s where “the sustainable brands” come [in].
In a recent blog post, you said brands committed to a more sustainable future can be a great change agent in our society. On a daily basis, more and more brands are setting environmental goals, social goals … but like you said, the key is acting on them and implementing the commitments. Are there brands that come to mind that you think are already doing this?
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AB: Yes, of course. Fortunately more and more brands and many startups are growing up with this concept. Of course, Tesla is one of them; [and] Patagonia. Patagonia, the first thing they say to you is, “Hey, don’t buy this. First, ask yourself if you need it, and if you need it, it will be the most sustainable [product] possible.” I like that. Unilever is [also doing its part]. Toyota now is moving to that. Tesla was born on that concept, but Toyota — the leading manufacturer in the world — has committed by 2050 [to be] neutral, absolutely neutral. All their cars will be zero emissions, they say, electric or hydrogen; all of the factories will be powered by renewable energy, and the circular economy will be part of all of their activities.
So many brands are [moving that way] because it’s the real future for them, and for the planet we need. I really believe that this part of capitalism has a lot to do — maybe we’ll find another system in the future, but meanwhile, capitalism has a lot of importance and we have to use it for good. And it can be used [for good] — that’s the importance of these events and this philosophy. [These are] the brands I like to work with, because when I put a brand sticker on my clothes, I must believe the values of the brand. There are no perfect brands, but it is the commitment to do today a little bit better than yesterday, and a little bit better tomorrow than today. That’s a change agent; it’s not the perfect one who shows [others] how to do things, it’s the one who really acts, doing better things every day.
What do you think is the role of brands in helping consumers change their behavior?
AB: I think it’s crucial to history, you know, because it’s never happened that humanity has this capacity of doing good or doing bad at the same time. We can be a weapon or an angel for the planet, if you want. But we connect to brands. So if brands only want to sell, sell, sell — no matter how — we’re dead. We are killing ourselves, we are poisoning ourselves every day. But when brands commit to a better future, it has a huge capacity for impact. But of course, it’s not only their job; it is the job of the consumers that have to require that. It is the job of [politicians] to help them to regulate that. It is the job of the stockholders to understand that the company is not only for them — it is for the stakeholders, not the stockholders only.
Everything has [an influence] on the brand, and the brand must understand that if it wants to live for a while, the values of the brand are really important. It has [always been important] in marketing, but now we see that the brand can fall down in trepidation in seconds. Of course, Volkswagen is an easy example, but it is a good example — they invested hundreds of millions in marketing, but [their reputation] has gone, because they were cheating. So trust is hard, as you know, to achieve and very easy to lose. But brands [have to be change-makers]. Brands are run by people, so the real change-makers are the people behind and the people in front — the ones who buy and the ones who decide. Brands are the link to a better future.
What do you think is missing so far from brands’ efforts to become sustainable? How do you think they can take it further?
AB: I think they must be a bit more radical, you know — they are a little bit afraid, because they want to [appeal to] everybody. But over time the consumer will not consume with ambiguity. They want to know where [the companies] are. That’s the problem — the values we discuss at home on Sunday should be the values we use on Monday for working, for buying, and for talking. Brands must be a little bit more radical and a little more confident. I mean, even brands that are doing really [well], sometimes they don’t care about doing other things because it’s [not] profitable, [doesn’t have enough] visibility, and so on — it is short-term gains, but not long-term vision. I think that real brands for the future have to know that they can lose a little bit but they can earn much more when they are in that position. Because the world is moving to that.
Passion will help us — which is a brand tool. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio, who is engaged [in good causes] — climate change, solidarity, and will never drive a car that is polluting — is a good example. [As opposed to] any other actor or sportsman who doesn’t care, only shows muscle and all that … So brands must be a little bit more radical, because, like DiCaprio, they can achieve targets, and cause leaders, opinion leaders, consumers, stakeholders, and everybody [to want] to be there.
Brands must move — they have too much responsibility in this game to be quiet.
What is your next adventure?
AB: The next adventure, I always say, is the adventure that I can sell. Because I, myself, I am a brand and unfortunately I am not a millionaire who is doing any adventure he wants to do. I have to find adventures that make sense for me, for my life — because I put a lot of energy, sometimes some risk in that. But [they also must] make sense from a marketing point of view, of course, a communications and media coverage point of view, and my challenge — my personal commitment — must make sense [in terms of] sustainability. So, the three things together are quite difficult to achieve and at the end it has to be a product that can be sold.
If possible, my next adventure will be [in the] Amazon, in a very special way, alone … a special expedition, connecting directly adventure and sustainability. I believe that adventures are good histories - for selling with values, for reputation for companies, we need good histories. Epic histories like adventures I think can be very good for that. And I am preparing one in the Amazon linked to the values of sustainability because the Amazon is one of the places richest in biodiversity but also most threatened for deforestation, for water, for species extinction, and so on.
I will try to do that adventure in the second part of next year, if possible. Right now I am in the process of [seeking sponsors]. But I don’t want [just] any brand — I want brands which are aligned with my purpose.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Sustainable Brands community?
AB: Well, only to say that brands are important, but at the end, each person brings value to the team, and the team to the company, and the company builds a brand. Each person has the responsibility, and we have to use it. We must be authentic. We want to be connected with our passions and our purpose — we cannot be connected to that two days a week. Being connected with your passion is a full-time job. And it’s very nice if you have the opportunity to do that. The people with leading brands have this opportunity. But it must start in each person.