At 41, Earth Day's Maturity Varies by Company

At 41, Earth Day's Maturity Varies by Company

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Wayne National Forest

At age 41, Earth Day is decidedly middle age, and while for some companies, it is a fully-functioning adult, for others it is still in its infancy.

How do Earth Day events at both learning and leadership companies compare, and do they evolve? We asked GreenBiz Executive Network members and other companies -- both newbies and veterans -- to share their thoughts.

Let's begin with the newcomers -- those who have celebrated Earth Day for less than three years. We wanted to know what prompted the start of observations and how have employees received it. Here is what three told us:

Nicole Peill-MoelterNicole Peill-Moelter, Director of Environmental Sustainability, Akamai

Akamai’s Earth Day observation began in 2009, the year after Akamai formally established its environmental sustainability program. The first year saw broad and enthusiastic participation from many of our offices around the world. Activities, organized by volunteers, focused on sustainability topics such as renewable energy, home energy audits, recycling, electric vehicles, sustainable consumer products, sustainable pot-lucks, and a collage contest. The energy to organize these events has waned significantly since then despite a continued level of interest in our sustainability program.

Sometimes I question whether we are overstepping our bounds when we go beyond educating employees about our sustainability mission and progress, promoting sustainable behavior outside the workplace. We don’t do this in any other area except perhaps encouraging volunteerism to promote corporate citizenship in our communities. So is employee engagement around personal sustainability a new paradigm? A new way of looking at engaging our employees to promote efficiency and innovation in our business as well as extending beyond the workplace to foster a sustainable corporate family in our communities? Is this what environmentally-enlightened new hires are expecting in an employer? Or will it be seen as big brother-ism?

Mary Joann "Majo" ThurmanMary Joann "Majo" Thurman, Director Environmental, Health & Safety, Rockwell Automation

Our new company mission statement, which includes sustainability, prompted the change. A number of sites have been conducting local activities for years that had been driven by a few individuals locally and reported through our EHS newsletter. 2010 was the first year we had a coordinated effort driven from internal communications, of which EHS is one member of a larger team. We received a positive response. We are hoping for more involvement and visibility this year.

Gerri WalshGerri Walsh, Director of Sustainability, Ball Corporation

This is the third year we’ve held this type of event (an Earth Day Sustainability Fair) and we get great feedback from our employees. Prior to this we’ve had quizzes and done mostly internal stuff -- three years ago was the first time we brought in outside vendors.


Next, the oldtimers --  companies that have celebrated Earth Day for more than four years. We wanted to know how employees and partners have received their Earth Day efforts, and how the activities have matured over time.

Kevin AntonKevin Anton, Chief Sustainability Officer, Alcoa

Sustainability at Alcoa starts with the aluminum we produce to our values-based approach to operating, which means our employees have a high level of environmental consciousness and are eager to do their part. Alcoa Foundation also invests more than a third of its funding in environmental projects. All of this means eco-holidays like Earth Day and World Environment Day have always been a big focus at Alcoa -- and for our employees and partners.

Our Earth Day celebrations have traditionally been regionally focused, with each business holding local celebrations. This year Alcoa and Alcoa Foundation are working in tandem to harness the collective resources of the company and the foundation to redouble our efforts. 2011 will mark our most significant Earth Day campaign in history, kicking off with Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld helping to green Central Park in New York, and culminating on World Environment Day. During that two month period, thousands of Alcoans from Russia to China, Australia to Brazil, U.S. to Iceland, will simultaneously plant trees, recycle, and help green their communities. While the "Imagine Your World" art contest will help inspire the next generation of environmental ambassadors.

David BrennfleckDavid Brennfleck, Large Enterprise Account Manager, SAP

The response has been encouraging. Our employees have taken time out of their busy schedules to review information about recycling, sustainable construction, and sustainable agriculture and energy consumption reductions. New this year: We are trying to run the effort with daily themes, demos, information booths, lunch and learn sessions and content on cafeteria screens. We are hoping this higher level of involvement, multi-level touch and multi day approach has an even greater effect.

Our focus has changed from promoting only carbon footprint reduction information to expanding awareness of issues that concern the overall long-term health of the earth. Furthermore, we are attempting to engage our employees at a deeper level. We are also extending beyond a single day to improve both the "reach and frequency" with the hope of achieving a higher level of attention to the topic.

