How do climate change professionals sustain public attention for a crisis looming on the horizon while an unexpected health crisis is already at the front door? Tatiana Der Avedissian, business development manager at The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative, wakes up every day thinking of ways to drive home the message that the cause of COVID-19 and its impact on climate change are not mutually exclusive.
The global pandemic has exacerbated climate change issues, with media coverage latching onto the concern over plastic. “It’s what gets all the headlines,” she notes. “Even before the first stirrings of COVID-19, plastic pollution has been one of the most alarming issues of ocean health,” Der Avedissian begins, as she plugs in her laptop charger in preparation to dive into the vast topic of ocean sustainability.
Speaking from her lounge in London, she begins the afternoon Zoom call by stating an alarming trend: “The state of our oceans is even more pressing and concerning with COVID-19. For example, plastic production has vastly increased not just for PPE products, but as demand for supermarket products took hold and so on. Some countries, states and cities are not able to recycle at the speed at which people are disposing of waste.” The resources and articles provided by the World Ocean Initiative warn that by 2050, there could be a larger tonnage of plastic in the ocean than fish, and advise readers to go back to the basics and remember the three Rs: reuse, reduce, and recycle.
On the other hand, the World Ocean Initiative delves into ocean issues that daily news typically excludes from the climate conversation. For example, an equally urgent matter is the fishing industry. “Thousands of mariners were stuck at sea during COVID-19 and couldn’t get home, which wasn’t something that was widely published. The workforce has been massively impacted by COVID-19—coastal tourism is down, as are the ships that carry huge volumes of cargo through our trade routes.” She poses this thought: “We’re very lucky that we can work from home. But what about the workforce who need to be at sea?”
Evidently, the correlation between COVID-19 and ocean matters is a watershed moment for climate change advocates. Der Avedissian and her colleagues on the “blue team” who campaign for the protection of our oceans and creating a sustainable ocean economy must compete for attention from the green team who often don’t take into account that the ocean, like the Sun, is a primary driver of climate on earth. But Der Avedissian sees the tide changing among decision-makers in government and business in confronting the economics of climate change.
“Everybody’s familiar with the green economy, but now you’ll find more experts talking about the blue.” The blue economy, as defined by the World Bank, is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem. This emerging aspect of the green economy has captured the attention of environmentalists, investors, and government officials alike, who are starting to incorporate blue into their formerly green itineraries.
Raised in Cyprus, Der Avedissian gained a global perspective very early in life. One of her first solo trips abroad was to the lush forests of the Catskill Mountains, headed to AGBU Camp Nubar. “That was the first time I got to meet so many Armenians from all over the world in one place,” she notes. “I don’t think anyone had ever gone to camp from Cyprus. It was a good opportunity to learn from other Armenians and understand the experiences of other diasporan children.” Her summer spent with other global citizens at Camp Nubar paved the way for her to study politics at Kingston University in London, pursuing a major unrelated to her current expertise. “There are now far more master’s programs and universities that offer courses related to climate change. At the time, sustainability wasn’t really a word thrown around.”
Inspired to pursue her interest in the Armenian identity and experience, Der Avedissian continued her studies at the Zoryan Institute. “When I finished my politics degree at Kingston University, I participated in a program on human rights and genocide prevention, which I would highly recommend for anyone interested in human rights.” After completing her program, she worked for a media acquisition firm in their entertainment division and other high-level press events. “My company moved me into our charities division, because the CEO was worried that I was restless,” she says with a smile. “At the time, it didn’t feel like the right fit for me—I needed a place where I could apply the ideas I had learnt in public relations and advertising and, apply it to an evolving new space known as branded content.”
Her next steps led her to The Guardian —more specifically, their mini agency known as Guardian Labs. “There was a position for someone to come in and support the global development professionals network to cover hard-hitting stories in the industry.” As fate would have it, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)—the United Nation’s collection of objectives to achieve global sustainability by 2030—were launched around the same time Der Avedissian started her new position. “As a media organization, we wanted to track what was happening, hold people accountable, and make sure actions were being taken. We felt that we played a significant role in raising awareness about sustainability.” From that fateful moment on, Der Avedissian found her tidal pull to pursue sustainability.
Your work takes up over 60 percent of your life, so you might as well be doing something that you take pride in and that makes an impact on humanity in a positive way.
After a short stay at The Spectator, one of the most respected political magazines in the UK, she firmly planted herself at The Economist in 2018, eager to confront an emerging concept in sustainability: ocean health and the blue economy. Collaborating with a multi-faceted team of businesses, foundations, and NGOs, The Economist created a digital platform and event that put ocean sustainability on the global agenda. “It’s now so firmly established that we have dedicated conferences all over the world around this topic.” The World Ocean Initiative’s digital platform tackles all sectors of ocean health, including aquaculture, fisheries, blue tourism, ocean conservation, plastics and the circular economy, shipping, energy and more. All of these topics are explored through the lens of the initiative’s three core pillars—finance, governance and innovation. A scroll through its webpage reveals a plethora of issues jeopardizing ocean health, including current economic trends draining ocean resources, the lack of financial capital in blue growth, and inadequate care for marine resources and marine services. Nevertheless, the ocean has untapped potential waiting to be discovered. “Few have understood the opportunities that lie in the ocean. If they did, it would spark an interest and drive others to do more,” she claims. “If people can understand the power of the ocean and importance of sharing ocean data, imagine what we could do. We can understand weather patterns, monitor ships more closely, stop the illegal high seas activities that go on, and more.”
Collecting data, she advises, is the first step to realizing the ocean’s potential. “Most of our ocean floor has not been mapped yet and we don’t know enough about what lies at the bottom of the ocean.” The World Ocean Initiative decided to spin out its annual World Ocean Summit into a dedicated event focusing on ocean technology and innovation to raise awareness about the great innovation taking place in the blue space and convene key stakeholders to bridge the gap between finance and innovation. More importantly, however, is the diverse group of players The Economist is able to convene and inform. “We, as a media organization, are helping bring all of this to the forefront. We’re raising awareness and playing our part, utilizing our expert teams at The Economist from our Intelligence Unit to Films division, to help tell these stories. We’re fortunate to have high-level engagement from senior business leaders and policymakers to heads of state to facilitate these conversations.”
Innovation and investment in the blue economy and the systems that affect the workforce seem to be the best route to solve such consequential matters. The sustainable blue economy finance principles, which has been in the works since 2018, is working on a standard code of practice for the blue economy—which is a fascinating albeit time consuming process. “Much more time and money is needed to help fund this kind of important work,” she says, noting that it’s a substantial effort well worth one’s time. “Your work takes up over 60 percent of your life, so you might as well be doing something that you take pride in and that makes an impact on humanity in a positive way.” As for Der Avedissian, there is no doubt she is doing all she can to make the most of her career. In addition to her day job, she uses her expertise to support strategy and fundraising development for two charities in the UK, serving as trustee and vice-president for Alkionides UK, and trustee and advisor of the Armenian Institute. She is also completing her executive education in public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, serving as the London ambassador for its women’s network and co-lead of its W3D (women in defense, diplomacy and development) London chapter.
With a growing list of successes behind her, Tatiana Der Avedissian’s future as a leader in a growing movement is bound to be smooth sailing.
Banner photo: Tatiana Der Avedissian looks out over Governor’s Beach in Pentakomo, Cyprus. Photo by Milan Chaplovic