Much has changed since the first Earth Day (1970) in the U.S. – the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Since 1990, the movement has gone global, lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.
As we mark the 44th anniversary this April 22, Earth Day is a powerful focal point to demonstrate a commitment to environmental causes. But, with fewer than three weeks to go, even if your company hasn't thought about it yet, it's not too late to put an Earth Day initiative in place. To find out how, I interviewed Magdalene Sim, director of communications at Great Forest Inc., a leader in sustainability consulting:
Q: What advice would you give companies that haven’t thought about an Earth Day initiative yet? What are some things that could easily be put in place?
A: There are many things that can be done, but here are my top suggestions:
a) Say thank you toyour staff for their green efforts over the past year. Share the success of sustainability programs with facts and figures to show how they are making a difference. Saying thank you also helps to raise awareness about your green programs among those who might not already be contributing.
b) Join a social movement by encouraging your staff to participate in efforts like Billion Acts of Green. Many of these already have templates set up to make it easy for individuals and corporations to get involved.
c) Ask for one green act by inviting your employees to perform just one on Earth Day. It could be as simple as taking public transportation to work instead of driving, or using a reusable mug. Every big change comes from small acts.
Q: What are some tips for doing it right?
A: First, set a good example from the top down. If your staff sees management recycling, they will likely follow their lead. Have company leaders introduce (or talk about) your sustainability programs or goals. Then you should engage/involve your staff. Ask them for suggestions and designate green team leaders. Finally, education is important. It does not matter if you have the best sustainability program in the world if no one knows about it, or how they can play their part.
Q: How do you recommend marketing and getting the word out without being too self-serving?
A: Make your message fun and educational. Each year, Great Forest helps to organize Earth Day events and activities for clients that include games, lunch time talks and quizzes, and we have even built giant attention-getting recycling displays made out of discarded cups, paper, bottles, cans and other recyclable items. Champion your efforts by showing how much difference your green programs have made (i.e., you can say your efforts in saving paper is equivalent to X number of trees saved). Making your accomplishments known, especially internally to your staff, can help motivate them. You just have to be honest, be aware of greenwashing, and think carefully about the message you are sending.
Q: How can these become part of the corporate culture?
A: This can take time, but it is possible. A commitment (and follow through) from upper management and involvement from individual employees is key. Create a sustainability policy and share this with employees. Start with small, achievable actions (think low-hanging fruit) and expand from there. You can hire a sustainability consultancy to help, or you can create an internal green team to brainstorm and oversee these initiatives.
Q: How do companies benefit?
A: There is an expectation that sustainability efforts are inherent in business operations. Many employees want to see these efforts in the company they work for. Likewise, clients and vendors want to know the companies they do business with are responsible when it comes to the environment. So if your company is not actively engaged in green activities, be prepared for them to ask, "Why not you?" "What is stopping you from doing you part?" Also, let’s not forget that reducing your environmental impact can reduce operational costs.
Sustainability should be a year-round effort that can lead to substantial savings for your company, but what you do on Earth Day could set the tone for the entire year. So, what are you waiting for? Get started! And, please feel free to share your Earth Day initiatives in the comments below.