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Keeping up the momentum: Companies build on Earth Day

It’s easy to think that Earth Day ends with a couple of booths in the office lobby and a chance to volunteer for a day. But the annual celebration allows companies to build on their efforts year after year and, in some instances, this is creating a tremendous scaling of efforts.

Long after the annual beach clean ups, the fundraisers and the political proclamations, many corporations are continuing to embark on innovative environmental programs and events. It's this kind of follow through that's important for Earth Day to remain relevant and to grow. And in that spirit, here's my own follow up:

Readers highlight great ideas

Last week I reported on some of the more interesting Earth Day events that had been held by members of the GreenBiz Executive Network. I then asked our readers if they had any other great ideas for celebrating Earth Day.

We received a number of responses highlighting efforts similar to those we described last week and it’s exciting to hear about so many great celebrations. Green teams were out in full force hosting local office events to educate employees, coordinating local clean-up efforts and providing recycling for a wide range of items. Intuit, in an effort to make recycling less taxing, used their freecycle application to help employees donate items for reuse in a freecycle swap.

Associates expand success

One example of this scaling effect came from advisory services firm Ernst & Young. The company is celebrating the 10th anniversary of EcoCare, a volunteer network of employees across the Americas who are committed to and engaged in greening their offices and promoting environmental sustainability. The organization started as a grassroots network of several dozen employees in the U.S. and has grown to include more than a thousand members. In addition to helping to green their office environments and communities, the EcoCare team is responsible for suggesting the creation of Ernst & Young’s director of environmental sustainability position.

In terms of volunteering efforts, Kohl’s Department Stores sent along details of tens of thousands of associates from more than 1,100 locations volunteering in communities nationwide. Across the country, Kohl’s associates volunteered in a number of ways, including:

  •  Planting and cleaning up school grounds with Mooseheart Child City & School Inc. in Chicago.
  • Giving new life to old plastic toys that may otherwise be thrown away and donating them to community children with Second Chance Toys in Philadelphia.
  • Cleaning up the river by canoe with the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee.
  • Region-wide clean-up efforts with I Love a Clean San Diego County Inc. in California.
  • Participating in beach and playground clean-up efforts with the Seattle Aquarium Society.

Crowd sourcing is also creating opportunities for companies as well. Bruce Klafter from Applied Materials shared a strategy for developing unique solutions. Employees logging onto the company’s sustainability web page can select an environmental issue from a drop-down menu as the issue they feel is most pressing in their region. They can then compose a “solution” and post it for everyone else to see and provide comments.

“We’re running the campaign from April 15 until June 5 (World Environment Day) in recognition of the global nature of the challenges," Klafter said. "Two days after our CEO invited everyone to participate; we already had 141 ideas posted.”

Aveda tackles water issues 

At the Ceres conference in Boston last week, I had a chance to sit down with Chuck Bennett, vice president of Aveda Earth and Community Care, to discuss how the company’s Earth Day efforts have evolved. Aveda has celebrated Earth Day since the company’s founding in 1978 and began celebrating Earth Month in April 1999 after their acquisition by Estee Lauder.

According to Bennett, in 1999 Earth Month efforts became more organized and systemic as they saw a way of engaging with their global network of salons, spas, Institutes and retail stores. The strategy was to use their global network to raise money for local causes. That first year they raised $300,000. This year, Aveda’s Earth Month campaign seeks to raise $4.5 million.

Back in 1999, these efforts funded a number of different environmental causes but five years ago they became more focused on a single cause – water. Earth Month funds are raised through a wide variety of activities including Walk for Water, Cut-A-Thons, Appointments for the Earth, CatWalk for Water and other types of fundraisers.

Just as the local spa and salon partners can create their own unique events to raise money and awareness, the proceeds are distributed to support 35 regional partners in communities worldwide.  These partners are selected and work at the local level to preserve clean water and educate citizens about regional water issues.

Bennett explained that this approach also helps facilitate dialogue between the spas and their cause partners who, in some cases, end up working together on additional efforts.

Thanks to everyone who sent in a recap of what they did on Earth Day. We look forward to hearing from you next year and learning how this annual celebration can be used to make a larger impact than any one company’s efforts.

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