While the demands of business activities and environmental conservation often struggle to coexist on the same page, for Markus Jebsen, executive chairman of Hong Kong headquartered MF Jebsen Group, the two concepts are inexorably linked.
Referring to “Ecos”, the Greek word for home, and also provides the basis of words such as ecology, economics and ecosystem, Jebsen believes that all parts of the global community need to get on board to put the planet’s environmental “house” in order. He says the question is not how the concepts of business and environmental conservation can collaborate, but how they can become increasingly intertwined to achieve ecological, social and economically sustainable benefits. “The natural environment is the basis for all life on earth,” notes Jebsen, As such, he says, protecting the environment — which we all depend upon — should be seen as an act of human self-preservation. “Everything is interconnected and in one way or another relies on each other,” adds Jebsen who recalls as a young child living in Hong Kong on Tregunter Path, being fascinated by the natural habitat in his neighbourhood. “I used to climb the rocks and trees behind our house,” he recollects. His passion for the natural environment was further ignited when, accompanied by his uncle, a keen ornithologist and flora and fauna expert, he spent school holidays exploring the forests, meadows and fiords in Denmark.
Noting the number of wildfires currently causing catastrophic damage in different parts of the world, droughts he describes as being of “biblical proportions” and loss of habitat leading to the dramatic decline and loss of species, Jebsen says it is not just loss of single species that should be of concern, but also the consequences that entire communities face as a result of the knock-on effect the loss of species can have. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rapid loss of wildlife species today as a result of environmental degradation is estimated to be up to 10,000 times higher than the estimated rate by natural extinction. “The loss of bio-diversity is the mother of all crisis,” says Jebsen citing personal friend the late Douglas Tompkins, the founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands and noted conservationist who used his wealth to set up conservation areas covering millions of hectares.
However, Jebsen concedes that complex issues of making sense of how to balance ecology with social and economic needs is far from straightforward, especially in the area of wildlife conservation, where his main interests are focused. “This is what we are trying to achieve with our projects,” explains Jebsen. In addition, a diverse business portfolio that spans automobiles and consumer electronics to travel management, under Jebsen’s leadership, his company is involved in environmental conservation projects on three continents. For example, the company is directly involved in the formation of the Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) in Romania, Zingela and Limpokwena Nature Reserves in South Africa, Martins Well Rangeland reserves in Australia and various forest reserves in Denmark, Europe and the US, as well as supporting a number of nature conservation organisations.
A direct descendent of Jacob Jebsen, who alongside fellow Danish entrepreneur Heinrich Jessen established Jebsen and Co in Hong Kong 1895, after completing his secondary education, at a German-speaking gymnasium or high school in Denmark, Jebsen studied at New York University’s Gallatin School, renowned for its focus on managing knowledge through self-motivation and independence, where he majored in marketing management. After working for Bose GmbH, Germany for three years, Jebsen joined the family business in 1993, and, following a restructuring of the century-old trading company, formed the MF Jebsen Group in 2002.
While MF Jebsen’s Hong Hong-based employees, which the company refers to as colleagues, might be a long way from Africa’s savannahs and the remote wilderness spaces found in Australia, through the company’s diverse business portfolio, Jebsen says there is an inescapable correlation between work and the wider world. “Through their work our colleagues are involved in the issues we care about and the part they can play in taking a sustainable approach to both their jobs and lives,” says Jebsen. To help employees reconnect with nature, the company arranges visits to Mai Po Marshes and the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. In addition, the company has initiated a range of workplace environmental schemes including no single use plastic food containers and a daily mini “Earth Day” when non-necessary electrical appliances are turned off during lunchtimes.
However, to extend the scope of wildlife and environmental protection activities, in 2019 Jebsen was motivated to set up Auction4Wildlife, an initiative designed to mobilise a global movement, where wealthy individuals with resources at their disposal, can auction their assets and donate the proceeds to environmental or wildlife conservation causes. “I find it astounding that globally less than four percent of philanthropic giving is directed towards environmental or wildlife conservation causes,” notes Jebsen.
In collaboration with RM Sotherby’s and Formula 1, the first Auction4Wildlife took place last November in Abu Dhabi and featured 40 blue-chip collectors cars, ranging from Grand Prix racing machines to iconic sports cars — including a limited edition 2011 Aston Martin One-77, donated by Jebsen — which collectively raised almost US$1.3 million for African Parks, a non-profit organisation that operates a community-based conservation model that integrates the rehabilitation and long-term management of 16 national parks and protected areas across the African region in partnership with governments and local communities.