21 April 2010
Some call it a day of “greenwashing,” when nearly every company hawks its wares as “sustainable,” whether they really are or not. For those in the solar industry, there’s no greenwashing about it. Earth Day is, instead, a great day for exposure.
Earth's City Lights
(Image courtesy NASA's Visible Earth)
Lisa Swann, Vice President of Communication and Marketing for Earth Day Network noted that, “Increasingly companies do want to acknowledge Earth Day and use it to highlight sustainability initiatives or investments in renewable energy.”
This year marks the 40th birthday of Earth Day. The first Earth Day event was held on April 22, 1970, eight years after US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin declared his intention to bring environmental issues to the forefront in US politics. Being that Earth Day was launched during the years when massive Vietnam War protests were common, the first Earth Day “rally” was actually 20 million people taking part in a national protest in defense of the environment. A group from the University of Pennsylvania launched “Earth Week” (April 16 to 22, 1970), which stated that its objective was “to raise public awareness of environmental problems and their potential solutions.”
Ironically, even though named for the “earth,” Earth Day was largely a US-based event for the first decade or so. Earth Day USA was formed in 1990. Five years later Earth Day USA was transformed into EarthDay.org and then into Earth Day Network, which is the organizing body today.
By 1990 Earth Day was finally being recognized across the Earth, with an estimated 200 million people taking part in Earth Day events in 141 countries. By 2000, the Earth Day movement had spread, largely accelerated by the Internet. An estimated 5000 environmental groups were on board and the event was reaching hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries. Today, Swann said, Earth Day Network organizers believe that nearly one billion people will take part. She said that events range from opening a well in an African village to cleaning up a school to large-scale events, such as those taking place on Washington’s National Mall. “People observe Earth Day locally and together these events add up,” Swann said, adding that the organization now has contacts in 190 countries.
In fact, Earth Day has become so popular that many now celebrate “Earth Week.” Spreading it out to seven days gives businesses a chance to showcase their products during the five-day workweek or communities can hold festivals and other public events either weekend during the week that incorporates April 22. In New York City’s Grand Central Station, Earth Day displays are set up from April 19 to 24. Toshiba America will showcase some of its “eco-technology” products there, including batteries for solar energy storage.
Businesses Embrace the Earth
The Earth Day Network has a number of sponsors including United Parcel Service, Philips, Siemens, Underwriter’s Labs, and Proctor and Gamble. Siemens, the US arm of Siemens AG, an international electronics and electrical engineering firm, joined the Earth Day Network to try to motivate communities across the US to take part in earth Day activities. Siemens is encouraging its more than 60,000 US employees plus its customers and partners to commit to a more sustainable lifestyle.
To ensure that Siemens was doing all it could do within its own corporation to save the Earth, the company formed an internal sustainability committee. One result is an adopted standard that provide guidelines for the design of environmentally compatible products and systems, an aspect of which ensures that all products can be disassembled for recycling or proper disposal at the end of its life. Another aspect is to take the environment into consideration throughout all phases of a product’s lifecycle, including installation. Siemens has a stated goal of saving customers “275 million tons of Co2 emissions per year by the year 2011.”
Overall Impact on the Economy
Being a good steward of the environment year ‘round—not just on Earth Day--is good for the economy. Today customers expect companies to have sustainability policies, and businesses are beginning to see that there is not only savings in being sustainable, but there is profit there as well.
This is the conclusion of the “Weathering the Storm: 2009 state of Corporate Citizenship in the United States” survey conducted by The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College. The Center has conducted four biennial surveys of the attitudes and actions of senior executives in businesses of all sizes. In the previous three surveys, executives were found to see corporate citizenship as a part of doing business, but at that time they let aspirations outweigh their actions. Last years’ survey indicated that the tide had turned. Over half the business leaders surveyed indicated that corporate citizenship is even more important in a recession, and more are integrating it into their core business strategy.
What it Means to the Solar Industry
The Earth Day Network’s message this year is about creating a new green economy built on renewable energy rather than on fossil fuels. Anyone involved at any point of the solar supply chain would be wise to take advantage of the momentum surrounding Earth Day. It’s a time to let others know what you are doing, whether it’s a take-back program for recycling used panels or research into new higher efficiency materials. Earth Day is the one day of the year that people focus—really focus—on the environment. So take advantage of that, and let them know that, in the solar industry, the focus is always on the Earth.
Written by Anne Fischer, Solar Novus Today Managing Editor