Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Silencing Earth Day Critics

Earth Day is an important day for business, collectively companies are spending tens of millions on Green marketing. But others have expressed their concerns that Earth Day constitutes little more than another over-commercialized marketing event. As Natalie Zmuda writes in an AdAge.com article, "It's Earth Day: Time to consume more to save the planet."

Others are even more cynical, "My concern is that some companies just view [Earth Day] as a marketing event, like Thanksgiving or Christmas," said Larry Light, chairman-CEO of Arcature, a management consulting firm. "Then they've fulfilled their obligation for the rest of the year. The whole issue of sustainability means that a commitment also has to be sustainable. If it's only for one day, then it's a marketing event."

Some are resolute in their dismissal of Earth Day. "Earth Day's usefulness has passed," said Alex Steffen, executive editor of World Changing, a sustainability blog. "The idea that we're going to direct our attention to the planet for a day or a week ... is not a sufficient response anymore. An awful lot of people view Earth Day as the time to express the idea that they are sympathetic to change. We need to move from being sympathetic to change to actually changing things."

For years Grist has derided Earth Day, two years ago David Roberts was complaining about it, noting that it wasn't enough, saying “The time for "small steps" is long past. It's time for people to wake the hell up.” This year Grist unveiled an appropriately titled Screw Earth Day campaign. The purists behind Screw the Earth think that we do not do enough to get the message across. They feel we need to do more to protect the environment. As they expain, “It’s not about a single day, dude, it’s about living green every day.”

Grist's David Roberts points out, "Green is all the hype everywhere. So you might think that the public would be engaged in this push....polls find public interest as low as ever, and opinion about climate and energy policy is as inchoate and incoherent as ever. There are no rallies. There are no emails and letters and phone calls streaming into Congressional offices. There is no real social movement behind energy/climate action. There’s nothing to push a recalcitrant member of Congress in the right direction."

Although Mr Roberts may be correct about the hype surrounding Earth Day, he is wrong on just about every other count. Earlier this year, one Billion people around the world turned out their lights to vote for climate change action during Earth Hour and today another billion are expected to get involved with Earth Day events. The social momentum of environmental interest is obvious and irrefutable. This is an important period of transition, and although the mediums by which this interest will express itself are not yet fully formed, the mechanisms of change are coalescing.

Contrary to Mr Robert's assertions, public interest in the environment is not low, studies are finding that despite the recession the interest in Green continues. Earlier this month Joel Makower pointed this out as the one constant from the polling data on consumer environmental attitudes, "Vast majorities of consumers say they have adopted greener habits in their daily lives, and shop for at least some products with a keen eye on their environmental provenance and energy and climate impacts. In other words: the marketplace is getting greener -- way greener."

At least one criticism is well founded. As more companies and marketers jump on the Earth Day bandwagon it is evident that some are guilty of masking environmentally destructive practices under the guise of environmental sensitivity. This practice, commonly referred to as greenwashing, dilutes the integrity of Green branding efforts. And this prompts concerns that consumers will stop paying attention to Green altogether.

Earth Day is not only an opportunity to move product, such events also exert pressure on companies to improve their environmental record. All companies who promote sales in conjunction with Earth Day open themselves to scrutiny. Unsubstantiated Green claims or associations will be exposed and this could prove detrimental to a company's reputation. Although some companies are guilty of greenwashing they will be punished by consumers and legislators.

The business community is an important contributor to the environmental crises we are confronting and they are an equally important part of the solution. Forward looking companies understand that greenwashing is simply counterproductive, these companies know that the best and most enduring way to position themselves is through earnest environmental initiatives that have integrity. That is why many companies are already looking well beyond events like Earth Day and emboldening their commitment to sustainable business practices.

For business, Earth Day is a marketing opportunity, and as such an opportunity to grow profits and increase market share, but businesses are also using Earth Day to fund environmental projects and raise awareness about the environment. If the world is to change, people's attitudes must change and public events like Earth Day are an important part of the transition to a Greener world. Earth Day engages people and helps to transform the wider culture.

Although it is easy to respect the dedication of many Green activists, it is sometimes difficult to understand the approach of certain eco-purists. The anger they vent as they rail against popular movements like Earth-day seems at times incomprehensible. It is easy to appreciate the purists' roles as watchdogs and stalwart activists, even their impatience has its place, but at times their comments detract from the urgency of the Green message.

As a force within the broader efforts eco-purists serve a valuable purpose, but when they hijack the mainstream discussion, they foster anger, apathy and cynicism. Environmental extremists may attract a core of misanthropes, but they alienate the general public and send businesses looking for loopholes instead of contributing to the discussion. Thankfully many corporate leaders are participating in finding solutions, and many more appear ready to follow.

Are eco-purists trying to help the planet or as it sometimes appears, do they prefer distancing people with unproductive vitriol? Some purists go so far as to call for a revolution that does away with capitalism and the whole free market system. However, it is clear to almost everyone that these nihilistic reveries do not serve people or the planet.

