Behind every impactful role we place, every team we build and every effort we make to create systemic change for our planet and society by activating people’s potential; lies our team of passionate, sustainability-minded individuals.
Our ongoing ‘Faces of Acre’ series helps us take a step back from the day-to-day to shine a spotlight on the people who make us who we are, giving them a platform to share their passions, speak up about important topics and talk about the pro bono initiatives they take part in.
In our latest instalment, we sat down with Harco Leertouwer, the Managing Director of our European business, to discuss his recent fundraiser for our charity partner, Ocean Generation.
The NGO, founded by Jo Ruxton MBE, strengthens the relationship between humanity and the ocean by empowering the world to live more sustainably via a global movement to tackle ocean threats and understand the importance of a healthy ocean through science and storytelling.
While the global race is on to fight the climate crisis, Harco embarked on an impressive feat of his own to create an impact and help prevent plastic pollution.
Fuelled with determination, Harco embarked on a staggering 600km along the Rhine river, from Heidelberg, Germany, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with the hope of raising €5,000.
He cycled for 22.5 hours spread over three days at the end of June, raising more than €7,800 for a cleaner climate.
Harco, who has lived in both Germany and the Netherlands for most of his life, wanted to raise awareness of microplastics polluting the Rhine, and support Ocean Generation.
The Rhine is the second-longest river in Central and Western Europe and researchers have discovered the river is the most polluted by Swiss microplastics. The Rhine near Basel is reported to contain the highest concentration of microplastics and transports around 4,500 tonnes of microplastics towards Germany every year.
Here’s what Harco had to say of his efforts:
What prompted you to embark on such an ambitious fundraiser?
My good friend Robert passed away in 2012 after spending a lot of time between Amsterdam and Heidelberg – both cities have a very well-known cancer research and treatment clinic. After he passed, I decided to make this trip in his memory, but I wasn't very fit. I only started cycling three years ago. When I joined Acre, I found out about our charity partner Ocean Generation and decided to raise the money for them as it became a very important charity to me.
What levels of training did you undergo?
I gradually built up my training schedule, getting past the 100km mark once every week and then slowly increased to two or three days in a row and only did longer distances of 100km about two weeks before. The maximum I've done is 250km during an entire weekend.
Cycling 100km no longer sounds a big distance to me, it’s four hours of cycling and I just keep going, at an average speed of 30km per hour.
Were there any moments where you struggled to continue?
To be honest, I enjoyed it and the three days passed so fast. I split the journey into small pieces, rather than focusing on cycling 200km each day and took breaks every 50km.
It got tougher on the third day, when the countryside was no longer exciting. I mainly passed animal agriculture areas with dairy farms, and it was very smelly.
It then started raining which I rather enjoyed at first because it was refreshing, but then conditions worsened with lots of wind and rain for the last 100km. I just accepted it was going to get a bit tougher but kept going with the thought of seeing family and friends.
How does microplastic pollution affect you on a personal level? Have you seen a big change in the health of the Rhine over the years?
Actually, it’s what you don't see that is much worse – the plastic pieces lying at the bottom of the river and Ocean.
It could be plastic from toothpaste tubes, skincare products, or plastics that have been in the river for such a long time that they break down into microplastics. The challenge with microplastics is it ends up in the food chain, animals and humans.
It used to be chemicals that were problematic in waterways due to all the nearby chemical plants which I cycled past, but now plastic is a major culprit.
Is there anyone, in particular, you would like to thank for supporting you?
I'm really grateful to all the people at Acre, especially the marketing team and colleagues who supported me throughout, as well as the companies (Heidelberg Materials, Amacx Sports Nutrition and NH Hotel Group (part of Minor Hotels) who sponsored me.
There were so many other people involved, some donations were from people I’ve never met, and the fact that this was a personal challenge, rather than an Acre event, I felt so supported by everyone.
Pictured: Nicola Kimm, Chief Sustainability Officer at Heidelberg Materials and Harco Leertouwer, Managing Director of Acre - Europe. Photo credit: Heidelberg Materials.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering taking on a similar mission?
To be honest, I recommend you pick something that you're really passionate about because it makes a huge difference and keeps you going when you’re planning, training and undertaking the challenge.
How can others embark on a challenge of their own?
From skydives to marathons, there’s an option for everyone to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding our Ocean – the planet doesn’t need a handful of perfect environmentalists, it needs millions of people doing what they can.
For more information about available challenge event places or if you have your own place - reach out to the fundraising team on email@example.com.
If you’re interested in finding out more about partnerships with Ocean Generation, visit https://oceangeneration.org/become-a-partner/ or contact Nadia Mason, Head of Partnerships & Fundraising firstname.lastname@example.org.