April 22 marks the 41st celebration of Earth Day. Back in 1970, when Earth Day was inaugurated, concern for the environment had just begun to surface as a national issue. At that time, the EPA, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act were yet to exist. In fact, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. In the spring of 1970, then Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) sought to “force this issue onto the national agenda.” He founded Earth Day and it galvanized more than 20 million Americans, who demonstrated in cities across the country. Earth Day marked the official beginning of the environmental movement in America.
Forty years later, much has changed. The issue of climate change has reinforced the urgency of protecting the environment and drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The “clean-tech” industry is receiving massive public and private funding to pursue alternatives to carbon-based energy generation. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy approved the construction plan for the first offshore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. Electric vehicles are a reality and hybrids are pervasive. Both residential- and utility-grade solar installations abound. Smart meters are being deployed by utilities around the country enabling home energy management.
In 2011, concern for the environment is mainstream. Social media has transformed individuals from passive consumers to environmental advocates through education and engagement. Most major corporations in the U.S. have created sustainability programs. Helping the environment no longer is viewed as antithetical to the bottom line, but as consistent with strong business practices.
The legislative and regulatory bodies in the U.S. still, in many ways, lag behind private sector initiatives on the environment. Governments in other parts of the world are taking a more proactive stance on sustainability. We can learn much from our colleagues around the globe as we combat an issue that knows no regional or national boundaries. Communication, education and behavior change are the core elements that will enable us to support the health of our planet and thrive as individuals and organizations. For more information, see the “State of Green Business Report 2011,” and the green efforts of one of our clients, the Nature Conservancy.