More reasonable approaches envision ways of bringing about change without bloodying our streets. It seems obvious that the most expedient change will occur by working within our system. For example, proposed climate change legislation in the US would put a price on carbon emissions and unleash the power of free markets expediting an efficient transition to a carbon restricted world. Perhaps the most reasonable approach involves sending a loud message to our elected representatives.

As purists rue the popularity of Earth Day, Green businesses are taking advantage of the opportunity to highlight their Green initiatives and eco-entrepreneurs are hopeful that events like Earth Day will expedite the task of bringing their innovations to market. Earth Day is effectively turning the wheels of our free market economy.

Sadly some green-purists appear confused, they fail to understand that sustainable consumerism is not the enemy it is the goal. Their cynical rants further serve to illustrate that their approach does not engage the public nor influence politicians.

Admittedly, Earth Day is a highly commercialized event, but those who criticize should remember that commerce is the language of action. If we are to see a Greener world, businesses must not only be amongst those who contribute solutions, they must lead.

For businesses and consumers, Earth Day is about more than a point on a calendar. The Earth Day event has amplified a message that will reverberate throughout the year.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day Business Resources

What can businesses do for Earth Day? From easy no cost money saving strategies to intensive overhauls of your workplace and supply chains, here is a comprehensive list of resources to help your business make the transition to a Greener world.


Administrative Operations

Reduce and reuse wherever possible. Eliminate unnecessary photocopying and encourage e-mailing. Use spell check and proofread before you print or copy. Print double sided whenever possible. Use digital storage solutions to cut down on paper. Set up an area to store and exchange reusable office supplies.

Recycling

Recycle everything you no longer need, from paper to packaging for shipping and e-cycling electronics. Find a recycling center near you. Make sure you properly dispose of items you can't reuse or recycle.

Alternative Transportation

Start a carpool, walk, bike, or use mass transportation instead of driving. Provide reserved parking for carpoolers. Offer transit passes to employees who take the bus or subway and bike racks for cyclists. Let workers telecommute. Teleconference instead of travel.

Energy Management

Unplug technology when it's not in use. Up to 75 percent of the electricity used to power office equipment is consumed while the product is turned off but still plugged in. Turn off your computer monitor, printers, copy machines, and the lights when they are not being used. If possible, take the stairs instead of using the elevator. See the consumer's guide to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Use Energy Star's energy-efficient office products. Explore energy efficiency tips and products. See programs, tools and resources.

Green Power Partnership: Use the tools and other resources. Review information on the organizational procurement of Green power, see advice and technical support. Explore how Green power can improve your organization’s environmental performance.

General Technical Overview of Power Management: Review methods of maximizing IT power savings, see savings estimates, activation instructions, and software tools.

Eco-Buying

Buy recycled content, remanufactured, and recyclable office products. At a minimum, buy recycled paper and recycle it again. Buy compact fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs. Make the environment, and not just price, a factor when purchasing. Tell suppliers that you're interested in sustainable products, and set specific goals for buying recycled, refurbished or used. Talk to suppliers about alternatives to toxins used in batteries and copier toner.

Water Management

Water-efficiency: Reduce operating costs by employing water-efficient practices. Convey an image of stewardship to employees, customers, and the general public by helping to conserve water resources for future generations.

Green Building

Apply green building principles to your office buildings: See how sustainable design (green building) principles apply to your place of business. Use tools and read information on worker productivity, risk and cost reduction and see what it means to build with greater responsibility towards future generations.

Go Green with GSA. Review the U.S. Government Services environmental initiatives designed to help federal agencies Go Green.

Green Resources for Business

The Global Environmental Management Initiative: (GEMI) Use the tools and review information geared towards helping businesses achieve environmental excellence.

Center for Waste Minimization: Conduct sustainable opportunities assessments to help your facilities reduce their waste and/or recycle by-products and pollution prevention.

Green Pages: Find screened and approved Green businesses.

Products and Services: Find environmentally preferable products and services, including environmental attributes to look for, procurement guidance, tools, case studies, and other resources.

Fedcenter.gov: Explore links to, and highlights from programs which enable agencies to meet these goals include: Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP), Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG), ENERGY STAR®, the Green Procurement Program (GPP), and the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). Regulations, Guidance, and Policy / Supporting Information and Tools / Lessons Learned / Training, Presentations, and Briefings / Conferences and Events.

EPA Publications: What you can do at the office / What you can do in small business / What you can do in industry / What you can do in retail / What you can do when planning and conducting meetings and events.

Sustainable Business

World Business Council for Sustainable Development: Review a wide range of information on sustainable development.

Business and Climate Change Solutions: See what the science of climate change means in terms of the risks and opportunities for business.

Eco-Capitalism: Review tips from a successful eco-capitalist.

Businesses have many choices as to how they will celebrate Earth Day and increasingly discerning consumers are rewarding sincere efforts from companies who are investing in a sustainable world.

