Earth Day is celebrating its 53rd anniversary this year. The environmental event is marked by an estimated one billion people across more than 190 countries, according to the Earth Day Network.
This year’s theme will be “Invest in Our Planet.” The Earth Day Network says the day is to mark the importance of dedicating time, resources, and energy to solving the climate crisis.
When did Earth Day first begin?
The concept of Earth Day was first brought about in 1969 by Gaylord Nelson, a politician and environmentalist who served as a senator and governor in the United States.
Nelson had concerns about the environmental damage in the US, including a large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. He was also inspired by student anti-war protests and their passion for change during the Vietnam War, as well as the impacts the war had on spending priorities in the country.
In the hope of expanding public awareness about air and water pollution, Senator Nelson led environmental teach-ins on campuses across the country – backed by activist Denis Hayes and co-chair Pete McCloskey.
The first Earth Day was marked in 1970 and became a huge success, with 20 million people participating nationwide in the US. At the time, people took part by demonstrating in parks, streets and auditoriums against oil spills, power plants, sewage, toxic dumps, loss of wilderness and more.
The first Earth Day also came at a time when a wave of legislation was being passed in the US, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act – the next 10 years were seen as the “environmental decade” because of such measures and the focus on green issues.
Earth Day goes global
In 1990, Earth Day became a global event with 200 million people and 141 countries participating. During that year, the event helped boost recycling efforts worldwide and in 1992, it paved the way for the United Nations Earth Summit.
In 1995, former US President Bill Clinton awarded Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his role as the Earth Day founder.
How can people participate?
There are many ways to participate this year – here are a few:
- Plant trees
- Reduce plastic consumption
- Advocate for change
- Sustainable fashion
- The Earth Day Network has also created a space for people to add and attend events around the world.
How do companies participate?
Over the years, companies have taken various initiatives to celebrate Earth Day and promote environmental sustainability. Here are some examples:
- Google announced it will be the first major company to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030
- Apple launched a new program called the ‘Restore Fund’, which aims to remove carbon from the atmosphere by investing in sustainable forestry projects
- PepsiCo announced it’s targeting net zero emissions by 2040
- Amazon is partnering with The Nature Conservancy to create the largest carbon-credit program in history, with the goal of removing millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere
- Starbucks launched a campaign to promote the use of reusable cups and reduce waste
- IKEA launched a new circular business model, which includes products made from sustainable materials and a take-back program for furniture
These are just a few examples of how companies are celebrating Earth Day and taking action to promote sustainability. Many other companies are also launching their own initiatives to raise awareness and make a positive impact on the environment.
What can SMEs do?
As well as large firms, small to Medium size enterprises (SMEs) can also contribute to Earth Day by finding ways to get your company involved in the celebration. Ideally, what you start on Earth Day will establish sustainable workplace practices that you build on throughout the year and that make real changes that have a measurable impact.
It’s fine to start small but to have an authentic impact, you’ll want to follow through. SMEs Earth Day activities can be the kick-off for your company’s long-term commitment to environmental stewardship. Here are some examples of what you can implement:
Find creative ways to recycle and reduce waste
Recycling offers triple benefits to the environment. First, you get maximum utility from the inputs used to manufacture each item you recycle. Second, it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce waste in your business and decrease the amount of trash you send to landfills. Third, it prevents harmful chemicals and materials from entering the environment, such as the plastics and metals that go into making a laptop.
Pick up litter around your local community
This is among the more visible Earth Day tips for small businesses. Not only will your community see your employees cleaning up waste in the area, but they’ll also see the results of your efforts. You can directly improve your community and provide a high-impact way to engage employees. Consider turning litter pick-up into a year-round or annual activity.
Donate to an environmental organisation or cause
Don’t limit yourself to hands-on SMEs Earth Day ideas. You can magnify the impact of your contribution by fundraising for an environmental organisation or cause, especially one that is relevant to your business or has personal significance. You might also encourage your employees to give with a matching program.
Find sustainable replacements for single-use plastics
Eliminating single-use plastics from your workplace is a great way to make your business more environmentally friendly. Replace disposable plates and cutlery with sustainable alternatives like china and glass. Install a water filter and get rid of bottled water. Most single-use plastics don’t recycle well.
Make Earth Day a car share or public transportation day
Carpooling and encouraging the use of public transportation are SMEs Earth Day activities that work every day of the year. Getting people out of their cars on the commute to work reduces your company’s carbon footprint and helps cut traffic congestion. Reduced emissions on the streets of your community benefit everyone.
Plant trees or flowers around your business
Trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere, working as nature’s natural air filter. They can also be an effective windbreak, provide shade, and become a habitat for local wildlife. In both cases, your air conditioning system doesn’t have to work as hard, which helps your business save energy. Your property is also less of a heat island in the summer when covered in greenery.
Offers incentives to customers and employees who take action
Many SMEs Earth Day tips concentrate on group activities, yet individual employees can have an impact. Match employee donations with an additional contribution. Offer employees time off for volunteer work. Engage your customers, too. Offer them discounts for making contributions to certain charities. These individual efforts add up to big results.
Look for ways to limit paper use
Reducing the use of paper in your business saves trees. It also reduces the energy involved in manufacturing and shipping it. Less paper leads to less waste and less space needed to store paperwork. Going paperless in your business may make it possible to scale down areas you need to heat and cool.
Share information on how to reduce water and electricity consumption
Replace fixtures in your place of business with those that use less water and electricity. Low-flow toilets and highly efficient dishwashers can dramatically cut your water and power usage. Perform regular maintenance to reduce wasted water and electricity consumption. Use signs to remind employees to turn off lights and to make sure they don’t let taps drip.
Set sustainability goals for the future
Use this day to engage your employees in identifying and setting business sustainability goals for your company. When you get everyone involved in creating a business sustainability plan, it heightens their commitment and increases follow-through. Make a formal plan, execute it well, and then keep people updated on your progress and achievements. Customers and partners prefer to do business with a sustainable company, and it also helps attract and retain good employees.
Celebrating Earth Day reminds your employees, partners, and customers of the power your business has in addressing challenges to the health of our environment. You’ll raise awareness, not just of the need to do more to protect our planet, but also of how people and groups in your community can do their part. Earth Day can be the start of a new commitment to the environment or can mark your company’s expanding activities in caring for the earth.
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