Today marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. That’s right- 51 years ago today, 20 million Americans- 10% of the total population at the time- took to the streets on April 22, 1970 to rally in protest of the deterioration of the environment. Now, Earth Day is a global movement that engages more than 1 billion people every year in countries around the world.
What brought Americans to the streets in 1970 to demand that government, companies, communities, and individuals take action to improve and protect the interconnected health of the environment and people? After WWII, positive marketing for harmful and throw-away products and increases in industry resulted in a drastic downturn in quality of air, water, and ecosystems across the U.S. Chemical companies that expanded during war time were pushing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and products such as DDT were taking their toll. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sold more than 500,000 copies in 1962- citizens were beginning to notice the toll of “progress.” Smog from smoke stacks and gas guzzling cars settled over cities. Raw sewage and toxic waste dumps were uncontained and common. The Cuyahoga river in Ohio was so polluted with industrial waste that it caught fire over 13 times. The most notable and large fire was in 1969, the same year as the Santa Barbara oil spill.
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin had long been concerned about environmental health in the U.S. When an estimated 80,000-100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the water and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County in the first ten day period of the Santa Barbara oil spill, Nelson propelled his vision forward to create Earth Day. Earth Day was inspired by the student protests of the anti-war movement, but Nelson coordinated staff and events across all age groups country-wide along with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey.
In 1970, the first Earth Day aligned individuals and groups across diverse political and economic demographics. Marching for human and environmental health made sense to everyone. By the end of 1970, Earth Day had spurred the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Education Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In the subsequent years, Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. These laws have protected millions of people and species from health-related disease and death.
Of course, the needed work that Earth Day represents continues, now more than ever, every day. It’s organizations like EarthShare NC that create easy opportunities to get involved in important environmental initiatives. EarthShare NC was founded in 1991 by a group of nonprofits with the goal of connecting more people and resources to the conservation movement. They partner with employers to do workplace giving and employee engagement programs.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Heather Beard, Executive Director of EarthShare NC, to learn more about EarthShare NC and their Earth Day Corporate Challenge.
What’s EarthShare NC all about?
EarthShare NC is a coalition of 28 nonprofit organizations that are working for the health of our environment across NC. We work on every aspect of the environment and environmental health that you can think of from clean air and water to carbon reduction to clean energy. Our purpose of Earthshare is to partner with businesses across the state to bring more resources through employee engagement programs.
Tell us about the Earth Day Corporate Challenge...
This is the seventh year of our Corporate Earth Day program. In its first year, 12 companies and 150 employees participated. This year, we have 32 companies participating and over 800 employees across North Carolina.
What this program does is it gives employees a way to not only volunteer with a nonprofit for a day, but to do so as a team and as a collective effort with other companies. They learn and network with nonprofits doing important work throughout the process. There are 3 days of events built into the overall Corporate Challenge program.
What are the 3 days of events of the Corporate Challenge program?
The Day 1 mission is the Reveal. All companies and nonprofits come together to mix and mingle. The employees not only learn about the nonprofit they’re going to be working with, but other work that will be happening that day. It’s significant to know that you’re part of a bigger collective impact. We match nonprofits and companies and have them play games for their reveal. This year, we did a virtual escape room, in which participants had to escape from their room to get their mission. It was a big hit!
Day 2 is the Volunteer Challenge. This is the day the company employees volunteer with the nonprofit. There are community judges and it’s a competition. The community judges use the information provided by the nonprofit project leader about how enthusiastic the team was, did they work together, were they receptive to the mission, etc. There is a special award that has been created for us by a North Carolina glassblower since the beginning of the program. The winners get this beautiful handcrafted glass globe.
Day 3 is the celebration. Usually everyone comes together at a pub to celebrate the work done for the day and to share stories. There are always very creative stories that people come to tell. We also have a story competition in which people have 90 seconds to get across something about their day. This has taken the form of raps created on the spot and everything else you can think of. We bring it back every year by popular demand.
The last piece of the program is the corporate Earth Day breakfast, which will be virtual this year. The theme is looking at social unrest of this year, and cultivating greater intention and ownership of corporate sustainability goals. At the breakfast, we will be looking at how businesses can align diversity, equity, and inclusion goals with sustainability goals, and how that must happen. Environmental initiatives must be intentional about inclusion of additional voices that have traditionally been lacking.
Why does EarthShare NC choose Recover?
Recover has been our t-shirt provider since the first year. We choose Recover because we want to work with companies that not only share our values, but are living them. With the work of Recover being built around sustainability, it is incumbent upon us to invest in dollars and solutions and companies like Recover who are putting forward solutions.
How can people, companies, and nonprofits get plugged into EarthShare NC’s opportunities?