Meet Sören Ronge, European Coordinator of Protect Our Winters.
A passionate splitboarder, snowboarder, mountain biker, and alpinist, Sören previously worked as Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Resilience Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. He’s also worked for a Colombian human-rights organisation and with Friends of the Earth South Africa. He is now based in Innsbruck, where he serves as European Coordinator for Protect Our Winters (POW) Europe, a partner of Noise.
Sören grew up in the Stubai Alps in Austria where his passion led him to engage in a wide variety of alpine projects. He has worked on sociological and environmental projects in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, and trained local communities in community-based environmental monitoring. Sören has worked in government, international organisations and civil-society organisations in more than 10 countries.
GW: Hi Sören! Thanks for taking the time to chat today. How are you?
SR: Yes, it has been a while! I guess it’s been a year since the end of the mobility campaign we worked with Noise on. I’m good but very busy — POW is growing, we’re hiring more people but that doesn’t mean there is less work, if anything there is more work now than ever, which I guess is a good sign. I’ve recently attended our first European summit since I joined POW because of Covid. It was amazing to get together with all our big partners, representatives from all 9 countries, and our athletes. I think it’s so important in these times of crisis to bring people together, and remember that we’re all human beings and not just faces on a screen!
GW: I totally agree. That sounds awesome. Can you tell me more about the POW summits?
SR: They’re leadership summits. One of the main purposes of the most recent one was to bring people together. POW EU was actually founded at the previous summit before this one — the team identified the need to have an umbrella organisation in Europe, rather than only the separate chapters or countries. Since that summit POW hadn’t been able to get together because of COVID, so this was a particularly exciting summit. The purpose of the summits are to create future and operational strategy, hear from stakeholders, chapter heads, partners, brand alliances and our athletes. We discuss what has worked and what hasn’t, and think about what will engage the team better and serve the needs of our athletes. We also brainstorm about new campaigns and just talk about the general structure and ways of working at POW. Some really exciting things came out of the summit; new and unique structures in regional offices and the EU umbrella. A big change is that we’ve elected a new president and vice president into the organisation, and it’s exciting to see some new opportunities rising for people in the organisation.
GW: You’ve worked in government, international organisations and civil-society organisations in more than 10 countries. How do you think travel and experiencing new cultures has affected you personally?
SR: Extremely profoundly would be the answer. I grew up as a dual citizen — Austria and Sweden — and was very used to moving between these two countries and growing up bilingual. While they are not wildly different cultures, I already had a sense of internationalism from a young age.
When I was sixteen I went on an exchange scholarship to Canada for 1 year, where I lived with three different host families in 2 different cities. I was living in a different country, with a different language, on a different continent. I was also meeting lots of people from different places; Latin American people, African people, Asian people, and this planted the seed of curiosity in me to go and explore the world to meet more people and experience new cultures. I had a huge desire to go to South America — where I ended up spending a lot of time as an adult.
When I returned home from the scholarship, I finished high school, and I had to join the subscription army in Sweden as a way to keep my dual citizenship. However before this, I went travelling with my brother. We were heading to Australia, and on our way we did some backpacking. In these experiences — backpacking around the world — I realised that I was young, had some money, and I knew I wanted to use this opportunity to explore and see the world. At the same time I was also being confronted with global poverty and conflict, which was very eye opening. I came across a book about the history of Laos and Cambodia, and this chance encounter made me want to study International Development. I did, and this programme totally changed the way I saw the world. The differences in the global North and South, political economies, resource flows, trade flows and colonial legacy. It was completely eye opening. It also made me question my own position, privilege and heritage in the world.
In the 5 years I spent studying International Development, I also lived in Spain, Chile and Colombia. During my time in Colombia I started working at an NGO — analysing environmental justice conflict, the effects of coal mining and water contamination in three particular communities. During this time I realised how people create and negotiate power through nature. This was when I really dedicated my career to environmental justice.
I began doing intern and trainee positions in areas of social and environmental justice, landing a position at the UN on a more ‘high level’ perspective. I spent two years with them in Cuba and then moved to their HQ in Rome. This job and time really shaped me as a human, how I see the world, and how I travel. There is a big difference between being a tourist and really trying to open your eyes to a different culture, to be neutral, and observe different ways of living without forming an opinion or judgement. My partner is from Peru, and while having the possibility to travel is amazing it also comes with so much privilege.
After having supported struggles in other parts of the world, it was time to engage with problems that felt closer to home. The position at POW came up and it felt like the perfect fit to combine my professional and personal passions.
GW: You’re now working as European Coordinator for Protect Our Winters Europe, can you tell us a bit more about POW?
SR: POW was founded in 2007 by pro US snowboarder, Jeremy Jones. He’s super famous; was a pro snowboarder for most of his life and travelled all over the world for movies and expeditions. At the same time as this physical, professional journey, he was also on a journey of discovery; realising that the world he loved was changing. He started learning more about climate change and wanted to find a way for pro athletes to use their voices to raise awareness and protect the world. He couldn’t find an organisation doing what he wanted to do, so he started POW in 2007 to bring athletes together. Now 15 years later this idea has grown into a global movement; Canada, the US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, 9 countries in Europe and POW EU as an umbrella organisation for Europe.
