The impact of Earth Day over the last 50 years

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As businesses, governments and communities celebrate Earth Day on 22nd April 2020, 50 years since its inaugural start, it is important that we take a brief look at how environmental policy, sustainable action and climate change eradication projects have become part of the global agenda.

The first Earth Day celebration advocated an increase in public awareness of environmental problems like never before. It gave voice to concerns about air, water, and land pollution and the need to protect ecosystems, public health and promote safe spaces. As scientists called for action, millions of people marched in agreement that this earth needed saving.

What ensued was a string of eco policies, where stringent pollution control objectives, environmental assessments and environmental protection agencies were established. What was just as important was the attention paid to how we, as individuals and businesses, were impacting the environment. The consumption of energy, food, material, water and forests continue to be at the forefront of serious global questions about sustainability and economic development.

Fast forward 17 years, to the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development, and the idea of ‘sustainable development’ was established in the Bruntland Report. This report developed guiding principles for sustainable development and underlined that significant global problems were primarily due to immense poverty in developing countries and the increasing non-sustainable patterns of consumption and production in the developed world.

By the year 2000, the Millenium Development Goals were globally agreed upon by 191 United Nations member states and, at least, 22 international organisations. These goals have been extremely important and successful in decreasing global extreme poverty (from 40% to 15%) but – globally – society, businesses and government have neglected to pay much attention to the global environmental goals, especially those goals that focus on climate change and biodiversity.

2016 was an interesting year where governments across the world were encouraged to sign the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the world’s most important long-term priority, to promote and protect a sustainable earth. To achieve this, all stakeholders need to be involved in every stage of the process, not just policy makers, but businesses and society. The gravity of environmental problems needs to be communicated, engaged and addressed from a grass-roots level, as global communities have the power to change the world.

In 2020, several integral campaigns have been implemented across the world by the Earth Day Initiative to promote the sustainable development goals. These include: The Canopy Project, Foodprint for the Future, The Great Global Cleanup, Artists for the Earth, Act on Climate Change and Earth Challenge 2020. If you would like to find out more about these projects, visit www.earthday.org

So how is this all relevant to businesses? Businesses are instrumental in promoting these sustainable development goals and need to play their part in working alongside society and policy makers to enhance the achievement of the global environmental goals.

How can this be achieved? Businesses need to ensure they follow strong environmental policies and embrace renewable technologies, in addition to considering installing green rooftops to reduce the urban heat island effect and encourage biodiversity to flourish, in what would otherwise be considered a concrete space.

Businesses can continue to go paperless and plastic-free and offer filtered water and reusable water bottles to their employees. Desktop computers have a critical impact on the amount of energy consumed annually, so switching to laptops would benefit your business’ energy output immensely.

Even the smallest changes, such as switching to LED energy saving bulbs, unplugging chargers when not in use, implementing a bin system for food waste and recycling products can help with environmental sustainability. Most importantly, a small change in the business culture, to think green, can influence the attitudes of employees to use less water and energy, recycle, and take this practice home.

Encouraging corporate social responsibility projects and community volunteering to promote sustainable places will have an ever-lasting impact on our environment. All of these little steps towards conserving energy and promoting greener spaces contribute towards Earth Day’s mission – “to build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and the planet”.

This article was written by contributor Ashleigh Edden