By Alix Morris
Scott Kania recently assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer at Earthwatch. Following a 35-year career in the financial world, Scott is thrilled to embrace his life-long passion for the environment and conservation research in his new role. This week, I had a chance to sit down with Scott to find out more about his commitment to conservation, what inspired him to join Earthwatch, his experience as an Earthwatch volunteer, and his vision for the future of the organization.
When did your passion for the environment first begin?
I was probably about 6 years old. As I recall, my mother read me a book on Smokey the Bear. It was the amazing story of a bear that was rescued by forest rangers from the top of a tree during a forest fire in New Mexico. The rangers wrapped up his burnt paws and took care of him. I remember saying to my mother, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ And she said, ‘You want to be a bear?’ And I said, ‘No. I want to be one of the guys who rescued the bear.’ It was the moment I first recognized the importance of forest conservation. Eventually, that led me to pursue a degree in Natural Resource Management. But jobs were scarce back then. I had bills to pay, so I got a “temporary” job in financial services, and stayed there for over 35 years.
How did you maintain your commitment to conservation while you were working in financial services?
I was a very active volunteer. I looked for every opportunity possible to get involved and make a difference. I was on our town’s conservation commission, our open space commission, I was a charter board member of a non-profit – River’s Alliance of Connecticut, I did volunteer work for the Nature Conservancy. You name it – I put my hand up and volunteered.
As often as I could, I would take my kids along with me. I wanted to show them that I wasn’t simply a financial services person. My passion was around the environment. I promised them that when I left the financial services industry, I would pursue this passion full time. Little did I know that I would soon discover Earthwatch. And when I did, I absolutely fell in love with the mission.
I knew I wanted to do something with the environment and I wanted to connect people to the environment. So when I came across this organization that did exactly what had been in my head all of those years, I was hooked. It was one of those strange things where I didn’t know Earthwatch existed, but I had been looking for it my whole life.
In 2010, you joined an HSBC/Earthwatch collaboration, known as the Sustainability Leadership Program (SLP). What was this experience like for you?
It was my first introduction to Earthwatch, and was the best training opportunity I had in 30 years. The other SLP fellows and I met in Oxford, England. The idea was to support forest conservation efforts and come up with sustainability action plans for HSBC – ideas for creating systems to reduce waste and become a more sustainable company. It was a great program, and it inspired a major career change for me.
I was heading back to the U.S. and ready to change course and pursue something in the environmental field. My HSBC colleagues Matt Robinson and Bill Thomas offered to connect me to Earthwatch. That was the beginning of an important transition in my life. In 2014, I joined Earthwatch as Chief Operating Officer.
In November 2015, you took on a new role at Earthwatch: Chief Executive Officer. How has this change affected you?
I’ve always felt a lot of responsibility for helping this organization. Becoming CEO has
certainly taken that level of responsibility up a notch. For me, it’s about the opportunity to make an impact. I feel that I’ve learned a great deal in my long career, and I believe I have something to offer. And to be able to direct it at something I’m passionate about – it’s a huge opportunity for me. It feels like a natural transition.
You’ve now participated on three expeditions with Earthwatch – Tracking Beavers through German Waters, Tracking Fire and Wolves through the Canadian Rockies, and Exploring Lions and their Prey in Kenya. How did these experiences affect you?
I was so appreciative of the opportunity to connect with people from different parts of the world. Some of my fellow volunteers had been on a number of other Earthwatch expeditions and had a strong passion for the organization. During the “Exploring Lions and their Prey in Kenya” expedition, I took my daughter with me. She also fell in love with Earthwatch and the mission and the people she met in Africa.
Participating on these expeditions also gave me greater insight into the volunteer experience. I tend to look through their eyes now. When I talk to volunteers, it’s so important for me to be able to speak about my own experiences, to really understand what an Earthwatch expedition is all about.
What is your vision for the future direction of this organization?
The mission is very solid, and we’ve upped the game on the research. The projects focus on the right research areas, they’re in interesting locations, and they’re led by great scientists. All of this is critical to ensure a great volunteer experience. We need to continue to keep all of those things in balance.
More broadly, we’re looking at global change, which is central to everything we do. I’d like us to continue to move from getting that critical evidence around impacts to exploring how we can take action. How can citizen science help us to take action to mitigate or adapt to these changes.
Climate change is real, it’s critical, it’s urgent. Two hundred countries have agreed on it. We need to study its effects AND we need to focus on the actions required to make a difference, and ultimately, to save the planet. That’s a big piece of where we have to go.