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Q&A with Wayne van Zijl | Climate Change Project

- Brian Makena

Wits Profs Kurt Sartorius and Wayne van Zijl are set to paddle 1100km down the Amazon's Madeira River to raise awareness and funding to combat climate change.

Brian Makena speaks to Associate Professor Wayne Van Zijl about the initiative.

What inspired you to take on this kind of movement?

Prof Kurt Sartorius is the true visionary. He is passionate about combating climate change and the role accountants can play. He inspired me to want to join not only the expedition but accountants’ fight against climate change.

Why is it imperative to create climate change awareness?

It is intuitive that climate change is a global problem. What is not so obvious is that accountants need to play a significant role in combatting climate change. They can do this through developing the technologies to identify, measure and recognise companies’ environmental impact. As we all know, something not measured is something not done. I am passionate about the evolution of corporate reporting and see the link clearly. I want accountants to realise their potential and for each accountant to make pushing environmental accounting a priority at their respective organisations in the interests of sustainable business.

Is there a specific diet you would have to go on when embarking on this journey?

Prof Kurt is in charge of our meals. I’m leaving all of that up to him and look forward to seeing what he comes up with for dinner. 

How will you retain your energy throughout this process?

I think the mental fortitude is going to be the big determining factor. My generation is not well practiced being happy with one’s own company and keeping oneself entertained or busy. I’m looking forward to this change most, in terms of my personal development. While I’m not someone attached at the hip to my cellphone, I do rely on it more than I’d like. Hopefully I’ll come back with some fresh perspective.

How would funding assist in combating Climate change?

Firstly, we hope to make a direct impact through supporting reforestation initiatives. Secondly, through funding scientific and business-related research aimed at making practical contributions to fighting climate change. On the business side, we need to accelerate the rate at which we develop the means to report companies’ environmental impact in a way that facilitates accountability. Qualitative narratives in integrated reports are excellent. But we need to do more. I don’t know what that will look like in 5, 10 of 20 years’ time. But I know we need to measure environmental impact so that is managed carefully.

In addition, there are many companies that are already doing great work in transforming their businesses into environmentally sustainable businesses. These companies are at a disadvantage while this extra-financial information is not incorporated into capital allocation decisions. This reduces the drive for business to transform their businesses. So the impact is clear. The sooner we can hold accountable, and reward, companies for their environmental impact the better for everyone.

How will you sustain yourself in the middle of the Amazon Madeira River? 

Prof Kurt is in charge of our meals. I’m leaving all of that up to him and look forward to seeing what he comes up with for dinner. 

What are the risks and benefits involved in canoeing?

Unfortunately the area we are travelling through is quite rural and experiences poverty. We need to try keep a low profile and make sure we don’t look like tourist – who are easy targets for opportunist type crime. At night, we may need to have someone keeping watch over the canoes and equipment to avoid theft. Using canoes means we are only dependent ourselves. We don’t need petrol, oil or services. So that is the greatest benefit being in such rural areas – being self-reliant.

The benefits – going back to a more simple time. A time when we made our way round under the power of our own steam.

What are the precautionary measures put in place in case of an incident/ emergency?

I qualified as a Basic Ambulance Assistant in 2009. I worked ad hoc for NetCare 911 for a few years so I’ll bring with all that experience. And, unfortunately, working on the roads in SA means I encountered many different kinds of medical and traumatic medical emergencies. So I’ve been brushing up on my basic medical training books. We will also be taking prophylaxis anti-biotics, anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medication. One of the most important medications is our malaria tablets as there are thousands of mosquitoes where we’ll be. I am allergic to bee stings while Profs Kurt and Benn are allergic to penicillin so we’ve got 2 Epipens (auto-injectors to combat allergic reactions). Then the usual basic first aid, plasters, bandages, anti-bacterial and fungal ointments, gauze, tweezers, scissors, burn gel and dressings, gloves, etc. We’ll also be taking some anti-foot-rot precautions. Because we’ll be paddling so many hours each day, our feet will often be wet due to the water that collects from splashes in the canoe. This can cause foot-rot over extended periods and make the journey very unpleasant. We have a variety of remedies planned and we’ll see what works best. We have some anti-fungal tablets and will use petroleum jelly to help protect our feet during the day. At night we’ll wash our feet very well and use powders to keep them dry and prevent any infections.

When is the trip set to take off and when are you expected to return?

