Sustainability 101

How Do Companies Celebrate Earth Day?
A Guide to Earth Day Ideas From World Records to Haiku Competitions

Over the years, companies have celebrated Earth Day in a variety of ways large and small. Some efforts are attention-getting, like breaking world records and building large recycling sculptures. Others are practical, like holding simple brown bag “Lunch and Learn” talks and organizing recycling drives. And there are those that think outside the box, like the company that organized a haiku  competition! There are even last-minute Earth Day ideas you can implement without much planning to engage your employees, colleagues and tenants.

Whatever it is, businesses should do something, because investors, workers, and stakeholders are watching.

Great Forest experts crafted this giant bird sculpture for a corporate client using discarded paper to illustrate the transformational beauty of recycling. The sculpture, which was displayed in the building lobby, sparked a lot of discussion.

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) ratings  have become an important barometer for investors. Gen Z and Millennials are also increasingly demanding social change accountability from companies, according to a decade of Deloitte surveys. Glassdoor research reports that 75% of employees expect their employers to take a stand on issues like climate change. Other surveys have found that 40% of respondents have made job decisions based on a company’s sustainability performance, and 10% said they would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible business.

The point is, Earth day is a tremendous opportunity to educate your community about ways to take climate action at work, raise awareness about your sustainability achievements, and get buy-in from every level of your corporate hierarchy to reach your sustainability and Zero Waste goals.

What will you be doing on Earth Day? To give you some ideas, we took a look back at what some companies have done over the years,  and found that most Earth Day activities fell into four categories:

1) Reports and Pledges

With increasing focus on ESG ratings, and with COVID restrictions dampening many in-person Earth Day activities, some companies have used Earth Day to announce company-wide-sustainability efforts and goals, or to launch their sustainability reports, which is what Johnson Controls and other companies did in 2020.

Businesses are also making their stand on climate change and other sustainability-related issues clearer. In a 2021 Earth Day LinkedIn post, UBS’s Head of Social Impact wrote that UBS’s goal was to be “the financial provider of choice for clients who wish to mobilize capital toward the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the orderly transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Earth Day is also a great time to announce the launch or achievement of a company-wide sustainability goal, for example, if your business achieved TRUE Zero Waste certification.

2) On-site events

Great Forest created this giant plastic bag monster to draw attention to the way plastic bags are choking the earth and waterways.

Attention-getting displays:

To encourage and raise awareness about recycling, Great Forest has over the years crafted various attention-getting recycling sculptures out of discarded material. These works are then displayed in offices, building lobbies, or at Earth Day events to generate discussion. Past projects have include this paper bag monster, our recycled paper crane, our cardboard tower, a giant earth moving display, and towers made out of hundreds of discarded cardboard cafeteria trays and plastic bottles. These “recycled” displays never fail to create buzz for Earth Day.

In 2008 Yahoo! created hexagon dome “plants” out of used paper cups and placed the attention-getting sculptures on the lawn of their main campus to bring attention to their “Chuck the Cup” day.

A sculpture made out of discarded cardboard cafeteria trays.

Earth Day Events:

Many companies organize events large and small to show their employees how to green their lives at work and at home. With COVID restrictions, many of these events have moved online. Educational webinars  have proven especially popular, and we believe they will remain an important tool even after restrictions lift since these webinars have the potential to reach more people across different corporate campuses.

Companies interested in in-person events can explore simple activities like brown bag Lunch and Learn talks. For example, companies can invite a local expert to give a one-hour talk about a topic related to sustainability, or employees can just organize a simple book reading on a topic related to waste reduction or climate action. Here are some environmental book ideas and other reading recommended for Earth Day.

Larger Earth Day fairs are starting to make a come back. In the past we have set up informational booths with fun and educational games, conducted green surveys, and even arranged to bring in electric cars and charging stations for show-and-tell.

A spin-the-wheel game at an Earth Day fair organized by Great Forest attracted young and old.

Recycling Drives:

Earth Day recycling drives, especially e-waste events, are very popular. In many offices, old computers and other electronics are often just stored away, taking up valuable space.  This is a good opportunity to clear backlogs of e-waste and to raise awareness at the same time. One building collected an astounding amount of e-waste – over 2484 pounds –  in just 2 hours at an e-waste drive.

3) Competitions, Awards and Recognitions

Earth Day is a great time to thank supporters of your company’s green efforts. One company we heard of presented an iPad to its greenest employee! Another company went around trying to catch their employees “green handed” — in the act of doing something green and sustainable. Photos of the good deeds (eg: putting a recyclable item into the recycling bin) were then shared and celebrated.

Friendly inter-office competitions are great motivators. Great Forest has organized a number of company-wide recycling competitions with great success pitting one floor or department against another in fun competition.

In 2012, to encourage employees to visit their internal sustainability website, Marsh & McLennan organized a haiku contest looking for budding poets!

And in Texas, where they think big, three companies broke the world record for collecting and shredding 11,920 pounds of paper in a 24-hour period.

A Great Forest volunteer day at Earth Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to composting.

4) Community Service and Engagement

With so many Earth Day activities happening in different communities, companies can simply encourage their staff to look around and participate in worldwide movements and events like those listed on the Earth Day network.

Some companies match an employee’s green pledge with a green act such as planting a tree. Here’s what corporations need to know about tree planting.

Other companies have launched give-back programs to support nonprofits. In 2021, Apple donated $1 to Conservation International for most Apple Pay transactions made in the week leading up to Earth Day, and they reportedly donated up to to $1 million to celebrate Earth Day.

In 2021, one brand even developed a unique program to offer free eco-counseling to help people overcome eco-anxiety! The Silk Climate Warriors allowed people to sign up for 45- minute group sessions.

Companies have also expanded their reach to include families. One company invited children of staff to submit artwork about Earth Day for display in their offices.

Many companies also organize local volunteer opportunities for their employees to mark Earth Day. These include park cleanups and and composting projects.  At one Earth Day, Great Forest provided kid-friendly educational materials for a JBG Companies cleanup event in partnership with Rock Creek Conservancy. We brought a worm compost bin to educate residents and tenants about organics recycling, created an educational poster for kids, and helped pull out close to three tons of waste from the stream, including old tires, mattresses, blankets, an old rusted bicycle, and a large amount of glass bottles.

Businesses can also explore other simple ideas to engage colleagues/employees such as:

  • Encouraging everyone to do make one green/sustainable commitment on Earth Day, such as using reusable mugs instead of single-use coffee cups.
  • Conducting a tour of the office to point out all the green features that your building/company may have.
  • Hosting a potluck lunch on Earth Day so colleagues will not have to drive out for their lunch hour.

For many corporations all over the world, Earth Day activities represent the culmination of their year-long green efforts. For others, it might be the ONE day that they focus on sustainability. No matter where you are on the green spectrum, you should take advantage of the attention Earth Day generates because it sets the tone for the rest of the year.

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