Beth ColletonBeth Colleton, Vice President, Green is Universal, NBC Universal

Our Earth Week volunteer events are some of the most widely attended for NBCUniversal and they continue to grow! We continually receive feedback from our employees about enjoying the opportunity to take time out of their busy day to dig in the dirt, plant some trees, help clean up a beach and just spend time with other employees whom they might not always get a chance to work alongside with. Partnering with amazing groups also helps ensure everyone has a great time as well-- we have created partnerships in our local communities where we operate which have been a tremendous opportunity as well.

From tree planting to recycling events, we've tried to bring as much variety to our employees when it comes to these events. We've responded to the feedback from our employees who might not be able to leave the office for a few hours at a time and instead tried to offer things right at our facilities, including an Eco Fair which brought in local farmers and artisans from the surrounding area to set up a farmer's market-style opportunity with cooking demonstrations and information about recycling, conserving energy and reuse tips.

Cynthia CurtisCynthia Curtis, Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, CA Technologies

The response is increasingly positive, with a growing number of employee-initiated events and activities, and greater participation in the CA-organized events.


Holly EmersonHolly Emerson, Senior Analyst, Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Climate Solutions Sector, Ingersoll Rand Company

Response is generally very good internally. An energy audit lunch-and-learn drew a crowd of more than 100 people. Some events, not so much (bike to work). Food and giveaways are needed to draw the best crowds. Anything that will help employees save money (energy audit) or get out of the office (nature walk) is generally well attended. We find it very easy to get external people involved. We have solicited the help of the local county waste department, local colleges, community farmers market, other companies (Duke, BofA, PNG, etc).

Amy HargrovesAmy Hargroves, Manager, Corporate Responsibility, Sprint

Excellent response. The events are very popular with both groups and well attended. They’ve stayed relatively consistent, but with steady growth. Last year we pulled back a bit due to budget constraints, but are back on track this year. Having events at 14 sites will be the most we’ve ever had. The previous record was just six sites. We’ve also been able to add more executive participation as our CSR efforts have more thoroughly penetrated our culture. Internal demonstrations now make up about 20 percent of the total demo area vs. just 10 percent in the past. We have a broader range of green initiatives to demonstrate. We probably have 20 to 30 external partner/agencies participate in our campus event.

Kevin WeaverKevin Weaver, Business Development Manager, and Stephanie Kraemer, Performance Management Analyst, Schneider Electric Buildings, Americas

Response has been fantastic. We have three teams dedicated to making Earth Week a successful event. Earth Week is an easy sell to Schneider Electric employees -- it is not often they get a break in the day to go celebrate the environment with their peers! It was important for us to have upper-level management support in order for employees to really respect the cause. Our president is planning to participate in our Wear Green Day companywide picture and we have other VPs kicking off daily events.

Stephanie KraemerOur Earth day events have evolved over the years to maximize engagement. In our early years of participation, we sponsored various causes, and joined "passive efforts." This year we worked very hard to craft a program that would engage our employees at all levels of the organization. We truly want to build a culture of environmental awareness at Schneider Electric, and the best way to do that is to get people participating. Many of our events focus on action, and by including an element of competition, we hope that people go above and beyond their normal patterns, and hopefully develop new green and sustainable habits that persist well past Earth Day.

Mary WenzelMary Wenzel, Director of Environmental Affairs, Wells Fargo

Responses have been very positive. Earth Day events have remained the same where Wells Fargo honors Earth Day through action at a national level and our team members organize and participate in local, community events to honor both Earth Day and National Volunteer Week (April 10-16th). The only thing that has changed is that we have more Wells Fargo Green Teams. Last year we had 35, and this year we already have more than 50. As a result, the volume of our activities is increasing -- i.e. we're doing the same activities, but more of it.

Kathrin Winkler, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, EMC Corporation

Employees are excited to learn about what the company is doing for the environment and what they can do to help, whether at work or at home. Many employees want to help, but aren't sure what to do. This is an opportunity to give them concrete direction. It also serves as a good general reminder. The international nature is encouraging collaboration and spreading of best practices, and strengthening the bonds that make us more of a global community while reinforcing the empowerment of the local community.

It has evolved into a more connected and global celebration, enabled by a more coherent employee engagement program and more consistent embedding of sustainability within the company's overall messaging. It's also grown through initiative in local office supported by the visibility that has been given to past such initiatives.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Wayne National Forest.