Profs Kurt and I depart OR Tambo on 1 July 2022. It will take us 3 days to get to Porto Velho. We’ll then have 2 days to get the local food suppliers for the trip. We start canoeing at sunrise 6 July. We expect the trip to take anywhere from 21 to 28 days to complete depending on the weather and our strength.

How will you use canoeing and accountancy as a means to solve what is known to be our biggest crisis; Climate change?

The first thing is the story – imagine your grandparents paddling 1 100kms down a river at 73-years-old, never mind in another country with the harsh and unpleasant conditions we expect to experience. This is a compelling story of just how dedicated Prof Sartorius is to fighting climate change. We hope the story will create the awareness that climate change is not a problem just for natural scientists but it is everyone’s problem.

Accountants, specifically, need to develop the tools to be able to identify, measure and recognise environmental impact in corporate reports At present, environmental is disclosed but usually only in a narrative form. If we can put numbers to environmental position and performance, companies will take their environmental more seriously. In addition, it will be easier for investors and society to compare companies and hold them accountable. We will use donations from this initiative to fund research to develop these tools.

What is that you are looking forward to the most in the Amazon?

The adventure. How often do people do really rough and rural trips like this? It’s not that common. And the Amazon is just such an iconic place, I cannot wait to see it. To experience the vastness of the great Madeira River. Another aspect I’m really looking forward to is the silence. With just four of us paddling day in and day out, I imagine we’ll be left alone with our thoughts for much of the trip. I’m forward to that time for self-reflection and contemplation. Lastly, Prof Sartorius keeps reminding me how unpleasant the trip will be. From the foot-rot, exhaustion and the dreaded mosquitoes. So I think experiencing and working through the mental aspect will be a great experience.

How can ordinary people be a part of this initiative and what platforms are available for engagements?

They can donate to the cause at AccountantsCanSavePlanet using Accountants Can Save the Planet option. The fund is administered by Wits’ Development and Fundraising Office and Section 18A tax certificates are available on request. No donations will be used to fund the actual expedition to Brazil.

In addition, people can help by being more environmentally conscious in their daily lives. They must actively choose to support environmentally responsible companies, especially companies that report on their environmental impact.

Who can be a part of this drive ?

Everyone is encouraged to be a part of this initiative. Both through spreading awareness and donating to the initiative.

How you can get involved

  • Making a direct donation to the research fund set up and administered by the Wits Research Office for this initiative as deemed appropriate (https://devman.wits.ac.za/devman/accountantssaveplanet/giving/)
  • Distributing the call to action and support to members in its network;
  • Publicizing the expedition on its social media pages;
  • Following the social media pages set up for the expedition (Twitter: https://twitter.com/ResearchSoa, Instagram: waynevanzijl); and
  • Supporting the Wits SoAs Chief Value Officer course (SoA's CVO course)

Accountants can save the world

- Associate Professor Wayne Van Zijl

Wits Profs Kurt Sartorius and Wayne Van Zijl are set to paddle 1100km down the Amazon's Madeira River to raise awareness and funding to combat climate change.

In July 2022, three professors will be travelling to Porto Velho to begin a 1 100km journey down the Madeira River. Their goal is to paddle roughly 40- 60kms a day over an expected 28-day journey to initiate a long-term climate change project. One of the crew members is 73-year-old Wits University Accountancy Professor, Kurt Sartorius who'll be doing the trip for the second time in 50 years. 

The Climate Change Projects goal is to raise awareness about the business relevance of climate change among corporates and raise funding for high impact research and reforestation initiatives. The funding will not be used to cover any expeditionary costs but will be used to support reforestation projects and multi-disciplinary research into climate change including, for example, ESG reporting and assurance. Costs for the trip have been covered by Wits University and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) who have partnered with Wits for the expedition.

 

READ: Brian Makena speak to Associate Professor Wayne Van Zijl for details about the expedition

How you can get involved

  • Making a direct donation to the research fund set up and administered by the Wits Research Office for this initiative as deemed appropriate (https://devman.wits.ac.za/devman/accountantssaveplanet/giving/)
  • Distributing the call to action and support to members in its network;
  • Publicizing the expedition on its social media pages;
  • Following the social media pages set up for the expedition (Twitter: https://twitter.com/ResearchSoa, Instagram: waynevanzijl); and
  • Supporting the Wits School of Accountancys Chief Value Officer course (SoA's CVO course)
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