Although measures like switching to compact fluorescent bulbs can deliver up to 75 percent energy savings and last more than 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, clearly this is not enough. Sustainability includes simple efforts repeated millions of times, but if we are to achieve the kind of change required we will need to do more than change light bulbs.

It is important that businesses lead the general population by doing as much as they can. By carefully reviewing operations and processes, businesses can find innovative and creative ways to recycle, reduce and reuse. We must take bold steps towards sustainability, not merely on Earth Day but everyday.

Next: Silencing Earth Day Critics

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Business of Earth Day

Earth Day is a great example of grassroots environmentalism turning the wheels of the free market. Businesses are joining people around the world who are coming together for workshops, rallies, cleanups, tree plantings and other events focused on the environment.

In 1962, Senator Gaylord Nelson decided he wanted to raise the profile of the environment in American politics. Six years later, amidst the war protests of 1969, Senator Nelson came up with the idea of holding a national protest in defense of the environment. The first Earth Day event was held on April 22, 1970 and was a massive success with over 20 million people taking part across the US. That day marked the beginning of the green movement in America. Twenty years later, on Earth Day 1990, 200 million people in 141 countries took part. In 2007, an estimated 1 billion people celebrated Earth Day around the world.

As reported in a recent Planetgreen.disovery.com article, "solving our environmental problems is going to require both top-down and bottom-up solutions. Now more than ever, we've all got to roll up our sleeves and get to work, in whatever way each of us can, because we're all in this together, and it's going to take everyone of us—from housewives to politicians to CEOs—getting with the program."

With the participation of approximately one billion people for the recent Earth Hour event and amidst climate change hearings in Washington, Earth Day 2009 promises to be bigger than ever.

Businesses are responding in varying degrees. Consumers can shop at Banana Republic, where 1% of sales from April 22 through April 27 benefit the Trust for Public Land. Some companies have launched comprehensive lineups of Earth Day activities and promotions. The Disney Store North America's approach is designed to educate families about their impacts, encourage recycling and replant an endangered rainforest through The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees Campaign. These initiatives build on The Walt Disney Company’s recently announced long-term environmental goals to reduce emissions, waste, electricity and fuel use, as well as the company’s impact on water and ecosystems.

Several broadcasting networks, including Fox Broadcasting, NBC and Nickelodeon, have announced green-themed TV program scheduling in honor of Earth Day. Verizon Business employees in Dallas, Boston and Tulsa are volunteering in local projects in support of Earth Day. Newsweek subscribers were able to fashion the cover of the April 14 issue into an envelope to send plastic bags to Target in return for a reusable tote bag. And Clorox's Brita brand's integration with NBC's "The Biggest Loser" has resulted in the elimination of plastic water bottles from the show's campus.

This month, Wal-Mart is running seven national 30-second spots, bearing the tagline "Budget-friendly prices. Earth-friendly products," Wal-Mart Ads also tout recycled materials. Macy’s Turn Over a New Leaf campaign is designed to support, educate and inspire eco-friendly practices in everyday life, and will include special promotions and merchandise. Last year’s event raised more than $2.9 million for the National Park Foundation. Toys 'R' Us' launch the "enviro-friendly playthings,"

With a host of Earth-day activities, benefits and workshops Anthropologie is drawing attention to the simple steps we can all take to help our planet, placing special importance on the survival of the honey bees and sustainable agriculture. Office Depot customers can take advantage of free electronics recycling with the purchase of any Zip Express service. Cartridge World has launched a “Recycle it @ Cartridge World” campaign that encourages consumers to recycle printer cartridges and cell phones at participating stores.

EarthGrains bread will make a $100,000 contribution to a leading international conservation group, The Nature Conservancy, to support the protection of the world’s lands and waters. Full Circle Architects hosts a free "Building Green Can Save Green" event. Reynolds Consumer Products is offering a free roll of its new recycled aluminum wrap.

For the second year in a row, New York’s airline JetBlue Airways invited hundreds of New Yorkers to do “One Thing That’s Green” by participating in a community tree planting day to support the MillionTreesNYC movement. Last week employees at Anheuser-Busch used public transportation, car pooled, biked or walked to work; recycled, planted trees and participated in community clean-up and restoration events. Many of the company's 12 U.S. breweries have combined "Green Week" activities with the company's annual "Bring Our Kids to Work Day" event to educate employees and their children about actions they can take to benefit the environment.

Outside of Philadelphia, Kenilworth business partners will be cleaning up a local wooded area and stream. And Fairmont Hotels have introduced the "Lexus Hybrid Living Suites." From local efforts to high end initiatives, businesses are aggressively capitalizing on Earth Day, even Barbie now has a green-accessories collection just in time for Earth Day.

More companies are using the day to highlight Green products, roll out eco-friendly initiatives and disseminate Green information. Earth Day has moved well beyond the largely student-led groups of the early days and is now a day for business.

Next: Part 2, Earth Day Business Resources / Part 3, Silencing Earth Day Critics