For Renat Heuberger, climate justice is just as important as climate action. As the CEO of South Pole, and with the help of Porsche, he is improving lives and the environment through people-first sustainability projects that strike at the heart of the problem
A youthful journey to a better world
In 1993, a young Swiss called Renat Heuberger set off on a journey that would shape not just his future but of many others too. Full of wanderlust and youthful enthusiasm, the 16-year-old spent a year exploring Indonesia as an exchange student. A profound experience that would have a lasting effect, shaping many of the ideas and values that still drive him to this day.
“Imagine a young boy coming from Switzerland, where everything’s nice and clean, a place where you feel protected,” explains Renat, now a social entrepreneur and sustainability pioneer. “Then you’re dropped into Jakarta, Indonesia, with 12 million people and a lot of chaos, pollution and social injustice. That gave me quite a shake-up. I came back with a desire to want to make a difference.”
Climate solutions: a question of balance
And make a difference he did. That teenage trip would set Renat on the path to the carbon finance consultancy he co-founded 15 years ago, South Pole. Along the way he studied environmental science and set up a number of businesses and foundations, driven by a vision and desire to “solve environmental and social challenges”.
The new type of luxury involves a strong commitment towards conservation of nature
It’s a vocation that plenty undertake, but Renat felt that if his work was to have lasting impact, he would need to approach things differently. How exactly? “By not ignoring market facts or economic realities,” he says.
This balancing of positive environmental impact on the one hand, and economic reality on the other, perhaps explains why South Pole has a client list that includes luxury fashion labels, hotel chains, public sector businesses, financial institutions and premium sports car brands like Porsche.
As South Pole’s current CEO, Renat’s mission is to help businesses achieve their climate goals, something he says is very much top of the agenda for today’s brands.
“Climate action has to move away from this idea that only completely green people are part of it, the kind of people wearing hemp shirts and walking everywhere,” says Renat. He believes the most significant change comes from “classic participants” – the types of people who are into sports cars for instance. “We need those people to be part of it. The new type of luxury involves a strong commitment towards conservation of nature. A lot of high-end brands – and we see this trend with luxury fashion brands – have very closely aligned themselves with the goals of nature.”
Significant impact: Porsche and South Pole
South Pole, which has a double mission of climate action and climate justice, works with Porsche Impact, the Porsche carbon-offsetting initiative for customers. It enables Porsche owners to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions, which are used to fund certified sustainability projects around the world. To date, Porsche Impact has offset more than 46,589 tons of carbon dioxide.
“The projects that Porsche drivers can support are handpicked by our teams and are what we call verified carbon reductions. People can be very clear that for every tonne of CO2 they compensate for is backed by a
verified emission reduction somewhere else in the world,” adds Renat. “Importantly, we’re not only addressing CO2, but we’re also ensuring that the
United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are being met, meaning that these projects create additional benefits on the ground.”
As an example of that dual climate benefit in action, Renat mentions Kariba REDD+ in Zimbabwe, one of the projects Porsche Impact supports. This beautiful oasis on the shores of Lake Kariba spans nearly 785,000 hectares and connects four national parks and eight safari reserves, as well as expansive forest that is home to vulnerable or endangered species like African elephants and the southern ground hornbill.
Equipping communities for the future
Following years of political and economic turmoil in the country, more than a third of Zimbabwe’s majestic forest has been lost, largely driven by desperate communities clearing the forests for subsistence farming and fuelwood. The Kariba project protects what remains but also crucially equips people with the necessary skills and resources to protect their future and the future of the planet.
Carbon credits bought through Porsche Impact fund South Pole’s community-driven biodiversity scheme are empowering people through grants to invest not just in farming but also better healthcare, schools and infrastructure.
“The project here is not only about protecting a forest and planting new trees,” explains Renat. “It's also about giving people alternative livelihoods. This is very important because you have to actually take away the root cause of why people cut down trees in the first place.”
Furthermore, Porsche is actively promoting green electricity projects that generate energy from wind and solar power and aims to provide more than a billion euros towards complete decarbonisation over the next decade. Since 2017, Porsche has been using certified electricity from renewable energy at all its production facilities. In fact, since the beginning 2021, all main Porsche sites are operating CO2-neutral.
Change the message, change the world
What’s clear about Renat’s approach is that we need to tackle the problem head on. Asked how we all can individually contribute and make a change, he’s both pragmatic and realistic. “It's not true that to save the climate we will all need to go into perpetual lockdown or stop having fun. In fact, it's the opposite,” he says. “It's a little bit like trying to lose weight. You can't do it all in the last month. It's a little bit of effort every day.”
More important for Renat is the communication message around sustainability and the environment. “Climate has been so abstract,” he admits. “We have to touch people's emotions, much more than just talking about tonnes of CO2 and greenhouse gases.”
Renat might have come a long way since that character-building trip to Indonesia nearly three decades ago, but it’s left an indelible mark on him. “It gave me a combination of hope and despair,” he recalls. “Despair in the sense that back then, in the early 1990s, I could see all these forests being cut down everywhere. But also hope in a sense that I believe humans are really adaptable and, if given the right chance, will very quickly turn things around.”