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Driving positive environmental change through collaboration with corporations

Earthwatch Europe’s approach to employee engagement

We are facing an environmental emergency, from the climate crisis to a record decline in nature.

The scale of the emergency requires unprecedented change and action at all levels of society, founded on collaboration between policy-makers, businesses, civil society and scientists. 

At Earthwatch Europe we believe it is possible to drive solutions to this global challenge by bringing people, nature and science together through experiences that create knowledge and inspire action.

In particular, we collaborate with large companies, working from within the organisation, to improve employees’ awareness of global environmental issues and helping them to drive change at personal and organisational levels.

Through our unique engagement approach, we use a combination of immersive learning to raise awareness of global environmental issues and first-hand experience of conducting in-depth scientific research.  This experience equips staff with the skills and knowledge to become sustainability advocates within the business, as well as in their personal lives.  Furthermore, as trained citizen scientists, staff also contribute to the collection of important scientific data.

Case study: Earthwatch Europe and Shell

Earthwatch Europe has worked with Shell, a global group of energy and petrochemical companies, since 1998. Over the course of this 20+ year collaboration, Earthwatch has deployed its innovative approach to employee engagement, supporting a strategic and informed understanding of sustainability and Shell’s own goals and strategy in this area, among the company’s workforce.

Earthwatch currently delivers two experiential learning programmes with Shell – Earthwatch Expeditions and Earth Skills Network – via the company’s Project Better World, a global staff-driven platform offering employees the chance to participate in environmental research and conservation projects.


Earthwatch Expeditions: Engaging Shell employees with critical, global environmental challenges and solutions

"The reason I applied was to embed my influencing skills and improve my effectiveness while working in a diverse group. Being a part of a project, which includes changing local community behaviour helped me become more influential and effective leader. It was a unique opportunity to see how Earthwatch and Shell can work together to deliver real impact. Field-based science and sustainability learning is a powerful combination that changes perspectives, allows hands-on experience and ultimately transforms behaviour.” Lukasz Krawiec, Acting Leader of a team in the Customer Operation area

The expeditions work as follows:

  • Shell employees are matched with an expedition to ensure a balance of participants from different nationalities, gender, seniorities and areas of the business.

  • They join a ten-day residential team where they work with scientists to collect data on key environmental issues and participate in evening learning sessions.

  • At the end of the expedition, participants generate action plans on how they will incorporate sustainability at home and in the workplace.

  • Peer coaching supports participants to implement their action plans.

Earthwatch and Shell have worked closely together over the years, enabling the programme to evolve to ensure it remained relevant for both organisations. A tailored learning programme was added in 2013 to strengthen the connection of the expedition to business- relevant sustainability priorities and action back in the workplace. Since 2015, the collaboration has also financially supported Earthwatch scientists to work directly with local communities to embed sustainability outcomes.  

Since the programme started, Shell employees from 50 countries have contributed over 57,000 hours to data collection and conservation activities spanning the globe, gathering far more data than would be possible with professional scientists. For example, in 2019 data has been collected on the impacts of climate change in Maine (USA) and Canada, pollinator decline in the Indian Himalayas, carbon cycling in temperate forests in the UK and human wildlife conflict in South Africa – a detailed example follows in Section 2 of the press pack.

This valuable contribution to scientific research and community action has resulted in a number of scientific publications and practical actions on the ground.

Shell participants support researchers to maintain the camera-trapping grid on the Earthwatch Expedition Conserving Leopards and Monkeys (2018), Lajuma Research Centre, South Africa  


Earth Skills Network: Connecting business and conservation communities, through skills sharing and mentoring

“I have an excellent working and personal relationship with my mentor. My mentor is not only concerned about getting a plan developed for the site, but very much interested in seeing the development and sustainable management of the site, especially after visiting the site and seeing its potential, challenges and needs.” Farouk Dubiure, the Park Manager at Mole National Park

Launched in 2009, the Earth Skills Network (ESN) is a unique collaboration between Earthwatch Europe, UNESCO, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Shell. ESN partners Shell employees with managers of the world’s most precious natural areas designated by IUCN and UNESCO as protected areas e.g. World Heritage Sites, national parks, wilderness or community conserved areas.  ESN provides business and leadership training to these protected area managers to help them address organisational challenges. ESN provides Shell mentors with the opportunity to sharpen their own leadership competencies and broaden their understanding of how business decisions can impact the environment.

