Every day should be Earth Day.
That said, the official Earth Day celebration takes place once a year, an occasion when over a billion people in 190 countries take action, whether in the form of planting trees, cleaning up their communities, or doing anything else that says “I love you” to the environment.
This time of year, corporate philanthropy leaders often look for ways to shine a spotlight on their companies’ efforts at greening the planet. Dayton Hudson Corporation, now better known as Target, got the ball rolling on this front by giving out free trees to its customers on the very first Earth Day in 1970. Ever since, business leaders have increasingly fired up their entire organizations in creative ways to demonstrate concern for Mother Earth.
Earth Day 2014 is themed around the vision of “Green Cities,” with an emphasis on creating sustainable communities in increasingly crowded urban environments. As defined by the Earth Day Network, a green city is one that derives its energy from renewable sources like solar and wind, and distributes that energy through efficient and reliable microgrids; has the cleanest and most efficient energy, transportation, and building infrastructure possible; is made up of buildings that are energy efficient, conserve water, and reduce waste; is connected by clean and accessible public transportation networks and is biking- and walking-friendly; and is a healthier, more affordable, and more pleasant place to live.
Earth Day Network, which provides the largest environmental service campaign in the world, invites people to support actions that help their cities realize this vision, including:
Banning new coal power plants
Decoupling utility profits
Demanding renewable energy
Improving building codes
Improving the solar permitting process
Supporting PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing
Bringing Bike Share to your city
Improving emission standards
Increasing MPG standards
Earth Day Network encourages other ways of giving back as well, from pledging to eat less meat (“The meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”); to supporting environmental education (“Tell Congress to include funding for environmental education”); to reducing energy consumption (“Almost half of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from the energy we use to power our homes and our cars.”)
Businesses celebrate Earth Day in their own way
Companies bring their own brand of leadership to Earth Day and tend to celebrate the occasion in one of four ways, according to GreenBiz.com:
On site events – which could include e-waste collection drives, educational forums or vendor fairs.
Green teams – in which companies bring every employee on board with a company’s sustainability goals, perhaps led by sustainability captains (as is the case at Microsoft).
Awards for green performance – in which companies celebrate and recognize the sustainability achievements of employee groups or individuals.
Community service efforts – in which companies go beyond internal celebrations to volunteer with their communities.
Workplace giving campaigns for green-focused nonprofits are another inspiring way to rally the troops around environmental engagement, and worth considering as a way to demonstrate a concrete contribution towards Mother Earth’s health.
There are many companies out there that want to have stronger sustainability initiatives in place but simply don’t. For those businesses that would like to polish up their green complexion, here are a few quick tips, according to Inc. (the full article is worth reading for more helpful details):
Determine your energy consumption. Benchmark your current raw material and energy consumption so you know where you stand – and how far you have to go.
Use less paper. It’s easier than you think – all it takes is a little focus. Whether it’s printing on both sides of a sheet of paper, shrinking image sizes, or eliminating unnecessary pages, there are myriad ways that you can easily reduce your paper usage.
Turn out the lights. Try light sensors overhead that will automatically turn the lights on and off based on the amount of sunlight streaming in from windows or the amount of movement in a particular area.
Purchase energy efficient equipment. That means taking steps like purchasing equipment with a low content of dangerous chemicals, using rechargeable batteries, using small solar panels to recharge your phone, iPod, or other small electronics, and recycling your old equipment.
Allow employees to telecommute. A fascinating stat noted by the article points out that if 40 percent of the workforce worked remotely just half the time, there would be $200 billion in productivity gains by American companies, $190 billion in savings from reduced real estate expenses, electricity bills, absenteeism, and employee turnover, 100 hours saved per person not spent commuting, 50 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions cut, 276 million barrels of oil saved, or roughly 32 percent of oil imports from the Middle East, and $700 billion total estimated savings to American businesses, all annually.
However you or your company celebrate Earth Day, I hope it’s a gift that keeps giving long after the day is done.