Linda Mulvihill’s Antarctic expedition


At the beginning of November 2023, Linda Mulvihill, Fonterra’s GM Energy & Climate, flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, where she boarded a ship and began a 19-day voyage to Antarctica.

“It takes two days to travel from Ushuaia across the Drake Passage, which is known for being very tumultuous – it was bumpy!” says Linda.

The trip was part of Homeward Bound, a global leadership programme for women with a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine) background and included a one-year online course and expedition to Antarctica.

The purpose of the Homeward Bound programme is to create a diverse group of leaders in STEMM who are equipped with the skills required to navigate the changing world we live in today.

“I applied for the programme when I was on maternity leave, seeking feedback on the career development I would need to be a successful applicant in 3-5 years’ time. But to my surprise I was accepted immediately!” says Linda.

Linda was the only New Zealand woman selected for her cohort in the global programme, which was originally postponed due to COVID.

“The upside was we had another year of online coaching, but it was great to finally meet the 79 other women in my cohort in person.”

During the voyage, Linda learnt about leadership, strategy, and collaboration, with seminars including strategy, generative dialogue, systems thinking, planetary boundaries, polyvagal theory, policy, eco-grief, and many Antarctica topics.

You can’t be what you can’t see - there are so many amazing women out there doing it.

Linda Mulvihill, GM Energy & Climate, FONTERRA

Linda says, “It was amazing to learn from the other participants about what’s happening in their industries that could help inform the work we’re doing here at the Co-op. I learnt from other women about their work as leaders in STEMM, the challenges they face, and how they enact change.”

“The experience improved my leadership, collaboration, and ability to navigate complex situations.” 

As Fonterra’s GM Energy & Climate, Linda leads the Co-op’s decarbonisations strategy, which includes the conversion of coal boilers to wood pellets that is currently underway at Fonterra’s Hautapu site and the transition to wood biomass at Waitoa.

“I feel proud of New Zealand, we’re not perfect, but we’re doing some amazing things here. I think we can also be proud of Fonterra and the action we’re taking – we have some ambitious targets in place to help decarbonise the business.” 

These targets include a reduction in emissions of 50% by 2030 (from a 2018 baseline) at the Co-op’s manufacturing sites.

Arriving in Antarctica, participants were met with a challenging and inspiring backdrop. 

The earth’s southern-most continent has experienced some of the greatest warming on earth over the last 50 years and is central to understanding the global impacts of climate change. 

“On the ship, we were completely removed from our day-to-day lives, with no connection to the outside world we were able to just be there and appreciate the people and place. I came away with a renewed focus and passion to continue making a difference in my role as a leader in energy and climate,” says Linda. 

“We saw humpback whales two metres off the ship, which was incredible. It was also special to see penguins in their home – it was mating season, so we saw them building nests, and the males bringing pebbles to the females, which is part of their mating ritual.”

Whilst in Antarctica, Linda also took part in the ‘polar plunge’ (jumping into near-freezing water that was approx. -1°C) to raise money for three charities that she is passionate about: Endometriosis New Zealand, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, and RestoreNative. Linda’s fundraising is still open – visit her Give a Little page here

Talking about the future for women in STEMM, Linda says, “You can’t be what you can’t see. If you can’t see women in these roles, then you don’t know if you can do it too. But there are so many amazing women out there doing it.”

“Throughout the trip I had so many conversations with amazing women, hearing their stories really inspired me with hope for the future.”

Now back in New Zealand, Linda is training for the kayak leg of Coast to Coast, which takes place in February.

“I’m a very driven person, and I love pushing myself. I often ask myself why I want to keep doing so many things, there are so many great things to be done and I don’t want to miss out,” she says.

“I make a plan and then chip away at it, a little bit here, a little bit there. It’s about staying consistent and making those incremental gains!”

Whilst there are no more formal seminars planned, the group plans to stay in touch.  

“We’ll continue to look for collaboration opportunities and ways to share what we’ve learnt.”

Read more about Homeward Bound here