On January 13, 2022, I stood on a remote saddle high in the Ellsworth Mountains; it was about –20°F, but I was geared up for the cold. The view was infinite and amazing to behold. Spectacular mountains as high as 16,000 feet and glaciers that average 6,000 feet deep below the surface spanned the horizon. I felt I stood at the very edge of the Earth—an extreme place to be, yet a place so remote that I could not deny the perspective on life and our planet it offered.
The vast Antarctica continent extending beyond the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains.
To be here, a place solely of rock, ice, wind, silence and extreme cold was to know self-reliance, awe and how fragile life can be. Still, something inexplicable was happening—it had snowed several inches the night before and I would soon discover more snow was coming in a raging storm a few days off.
Antarctica is a desert—the driest continent, with an average precipitation of 1.5 inches per year. Yet more than a foot of snow fell over the two weeks I was in the Ellsworth Mountains. “Yes, our climate is changing,” I thought, “this snowstorm should not be happening.” A few days later at high camp, as a new storm raged on, I wondered if the intense 60 mph winds I was experiencing would accelerate and endanger my life, and whether climate change was the culprit. That day, in that moment, I feared climate change.
My adventure became a personal field study, clarifying what I’ve sensed, read and heard about climate change.
Storm clouds brewing over Mount Vinson’s high camp and Mount Shinn beyond.
Returning to Seattle, 9,000 miles from Mount Vinson and the Ellsworth Mountains, I reflected on the essence of leadership and organizational responsibilities. Leaders ensure their organization is guided by a compelling vision, relevant goals, coherent actions and on-course trajectories. Organizations that create the built environment must be concerned with the health of society.
The long journey home descending the Branscomb Glacier.
Advancing the health of society safeguards our ethical purpose. Ethical purpose is an authoritative force for relevancy. Being relevant guarantees success. Finally, addressing climate change guarantees relevancy.
NBBJ is a leadership intensive practice—a grand experiment where our role-based organization vests authority and responsibility with the role each of us fulfill. We express this cultural and values touchstone by highlighting that “we lead from every chair.” This means that it is up to every NBBJer to ask, “How will I reduce carbon today?” If ever there was a wicked problem that requires leaning in, learning, looking around the corners and being proactive, it is the challenge to become a net-zero carbon society.
Perspective is powerful.
We must act now to create sustainable, resilient, zero-carbon experiences, buildings, and communities.