Pursuing your philanthropic passions

Explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan on spurring others into action

03 Feb 2017

Robert Swan explored the Arctic over two decades ago.

Thirty years ago, Robert Swan, polar explorer and environmentalist, became the first man to walk unsupported to the North and South Poles. In this article, Swan touches upon some of the issues we face in terms of climate change and spurring others into action.

Key takeaways

  • Use your own personal and first-hand experiences to discover and hone in on causes you're passionate about.
  • Know that you have the power to make a difference.
  • Impact investing makes it possible for transformational social and environmental changes while offering market rate financial returns.

Swan is a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Youth and a Special Envoy to the Director General of UNESCO. He is also a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). What's more, his company, 2041, led the first corporate expedition to the Antarctic, where Swan had seen firsthand what is happening with climate change some 30 years ago. "I walked under a hole in the ozone layer to the South Pole, and my eyes changed color and my face got burnt off," said Swan. "And then 27 years ago, I walked to the North Pole and the icecap melted beneath my feet." Swan said that he's not a scientist, explorer nor environmentalist, but rather a "survivor." "I think it’s worth saying that it's not all bad news because we can make a difference," said Swan. "As a survivor, if I see a perceived threat, I don't just sit back and wait. I do something about it. And I think that impact investing is all about that."

"Climate change is happening. Whether or not we are causing it is still in debate, but we need to act. Not along the lines of 'being green,' and all these things. It's a survival issue." Swan gives speeches to global audiences, one of which had been an audience at the first-ever U.S. UBS Philanthropy Forum.

"As part of my work, I'm very grateful for the opportunities to speak to important groups of people associated with UBS," said Swan. He also delivered a talk to younger high-net worth clients in New York, as well as at a summit at the Santa Fe Institute, where he met UBS Senior Vice President John Vazquez.

Besides his clients, John Vazquez himself was moved to act after what Mr. Swan had to say. So moved, in fact, that he and his wife decided to go with Mr. Swan on one of his group Antarctic treks this March. (Stay tuned for a follow-up article on Mr. Vazquez's experiences.)

"It sounds like it will be a really interesting and engaged experience," said Vazquez. "This one really resonated with us." Vazquez said that the feedback he received following the Santa Fe event at which Swan, among others, spoke, has been "eye-opening," in regard to people's misunderstanding of returns that come from impact investing.

"Exclusionary funds are the ones with which people are most familiar," said Vazquez. "Integration is something they hadn't understood before."

Impact investing allows for transformational social and environmental changes while also allowing an investor to enjoy market rate financial returns, if not better. "Clients were also interested in the fact that a firm of our size is moving so heavily into this area," said Mr. Vazquez of UBS. For Swan's part, he is going back to the South Pole this December, making a 600-mile journey by foot. The team will be surviving only on renewable energy, which has never been done before.

"I want to inspire others, and particularly, young people, that they can make a difference," said Swan.

How can you further your own philanthropic goals and passions and ensure they fit within your overall wealth management plans? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.