In 1969, Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from the U.S. state of Wisconsin, witnessed the harm caused by a massive oil spill off the coast of California. A year later, he turned his concern over environmental damage into action, tapping the energy of student-led, anti-war protests to raise awareness around the dangers of air and water pollution. With the help of another congressman and an activist, he launched what later became known as Earth Day, which falls on April 22. In the U.S., Earth Day eventually inspired the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
By 1990, Earth Day had become a global event, and it set the stage for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit, which drew attention to the ways in which social, economic and environmental factors intersect and evolve together. Many nations now celebrate Earth Day with festivals and gatherings, park and city clean-up efforts and endangered species programs.
From 1970 to Now
Fifty-three years after the inaugural event, the need to raise awareness and take action are greater than ever. The call to action, captured by the theme of this year’s event, is simple: Invest in Our Planet. Whether that investment comes in the form of effort or financial investment, Earthday.org asserts that “saving humanity from the climate crisis and building green economies in every country” demands that we work collectively.
Everyone has a role in this effort. Businesses need to drive value for themselves and for society through innovations that prioritize sustainability. Governments must incentivize that innovation and enable equitable access to resources. Individuals must remember that they hold power as consumers and as voters, and they must exercise that power by demanding more eco-friendly products and by voting for representatives who prioritize sustainability.
Act on Promises
Truly green companies are always looking ahead, as they should be. Whether they invest in green startup accelerators or incubators or renovate their supply chain to be more sustainable, businesses have a responsibility to take action. Many companies are already making progress, including:
- IKEA. It sources from sustainable forests and cotton suppliers and uses clean energy through solar panels. IKEA is also planning to sell solar panels in their U.K. stores.
- Schnitzer Steel. The business is bringing sustainability to the industrial world by recycling steel and other metals and then converting the recycled scrap into new products using electric arc furnaces powered by hydropower. This inspired their meteoric rise to first place on Corporate Knights’ Global 100 Rankings.
- Stantec. This engineering, architecture and environmental consulting firm was added last year as a partner in the United Nations’ Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, a global contract signed by more than 70 companies that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse” the degradation of ecosystems.
- Heliogen. The company is developing solar energy solutions with the goal of eliminating the need for fossil fuel energy. Heliogen’s technology aligns mirrors to reflect sunlight to generate carbon-free heat. Their cost-effective offerings, such as carbon-free electricity, are accessible to companies looking to lower both their carbon footprint and their operating costs.
- Siemens Gamesa. In 2021, it developed the RecyclableBlade, the world’s first recyclable wind turbine blade. In addition to safeguarding the environment, this leader in wind power solutions is also working to advance technological education in diverse communities.
- VitaSoy. This plant-based nutrition company has set a target of zero manufacturing waste designated for landfill by 2025/26 to reinforce its commitment to sustainable resource management. It recently developed a plan to decarbonize its operations and product portfolio.
Do Better for the Planet
We know what’s needed. We must invest in sustainability and innovation, improve our energy efficiency and reduce our overall energy usage. Where appropriate, we should increase our reliance on hydropower and biofuels, and we must use sustainably sourced materials. We must reduce our consumption of natural resources and push more green initiatives, such as sustainable packaging and solar panels and LED lighting in homes, offices and other workspaces.
Earth Day reminds us to commit to doing better for the planet and its people. To invest in our planet, we must invest in sustainability.