On 22nd April, 2021, more than 190 countries around the world will celebrate Earth Day, an annual observance to raise awareness about climate change and environmental issues. This year’s Earth Day activities are around the theme of “Restore Our Earth”. It’s never been more important to start thinking about corporate environmental responsibility.
For example, did you know that:
- The ice caps and glaciers are melting faster than ever before, and the resulting rise in sea level could make hundreds of millions homeless.
- Despite being 70% water, most of the Earth's water is inaccessible, and 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity for at least part of each year.
- Food insecurity is rife worldwide. More than 34 million people currently experience acute hunger, which is the stage before starvation.
Climate change exacerbates all these issues, so it's no wonder it's been described as the world's biggest threat by expert naturalist Sir David Attenborough and others.
These statistics are just the tip, pardon the pun, of the iceberg. In this guide, you’ll learn why it’s so important to restore the earth and what businesses and individuals can do to play their part.
Why We Need to Restore the Earth
Restoring the Earth isn't just a matter of environmental corporate social responsibility. It needs to be a priority for everyone. Basically, we've got one chance to save our planet and ourselves, and each year the possibility of doing both seems to slip further out of reach.
This isn't hype. The Doomsday Clock, which measures how close we are to destroying the planet, is now at 100 seconds to midnight. That's pretty scary, but the good news is that if we act now, we can keep the planet habitable for future generations.
Some of the key environmental problems we face in our efforts to restore the Earth include climate change, resource depletion, and air-water-soil quality, but there are others. As companies celebrating Earth Day start to plan their Earth Day activities, here are a few of the other issues affecting our planet.
1. Food Waste
As mentioned earlier, food insecurity is a huge global issue. Some 9% of the world's population is food insecure, and 11% are undernourished. That makes it even worse that a huge amount of food is wasted every day. According to Earth.org, one-third of the food meant for consumption - which could feed 3 billion people - is wasted or lost.
That also has an effect on the climate, as wasted food generates 4.4 gigatons of greenhouse gases each year. One of the most shocking statistics is that in the US alone, around 60 million tons of fruit and vegetables are discarded because they're "too ugly". Imagine how many people that ugly food could feed!
2. Plastic Waste
Speaking of shocking statistics, here's another one: 91% of all the plastic ever made isn't recycled. When you think about how long humans have been using plastic, it's no wonder our world is so polluted. North America alone produces 35 million tons of plastic waste each year, and 11 million tons of plastic waste gets into the ocean every year. Unless things change, this is scheduled to triple by 2040, which isn't that far away.
Plastic pollution has a harmful effect on wildlife and marine life. Most plastic takes centuries to break down, and even those that break down earlier can form microplastics, which are also harmful to humans.
3. Lack of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is all about how everything on Earth interacts with the planet, and everything we've all learnt about surviving here over millennia. When we lose it, the human race's survival is at risk. And it turns out that the sixth mass extinction of wildlife is speeding up.
Sir David Attenborough - yes, him again - describes the current biodiversity loss as "catastrophic". After 50+ years spent documenting wildlife and habitats on this planet, he's in a great position to know.
We don't often think about the planet as one system, but it is. That's why actions in one part of the world affect people in other parts of the world. We've seen this with CO2 emissions, mostly generated in larger industrial countries, yet disproportionately affecting smaller, less industrialized nations.
And now we're seeing it with deforestation. By 2030 the planet may only have 10% of its forests left. As well as industrial logging denuding the world's forests, we've also seen catastrophic forest fires in the last couple of years, due at least in part to climate change. It's worth remembering that trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen to make the planet breathable for humans. Fewer trees could throw that process out of whack and affect our health.
Take Action to Restore the Earth - 10 Earth Day Ideas For Work
Here are some Earth Day ideas for corporations so you can work to restore the earth, not just on Earth Day, but all year round:
1. Reduce Office E-waste
Offices produce a lot of waste, and we'll look at some of the other categories as we go through this guide. For now, let's talk about electronic waste (e-waste). That's stuff with a battery or a plug that we get rid of: old printers and scanners, outdated computers and laptops; you get the idea.
The world produces more than 50 million tons of e-waste annually, so this is a good place for companies celebrating Earth Day to start to make change. For the office Earth Day observance, consider recycling batteries properly, or donating used electronics to social programs. You can also focus on eco-friendliness when replacing your electronics.