Since 2009, 64 Shell mentors have partnered with 184 protected area managers representing 63 protected area organisations. Business Mentors have been recruited from a range of countries and have mentored protected area staff from 20 African and 6 Asian countries. 

ESN works as follows:

  • Shell employees and protected area managers are matched based on the business needs of the protected area.

  • A five-day training programme equips Shell employees with the skills and understanding to become effective Business Mentors.

  • The Business Mentors and Managers from the protected areas work together during a ten-day Residential Training programme to build a real understanding of the needs and challenges of the protected area. From here they develop action plans for applying business planning activities within the protected area.

  • The Business Mentors provide support and guidance to the protected areas for at least 12 months following the Residential Programme.

Skills sharing between mentors and protected areas during Earth Skills Network (2014), Lajuma Research Centre, South Africa


Key achievements of the partnership

Since the start of the collaboration in 1998, Earthwatch Europe and Shell have achieved the following together:

Earthwatch Expeditions

    • 1,183 Shell employees from 50 countries have participated in Earthwatch Expeditions in more than 50 conservation projects worldwide.

    • To date, Shell employees attending the Earthwatch Expeditions have contributed more than 57,000 hours of volunteer time to crucial data collection and conservation projects worldwide. This invaluable contribution has supported Earthwatch scientists to:

      • Reveal warming of the Arctic permafrost by 0.5C since the mid-1970s

      • Publish population estimates for leopards in the Soutpansberg region of South Africa. This information has been shared with decision makers to inform the moratorium on leopard hunting. 

      • Discover that among the six most common temperate forest tree species, ash trees offer the greatest potential for storing carbon in terms of growth and abundance. This finding is of great importance given the species’ sensitivity to climate change and ash dieback.

      • Contribute to the Global Pollinator Project (with United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization and Global Environment Facility) with data gathered from forest vegetation in the Indian Himalayas

      • Publish 48 scientific peer-reviewed research papers since 2014 (including the leopard population estimates: according to Royal Society of Publishing)

    • Since 2014, 100% of Shell Earthwatch Expedition participants say that as a result of the programme they developed skills relevant to Shell’s leadership programme.

    • Since 2015, 72% of Shell Earthwatch Expedition participants say that as a result of the programme they have undertaken action towards sustainability in their personal and professional lives.











Earth Skills Network

  • In the last ten years, 64 Shell Business Mentors have partnered with 184 staff representing 63 protected area organisations in 20 African and 6 Asian countries through Earth Skills Network.

  • By increasing their business and leadership skills, protected area managers have been able to implement a range of organisational changes including:

    • Promoting micro-enterprises in local communities, working with women and youth groups in Kenya to boost the local economy and reduce pressures on protected area resources.

    • Producing the first business plan for Tai National Park, Cote D’Ivoire without the support of consultants. This plan was created to guide site activities for a 5-year period.

    • Revising the organisational structure to allow for more effective management of Blue Ventures sites in Madagascar.

    • Allowing for complex stakeholder engagements to be handled in-house, as opposed to by external consultants in South Africa. This was important to the success of Operation Pakisa, which sought to expand the marine protected network across the country.

    • Boosting visitation and tourism through creation of marketing materials and a marketing plan in Mole National Park, Ghana and Baturiya Wetlands, Nigeria.

  • Since 2009, 98% of protected area staff say that their protected area is better managed after taking part in Earth Skills Network.

  • Since 2015, 100% of Shell employees say they have increased environmental awareness as a result of participating in Earth Skills Network.


Banner image: Elephants in Mole National Park, Ghana. Credit: Farouk Dubiure, Park Manager, Mole National Park


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