Like many kids who grew up in the Cold War era, Robert Swan worried about the number of nuclear bombs in the world and their ability to wreak havoc. But he also considered the places he was sure no one was pointing weapons — the North and South Poles. This led to an interest in the polar regions, exploration and adventure, which led to Swan becoming the first person to walk to both poles.

Of course, when he began his treks 30 years ago, there were no such things as cell phones, GPS or renewable energy. He used jet aviation fuel to melt ice, to cook food and to survive. “We were pretty much backside on the line to reach the Pole or die in the attempt,” Swan says. “It is extraordinary to think how technology has moved on since that time.”

Renewable energy tester

Expeditions to what Swan calls the “last wildernesses” needed to be as efficient as possible. They also taught him the need to take action to preserve our polar regions, which fueled his passion for renewable energy sources. He now calls himself a renewable energy champion and tester. On his most recent trip to the South Pole, he and his 24-year-old son, Barney, made the trip with only renewable resources, like a natural ice melter that relied on solar energy — something that Swan believes can be used for Mars exploration. “Remember: In our business, we’re dead if (the technology) doesn’t work,” he says.

In Swan’s job, if the equipment doesn’t work, he’s not coming home.

Environmentally responsible supply chain

Swan’s passion for preserving the polar regions has given him a unique perspective on climate change and the need for everyone to do more to protect the Earth. His use of renewable energy is just one aspect. He believes that sustainable behaviors need to be practiced in supply chains — and not just business ones. We all have our own personal supply chain consisting of the products we use and the companies we work with.

Swan, who spends a lot of time on airplanes, chooses airlines that use biofuels and implement other eco-friendly programs. He drives cars that use energy efficient technologies. “We think about our home and how much solar can we use, and whether we can buy green electricity through our electric company. We think about our diet and what we eat. We’re just trying in our own way,” he says.

Swan thinks that everyone should make more of an effort to rethink their personal supply chains to make them more sustainable.

Five small solutions

Swan offers a few simple steps to get started.

  • Consider the performance of the product, as well as how it’s made. The equipment has to work well, first and foremost. In Swan’s job, if the equipment doesn’t work, he’s not coming home. But there are a lot of companies who are making high-end products using sustainable resources. It’s a matter of doing your homework to find them.

  • When doing that homework, always verify the facts. Lots of companies will tell you they have sustainable practices, but not all are following through.

  • Think about what you’re eating and consider cutting down on the amount of meat consumed.

  • Adjust the thermostat so you aren’t freezing in the summer and roasting in the winter.

  • Finally, Swan advises to turn to old technologies: inspiration, hope, talking to people and inspiring people with ideas.

“This is the biggest impact you can have in saving the world and saving money for you and your business.”