What’s the point of a watch designed to dive hundreds of metres beneath the sea, if that sea is polluted or otherwise compromised by human activity? Some fifty years ago, when brands first started to produce watches to specifications required by professional divers or navy commandos, the public was just becoming aware of the beauty and importance of ocean life, thanks to campaigning by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Today we have a far greater understanding of the underwater world and the threats to marine life. Concern for marine ecosystems has made it onto watchmakers’ agenda, too. After all, a dive watch, however advanced, loses its appeal when swimming through plastic. Hence a growing number of brands are signing up to support non-governmental organisations and their actions in the field (or under the waves) in favour of ocean preservation.
“Charity begins at home” as the saying goes, meaning companies need to consider not only how they can contribute to projects in-situ, but what their own organisation can do to achieve sustainable development. The question is central to Fondation de la Mer, a foundation set up in 2015 to help stakeholders “strengthen and accelerate their positive impact on the oceans.” The foundation, which has the support of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, has developed with the help of the Boston Consulting Group a reporting tool with and for companies, enabling them to identify and measure their contribution to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as set out at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. And Goal 14 is precisely to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
We cannot overstate the importance of the oceans. They are the true lungs of our planet, consuming up to 30% of human CO2 emissions and, through phytoplankton, producing 50% of the oxygen we breathe. Oceans play a vital economic role too, as noted by the Fondation de la Mer and BCG. In France, for example, marine-related sectors produce 14% of the country’s GDP. Similarly, 10% to 12% of the world’s population relies on fishing and aquaculture for their livelihood. Not to mention tourism and trade. Despite this, human activity is taking its toll. Ocean warming, acidification, chemical and physical pollution, overfishing, coastal urbanisation and the destruction of ecosystems have already caused colossal damage and the situation is deteriorating day after day. Fondation de la Mer is categoric: ocean preservation is not just a duty towards the next generations; it is a matter of survival. Business has a role to play, and not just organisations that generate revenue directly from our oceans and seas. The greatest threat to marine ecosystems comes from human activity on land. For example, 80% of ocean plastic comes from land sources, which is why the battle to save the oceans must be fought on terra firma.
The reporting tool developed by Fondation de la Mer should be seen in this context. Tested by nine companies in real-life conditions and based on SDG 14 criteria, it is designed to be easily implement by any company, in any sector, to identify and measure ten impacts that cover SDG 14. Businesses can then set themselves objectives, guided by a “target vision” in line with research conducted by the foundation. For each type of impact, the foundation proposes mechanisms for change and indicators for measuring progress. For example, companies taking action to reduce their chemical pollution of aquatic and marine environments are encouraged to increase waste recycling and reclamation. Fondation de la Mer publishes a reference value corresponding to recycled and reclaimed waste as a percentage of total waste.
The last word goes to Françoise Gaill, a biologist and emeritus research director at France’s national centre for scientific research (CNRS) who chairs the Fondation de la Mer scientific committee: “It’s time to take action and make use of this tool to significantly reduce our impact on the marine environment. The oceans provide countless services. By preserving their health we are preserving the health of our societies.”