2. Cut Paper Usage
It may seem like everything's digital, but we still use a heck of a lot of paper in the office. On average, an office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year, and 45% of all paper used ends up being thrown away. The solution to this, not just as an Earth Day activity, but all year round, is to reduce paper usage. For example, you can have fewer printers, along with clear guidelines for what needs to be printed, and what doesn't. And you can use digital solutions, such as fillable PDF documents and forms, to reduce paper use even further.
3. Start Recycling
For Earth Day, recycling office waste is a no-brainer. We've talked about e-waste and paper, but there's so much more you can do to reduce office waste. For example, did you know that the average office worker uses 156 plastic bottles and 500 coffee cups a year? Put a recycling policy in place, along with recycling bins everywhere, to reduce this kind of waste. Better yet, encourage people to grab their favorite beverage in a reusable cup.
4. Reduce Office Food Waste
As we've seen, human beings in industrialized countries waste a lot of food. In fact, the average US office worker discards 23 pounds of food a month. That doesn't need to happen. One of the best Earth Day ideas in terms of environmental corporate social responsibility is to donate unused food to a food bank.
5. Start a Composting Scheme
You can also help the Earth with an office composting scheme. This helps you reuse organic material and can save you money on waste collection and fertilizer for office plants. Start by educating people about what's compostable and what's not, and keep composting bins handy near food consumption and preparation areas.
6. Educate Your Office Staff
One of the most powerful Earth Day activities for companies is some kind of educational program. You can start it on Earth Day itself, and continue throughout the year. It's a great way to let employees and managers understand the importance of the environment and how they can help to protect it. And it'll help you ensure that everyone's on board with your environmental policies.
7. Buy Sustainable Products From Sustainable Suppliers
Of course, you'll still need certain products to keep your office running. But as part of your environmental corporate social responsibility approach, consider changing the products you use and where you get them from. Over time, you can commit to using more environmentally friendly or sustainable products, and choosing suppliers that have a focus on eco-friendliness.
8. Allow Remote Working
Until the global pandemic, remote working was something only a few people did. After that, many more discovered they could successfully work from home. That helps reduce the office's carbon footprint because there are fewer cars on the road, and much less energy use inside office buildings. However, don't trade one problem for another. To truly benefit the environment, your employees will need to be eco-friendly at home, too.
9. Work in an Eco-Friendly Building
If you're changing offices, or setting up a new business, consider selecting a building that's independently certified to be eco-friendly. One of the best-known environmental building certifications is LEED, but there are many others.
If that's not an option, take your own steps to reduce the carbon footprint in the office. A good starting point is switching to eco-friendly light bulbs, and turning off devices and appliances that aren't in use.
10. Support Environmental Causes
A great Earth Day idea to comply with corporate environmental responsibility is to support charitable causes that relate to the environment. Some ways to do that include participating in fundraising events, making financial contributions, or donating time or equipment. This is good for the environment AND for business as your customers and your employees care about these issues.
Learn More About Environmental Issues
Want to learn more about environmental issues to kickstart your Earth Day activities? Here are some resources to try:
- Rockefeller Foundation's food waste toolkit - learn more about food waste, including some Earth Day ideas for corporations
- World Resources Institute Office Food Waste Challenge - toolkits and examples to help you halve food waste in the office
- FEE Global - information and certifications for sustainable business practices, plus programs to help young people to create a more eco-friendly world
- EPA - Educational Earth Day ideas and activities
- Earth 911 - articles and ideas for recycling and more
- EcoWatch - a good place to keep up with environmental news
You can also get more Earth Day activities for companies and learn more about environmental ethics in the following articles:
- What Is Environmental Ethics for Business? +10 Important IssuesAndrew Blackman21 Apr 2018
- 4 Ways Your Business Can Help the Earth on Earth Day 2020 (And All Year Long)Andrew Childress22 Apr 2020
- How to Become an Environmentally Friendly Company (Earth Day 2019)Andrew Blackman22 Apr 2019
- How to Celebrate Earth Day (10 Activity Ideas for Your Work)Andrew Blackman22 Apr 2018
Restore the Earth Every Day
Now you've got plenty of Earth Day activities and ideas so you can help the Earth, not just on April 22, but every day. We must all act before it's too late, so what will you do to help restore the Earth?