Is Earth Day Overhyped?

Is Earth Day Overhyped?

Now in its 41st year, Earth Day has become a staple in communities, schools and businesses. But what is its utility these days? We asked members of our GreenBiz Intelligence Panel (GBIP) about how they view Earth Day at their companies. Here's what they told us.

Despite the deluge of press releases and announcements we see this time of year, very few GBIP members view Earth Day at their companies as overhyped. Nearly 60 percent said it is just about right, while 37 percent feel Earth Day is underhyped.

For the most part, Earth Day activities at our members' companies have stayed about the same, or grown, over the past five years. Just 14 percent said Earth Day activities have shrunk.

The economic recession appears to have had minimal impact on companies' Earth Day activities for some 73 percent of those polled.

"You don't have to make a huge investment," Dawn Murray, director of U.S. environmental sustainability at ING, told us. "We spend some money on things like giveaways, but we don't want to inundate people and make Earth Day about the stuff."

In terms of employee engagement, 41 percent of GBIP members see Earth Day as one effort among many. The event also has buy-in from the top, with 80 percent saying their senior management supports the day's activities.

Our GBIP members plan to celebrate Earth Day at their companies through vendor expos, lunch-and-learn workshops, volunteering opportunities and recycling events. Murray finds that bringing in local vendors, such as farmers or solar companies, can have an impact on employees if they can make a connection to their personal lives.

"Employees respond to that," Murray said. "Getting all that wealth of information helps them to make better environmental choices at home."

In general, we saw a subtle shift in companies moving from celebration to action. For example, Blue Shield of California is launching a three-step Green Pledge on Earth Day based on common employee suggestions.

"We wanted a Pledge that's doable for employees, comes from the ground up, addresses our major environmental impacts (energy use, paper), and demonstrates real impact," said Nancy Shaw, the company's sustainable management manager.

Rather than holding events, Redemtech plans a series of social media dispatches to educate consumers about responsible electronics recycling.

"We're planning a series of social media messages, including our corporate blog, explaining that Earth Day can be the worst day of the year because unscrupulous collectors and dealers that ship e-waste overseas to developing nations take advantage of the generosity of organizations that host collection events in hopes of helping the environment," said Bart Porter, news bureau editor of Redemtech's blog. "We're trying to convey that e-waste needs to be properly processed so that it does not wind up overseas, incinerated or landfilled."

Herman Miller plans to help its employees recycle unwanted or used items, ranging from stoves to electronics. Any money generated by the donations will be given to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It isn't just during Earth Day, however, that the company works to help employee recycle materials responsibly, according to Daniel Broersma, a corporate environmental health and safety specialist.

"It's year-round for me," he said. "I'll get a call, 'Dan, what do I do with my drywall?' "

The calls do seem to become more frequent during April, he said.

"As far as employees, I think they view Earth Day of an extension of our culture," he said. "It's a culmination of what we do all year round. They see it as an opportunity to use their recycling to give back."

Do you think Earth Day at your company is:

Over the past five years, have your company's Earth Day activities:

Does Earth Day at your company promote employee engagement?

Does senior management support Earth Day at your company?


The bottom line: Inside most companies, Earth Day seems to be working just fine. Stay the course.