This article first appeared in Environmental Leader, March 25, 2014
How about breaking a world record for collecting and shredding paper, or filling the lawn of your office building with “sculptures” made of recyclable cups, or holding a haiku competition to promote your sustainability website?
These are just some of the more creative ways companies have marked April 22 over the years since 1970, when the Dayton Hudson Corporation, now known as Target, gave out free trees to its customers on the very first Earth Day.
So what is your company doing for Earth Day?
Don’t panic if you have nothing planned because Earth Day activities can be as small or as large as you want it to be.
For many corporations, Earth Day activities represent the culmination of their yearlong 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. Sustainability, after all, should be a year round effort, especially since it can lead to significant savings.
Need ideas? A look at what businesses have done over the years reveals that Earth Day activities generally fall into one of four categories:
- Earth Day fairs: Many large corporations invite green vendors and organizations to set up tables in their lobbies and cafeterias to distribute educational literature, showcase green products and services, or even stage games designed to teach and encourage sustainability at home and work. Some companies have even expanded events from Earth Day to Earth Week.
- Attention-getting displays: In 2008, Yahoo! placed hexagon dome “plants” made out of used paper cups on the lawn of their main campus to bring attention to their “Chuck the Cup” day. Great Forest, a sustainability consultancy, created a giant bird sculpture made out of discarded plastic bottles, cans and paper to remind office workers in one New Jersey building to recycle. They also constructed a 20-foot tall tower using discarded cardboard cafeteria trays to visually illustrate the “height” of waste. These giant displays get people talking and thinking about the collective impact of their actions.
- Show and tell: To promote greener modes of transportation, one company in New Jersey brought in an electric car and charging station. Others installed bike racks and we heard one Hewlett-Packard office in Oregon held a bike tune-up clinic.
- Talks and lectures: Brown bag lunch talks and lectures are popular and easy to organize. Invite an author, local community leaders or industry experts to come talk to your staff and colleagues. Topics can range from climate change to composting to pollution.
- Recycling Drives: In many offices (and homes), old computers, cell phones and other electronics are often just stored away, taking up valuable space. This is a great opportunity to clear backlogs of e-waste and to raise awareness about recycling at the same time. While a typical building usually generates close to one ton of e-waste every few months, RBC collected over 15 tonnes of old electronics in just one Earth Day e-waste drive.
2) Competitions, Awards and Recognitions:
- Friendly inter-office competitions are great motivators. Taking a tip from the annual Recyclemania college competitions, one large media company in New York organized a recycling competition pitting one department against another.
- In Texas, where they think big, two companies broke the world record for collecting and shredding 111,920 pounds of paper in a 24-hour period for an event called Shred Day.
- In 2012, to encourage employees to visit their internal sustainability website, Marsh & McLennan reportedly organized a haiku contest for budding poets.
- Earth Day is a great time to thank supporters of your company’s green efforts. One company presented an iPad to its greenest employee. Another sent a roving photographer to catch employees “green-handed,” posting their pictures on a wall of fame.
- In midtown Manhattan, one building listed all its green accomplishments — from the number of trees saved from reduced paper use, to the amount of bottles and cans diverted from the landfill — in a framed “Thank you” poster recognizing everyone’s contribution.
3) Community Service and Action:
- Worldwide movements like Billion Acts of Green and Earth Hour give companies an easy way to involve their staff. Some match an employee’s green pledge with a green act such as planting a tree.
- On a local level, some companies organize volunteer opportunities to give back to the community. Last year, the JBG Companies partnered with Rock Creek Conservancy in Maryland to clean up a local stream. They pulled out close to 3 tons of waste, including old tires, mattresses, blankets, an old rusted bicycle, and a large amount of glass bottles.
- 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.
4) Green Programs and Teams
- Many companies use the publicity surrounding Earth Day to launch new green programs in their offices. It can be as simple as instituting a double-sided printing policy, or as ambitious as launching a company-wide effort to replace all lighting with LED bulbs.
- The idea of forming green teams to identify opportunities and take charge of green initiatives has been gaining traction. Microsoft had its “sustainability captains” team of volunteers, while Jones Lang LaSalle called their taskforce “A Cleaner Tomorrow.” Often, these green teams last beyond Earth Day and end up driving the company’s sustainability strategy because ideas and partnerships initiated by employees usually result in greater participation.