The Atlantic Forest is a rainforest region that stretches 4,000km2 across the coastline of Brazil. It’s an important area due to its rich biodiversity as well as providing a considerable source of drinking water for the Brazilian population. 

One of the expeditions offered by environmental NGO Earthwatch, ‘Conserving Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest’, is an expedition that sets out to understand and protect the biodiversity of this unique ecosystem. James Makinde became involved in this important research project through an employee volunteering programme at Shell provided by the global staff-driven platform, Project Better World. 

Shell’s Project Better World has been offering employees the chance to volunteer on different volunteering programmes across the globe and particularly environmental research expeditions since 1998. It gives employees like James the chance to pick up and develop new skills with the aim to promote sustainable development and raise awareness of social and environmental concerns. 

The Earthwatch programme is making an impact in all corners of the globe.

Eye-opening work

In Brazil, the data that James and his fellow volunteers collected has meant that scientists can better understand the response of tropical rainforests to human influence.

“We studied different types of birds, trying to understand their migration patterns, the type of food they consume and how that influences the type of vegetation found in the environment,” explains James. “To learn about this inter-relationship was a real eye opener.” 

James grew up in the city of Lagos, Nigeria, and says he’s spent most of his life in urban settings, but has been an avid follower of environmental research. The expedition taught him a lot about the human impact on the environment and what we can all do to curb its effects.

James says he now has a better sense of the link between delicate ecosystems and society at large. Learning sessions delivered during the programme, and discussions with colleagues from different parts of the business, also helped him develop a deeper understanding of Shell's approach to sustainability and how it works to minimise the impact on the environment and communities.

More than this, working with a team of other volunteers meant he had to develop leadership and management skills. James was able to bring these skills back to his day-to-day role at Shell, along with a better understanding for how to collaborate effectively.

Taking the impact back home

For those making use of the volunteer’s research, the impact is invaluable. Dr Ana Paula Giorigi is the lead scientist who works on the Earthwatch programme in Brazil.

“I think it’s really interesting to have people from so many different countries and cultures coming together and working and spending time discussing these subjects. It’s really constructive,” she says. 

Volunteers have an impact beyond the site of the expedition, too. Back home they can actively spread awareness of the issues they’ve seen first-hand. 

“The programme doesn’t just end here,” Ana adds. “They leave the field with an action plan that they implement in their lives and in their companies. It’s exciting for me. Not just as a scientist but as a person.”

For James, taking that message home has been something he’s actively pursued. He has facilitated the establishment of a network of like-minded people from Shell Nigeria seeking to raise environmental awareness in the country; the local network is part of Project Better World and is currently in the process of drawing up its charter.

“I’ve talked a lot about my experience and it has been really well received,” James says. “We’ve already identified things that our network can contribute to the local environment.”

If you’re interested in learning more:

James holding a love bird.
During his expedition James studied native birds and their migration pattern.

Earthwatch across the world

As part of Shell’s partnership with Earthwatch, we offer our people the opportunity to volunteer on four different programmes: 

Earthwatch Expedition programme – Shell employees deepen their understanding of environmental issues by making a hands-on contribution to scientific research. Assignments are worldwide with a focus on research topics that link to environmental issues of relevance to Shell. 

Earthwatch Expedition Enhanced Learning programme – This programme takes the learning experience even further by combining a research expedition with interactive sessions that inspire, educate and enable Shell employees as sustainability advocates.  Staff deepen their understanding of sustainability issues and Shell’s approach, and demonstrate leadership through sustainability related action after the programme. 

Earth Skills Network– Experts from Shell use their experience to share knowledge and transfer key business skills to people who manage protected areas. This gives staff the opportunity to sharpen professional competencies and broaden their understanding of how business decisions can impact on the environment.  

FreshWater Watch – Shell people in The Hague and London (with Bangalore soon to join the project) are being trained to collect data on fresh water quality that will help scientists find solutions to combat the degradation of our fresh water ecosystems.

Earthwatch in numbers

  • To date, over 800 employees have joined the Earthwatch Expeditions and Enhanced Learning programmes, sponsored by Shell
  • Employees have joined from 49 countries
  • They have contributed nearly 40,000 hours to data collection
  • Earthwatch and Shell’s partnership started with 6 participants on a pilot in 1998. Today there are over 200 spaces a year for employees
  • In addition, there have been 40 business mentors on the Earth Skills Network programme who have partnered with 114 staff representing 39 protected area organisations in 16 African and 6 Asian countries
  • And almost 70 individuals have volunteered for the FreshWater Watch programme in the UK and the Netherlands

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