POW brings together athletes and everyday enthusiasts, creatives and brands to take action against climate change together.
Our foundations in extreme and outdoor sports have inspired our mantra of ‘imperfect advocacy’, which means action over inaction. No one should wait to be perfect in order to take action, because no one is perfect. POW isn’t, brands aren’t, athletes aren’t, but we should all use our leverage and influence to be better than we were before. There is a lot of talk around climate change, and our athletes don’t want to feel like hypocrites — speaking out about a cause they care about, but also worried about their own carbon footprint — so we’re educating people to take action and help push POW campaigns.
Some of the brands we work with are huge and some are just starting out with their climate journey. Not everyone can be Patagonaia, but lots of brands are going for B-Corp and have serious plans to be carbon neutral. It’s not just about ‘cleaning their own house’, but using their voice to inspire systemic change. We’re working with brands that rely on climate — outdoor sports brands — but this is a small industry compared to the global economy. We believe that by using a collective voice we can urge large scale change.
GW: What does your day-to-day look like as European Coordinator at POW?
SR: I am manager of POW Europe, lead of operations, and I coordinate the 9 countries in Europe. I guess my job is to be the central point of exchange between these countries, but also ensure that we are coherent across everything we do and say from design perspectives to political positioning and policy making. I try to see how we can support all the different chapters, and elevate national campaigns to European level campaigns. For example the campaign we did with Noise for mobility. I support our work with European level partnerships and activations, and make sure that all our impact in Europe is reported and documented. I host community sessions, raise awareness, meet with our athletes, and ensure the connection between the US and EU countries. We’re currently trying to launch a chapter in the Netherlands — they don’t have many mountains but they love snowsports. I am also in charge of managing the staff and volunteers in Europe — for example designers, social media people, copywriters. I’m also asked to do interviews, like in political settings, to spread the word of POW.
GW: I’ve read that you are a passionate splitboarder, snowboarder, mountain biker, and alpinist. What is it about these pursuits that you love?
SR: Partly it’s my meditation. You know sometimes you’re stressed because of deadlines at work or just everyday life, and I really enjoy jumping on my mountain bike and heading out for a powder day. In these times I’m really existing in the moment and for me it is a form of mindfulness. Living in the moment, you have time to focus on what is around you. You become connected to nature — these sports in particular really bring you outside and into nature. The other day I was on my mountain bike, and I realised how easy it is to get out into the forest and observe how nature is changing around you. I feel like these pursuits are about cleaning my mind and being out in nature.
GW: Do you think spending significant time being active in nature affects you on a professional level? Does it drive the work you do at all?
SR: For sure! Actually last year I was invited to the POW Sweden summit. It’s a retreat in this beautiful setting where everything is based outdoors; you sleep in tents and all the sessions are held in tents. They held a presentation on academic studies that show the importance of spending time outdoors for your mental health and productivity. Apparently the best temperature for working is 13 degrees, which is really quite cold! [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/21/perfect-temperature-for-economic-success-is-13c-climate-change].
But that’s just the science of how important it is to be out and active. For me, getting blood moving around my body sparks creativity and helps if I’m tired or stuck. If I can bring in some sport to break up the day, I can feel it resolves stress and sparks creativity in my mind.
Of course, working with POW this connection between nature, work and motivation is even more strong. For example, when you drive into my hometown there is a glacier that you can see from the road entering town. I can remember this from growing up, and now you can see how small the glacier has become. The change I’ve seen in my own town is shocking, and it really drives my passion every single day. The idea that my kids might not be able to ski really disgusts me. I find motivation in this.
GW: As you know from working with Noise, we are also outdoor and sports enthusiasts ourselves, and the majority of creative work we do is for companies in these sectors. What would you say is the number one thing people can do this winter to be more sustainable?
SR: The absolute number one recommendation is to find destinations you can get to without flying. That’s the main thing I would like people to consider. On top of that, think about the shared economy — can you rent rather than buy? Can you go on one longer trip rather than two or three small stays? Can you research sustainable destinations? Look into things like the town and accomodation’s renewable energy, and include this in your decision making. If you’re buying gear, research the different brands sustainability standards; are they B-Corp? What are their carbon emissions and climate efforts like? Remember that renting gear or borrowing off a friend is a lot better than buying new.
GW: Thank you so much for your time! Is there anything else exciting going on at POW at the moment that we should look out for?
SR: Right now we’re focusing on a new campaign. We haven’t put a name to it, but it is a ledger the outdoor industry can sign up to demanding more regulated climate policies from negotiators at COP27. This is the biggest thing on our agenda right now.
If you are a brand or business experiencing change or growth (or if you’re just doing something pretty awesome), we would love to hear from you. We are not for everyone. And that’s a good thing.
Noise Studio is an international creative agency working at the intersection of digital and branding. We create unexpected design solutions for some of the most exciting names in sports, outdoors and sustainability.
Written by Georgia Watt, Brand Strategist & Designer at Noise
🖥️ www.noisestudio.co | 💌 firstname.lastname@example.org