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Eco-Warrior Sean Lee Davies On His Quest For Change

Whether he’s trekking Mount Kilimanjaro or photographing breathtaking wildlife, Sean Lee-Davies is a man on a mission: to posit meaningful changes and conversations that will make for a more sustainable world. The eco-warrior, tech-trepreneur and content creator chats to us about his next big adventures.

June 29, 2021

How did you get into conservation, and how do you think your different professional personas helped to promote your conservation work?

I used to be the editorial director of a luxury publication and had a great life; I got to travel the world from the Mongolian Steppes to the red carpet of Cannes, and it was all very glamorous. But I knew deep down that all this luxury lifestyle was at a cost. The more I travelled, the more I saw the damage that was being done to wild places.

That got me thinking: how do I offset this lifestyle that I’m trying to promote? That’s how I came up with Project C:Change. We’re using the skills I had honed as a journalist to try and change the perception of objects like ivory and rhino horns so that people stop treating them like luxury items and consuming them. We’re trying to use my audience or community to raise awareness about these difficult issues here in Asia.

Tell us more about Project C:Change – when did you start it and what is its objective?

Project C:Change started around the idea of environmental activism and venture ecology. One of the things I do is take groups of thought leaders, change-makers, CEOs – people who can really make a difference by experiencing the wild, having an amazing transformative journey and then going back home to their businesses and implementing greener, more environmentally conscientious policies in their own organisations. There is no flourishing of the human species without considering nature; we can only survive if the world survives. So the sooner we work that out, the quicker we will thrive and live accountably across the planet.

The other part we focus on is creating media campaigns around issues such as the illegal wildlife trade that involve elephant and rhino poaching and trying to reduce the trafficking of animals such as pangolins. To do that, I created a TV show, Adventures to the Edge, created street art campaigns, organised marches through Central and did an exhibition called Love is Wild which is the world’s first AR and VR activated exhibition about wildlife and sustainability. I did that all under the Project C:Change umbrella, trying to reach different audiences to increase awareness. That’s what it’s about – changing our level of consciousness so that we see these animals as an asset and not something we consume or show off in our homes.

You use lots of different mediums to raise awareness. Which one did you enjoy working on the most?

The TV show was fantastic, going off to film in these amazing locations such as the rainforests in Sumatra, diving with whale sharks in the Philippines, getting up close to leopards, cheetahs, and lions in Africa. But TV shows are difficult to produce, and you are always on a tight schedule and budget. It was also great fun to work on the art campaign Walls of Change because we collaborated with big artists like Obeygiant – probably the second or third most famous street artist in the world – and created murals on top of buildings. Some of that art is still up on the walls today.

Your Love Is Wild photography exhibition was a huge success, is there a particular photo that was the most memorable to shoot and why?

The ‘Born to be Wild’ photo, where the lion is looking directly at you, was probably the most successful and bestselling photograph. Humans kind of like to collect powerful things because it reminds them of their own power and makes them feel more powerful. Seeing a lion staring at you directly like in this photo – it’s a very unusual, direct stare, as if it was a few feet away looking into your soul – I think that’s why it’s so popular.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability is a difficult topic and used broadly – what is really a sustainable lifestyle and who defines it? At the moment, according to WWF, you’ll need three to four earths to support everyone in the planet living the way we do in Hong Kong with our consumption of water, food, energy, and carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere. Clearly, that’s not sustainable, so we have to devise systems and lifestyles that are carbon-neutral, and which put back into the system as much as we take out.

Now, who really lives a sustainable lifestyle – not many people in Hong Kong can say that. I can’t say that. But what we are trying to promote are more sustainable ways of lifestyle through different ways of thinking. The easy thing to do is start offsetting your travel. Ironically, one of the things that have come about in this pandemic is that people, being not able to travel, are experiencing Hong Kong in a new way – hiking, staycations and appreciating the natural beauty of what’s around the city. It has brought a greater appreciation for the natural beauty of Hong Kong that in the end will create more sustainable lifestyles.

How do you see technology as a tool for sustainable living and conservation?

There is a multi-pronged approach to being more sustainable; one is reducing your energy consumption patterns and amount of waste. But that’s almost counter-intuitive to capitalism which requires endless growth. So, we use technology to make products that are less impactful on the planet and can be upcycled. Technology can certainly help us solve some problems; for example, renewable energy technology can wean us off fossil fuels. It is at its best creating renewable energy such as solar panels, wind power, and tidal wave technology that’s going to allow us to continue living the lifestyles we’re used to. Because I don’t think people are going to change quick enough. Technology has to somehow work out how to make our current lifestyles less energy-intensive.

At the beginning of this year, you led a team up Mount Kilimanjaro for the second time. What did you get out of that trip and what important messages do you want to bring to people?

Kilimanjaro, for starters, is a fantastic transformational journey. I took 11 other people up the mountain this time; impact investors such as Katrina Razon from the Philippines, celebrity activist Raline Shah from Indonesia who has six million followers and does a lot for conservation, hedge fund managers managing 500 billion dollars’ worth of funds who can actually make a huge impact with the way they decide to invest.

It rained pretty much every day – it should have been the dry season – because of the incredibly warm Indian Ocean that is the result of climate change that’s created a lot of rain getting dumped into the Eastern seaboard of Africa, resulting in flooding and all kinds of weather pattern changes. We got soaked on the mountain. It was a real challenge in terms of endurance and getting everyone off the mountain was far harder this time around. But like with everything, the more you suffer, the more you get out of it in terms of spiritual growth. Everyone will always remember that trip.

What is the next issue you want to address, and do you have any projects or adventures coming up?

We want to restart the fundraising campaign to help areas in Kenya and Tanzania to deal with the increase of poaching due to the pandemic, which has reduced the ability for charities to raise funds normally through tourism. We’re also going to focus on local beach clean-up activities here in Hong Kong and getting people to explore the adventure that can be had here, whether that’s paddleboarding, coasteering, canyoning – all these fun things people can do and at the same time pick up plastic and help tidy up our shorelines.

Where will your destination be when we can travel again?

No one knows when we can travel again, but I did have two trips planned – one, to go and photograph the coral reefs of Raja Ampat, and two, to document the Arctic because it is increasing in temperature two or three times faster than the rest of the planet. Without a concerted effort, we’re going to have an ice-free Arctic by the end of the century or even before that. Now you may say that flying around is not exactly doing much for conservation, so all our flying has to be carbon offset, and then we plant trees as well to offset the carbon even more. We only travel when we are travelling mindfully, impactfully and doing things that can make a difference.

What are your tips on taking small steps towards a more sustainable world?

There are a few lifestyle changes that anyone can make, whether that’s turning down their air-con from 19 degrees to a more genteel 26 degrees, or lowering the temperature of their washing machine from 60 degrees to 30 degrees centigrade. Another is to stop eating industrially farmed meat. It’s one of the single most important things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and also the destruction of rainforests. If people are horrified by the fires going on in the Amazon, here in Hong Kong – one of the biggest importers of Brazilian beef and chicken – the first thing you can do is cut down your consumption of those products.

We can also purchase less: buy less fast fashion and buy goods that can last longer. Don’t get sucked into quick fashion cycles. Buy goods from brands that have strong corporate social responsibility initiatives to offset the production of those goods. The quicker we vote with our wallets, the quicker these big brands will change.