We’re approaching another anniversary of Earth Day -- happy 42nd, kid! -- and our editors asked me to contribute to the conversation. I’m not exactly sure why, but my best guess is that their inboxes are flooded with cringe-inducing announcements that could cause a case of deep green cynicism (or, at a minimum, add to the ever-growing list of “meh”).
With our focus on the business of sustainability, I wanted to find out whether Earth Day has grown too last century or if it's still meaningful to corporate America. In looking for guidance, I turned to the GreenBiz Executive Network, our member-based, peer-to-peer learning forum for sustainability professionals from large companies.
Most of the sustainability executives I contacted see Earth Day (or Earth Week or Earth Month) as an opportunity to connect and engage with their employees. Wells Fargo’s Environmental Affairs team member Krista Van Tassel has a busy April as the company encourages employees to participate in National Volunteer Week, Teach Children to Save Day, Rebuilding Together Day and Earth Day 2012 – Mobilize the Earth (which features performances by Cheap Trick and Kicking Daisies in DC on Sunday; hopefully the band names aren’t indicative of Washington’s view of the celebration).
Volunteerism is tightly coupled with most employee engagement programs: A number of companies plan park cleanups and other activities this weekend. Others are tying Earth Day activities to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.
Many of the executives I talked with sponsor lobby events where employees can learn about the efforts of local environmental groups or test drive an electric car. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will have a Fisker Karma available, along with several other different electric vehicles, Josh Henretig, group manager for environmental sustainability at the company, told me.
At many companies, employees will be able to bring in their old batteries, computers, books and other items to recycle. Marci Verbrugge, who works in sustainability communications at Sprint, told me that more than 2,000 employees came out on Thursday to recycle and learn about all things green from more than 50 eco-friendly exhibitors.
Earth Day is also a time for executives to talk about the company’s sustainability accomplishments during the other 364 days of the year. Rachel Sylvan, director of stakeholder engagement at Sodexo, uses Earth Day to promote the company's ongoing priority projects, such as Meatless Mondays and its Rural Recycling Program, in which the company collects e-waste for recycling to fund grants for disabled farmers.
Meanwhile, media companies like News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) and NBCUniversal promote environmental sustainability to a broadcast audience on Earth Day, with radio and television spots and programming such as NBCUniversal’s Turbine Cowboys.
Next page: Check out some of the most original Earth Day ideas this year