U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson initiated the first annual Earth Day in 1970 after witnessing a damaging oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, the previous year. Environmentalist Denis Hayes recast the event as a national celebration and promotion of environmental issues; by 1990, Earth Day was being observed worldwide. Instead of celebrating Earth Day only on April 22, make it the kickoff of yearlong effort to reduce, recycle and reuse.
Make a Plan
Begin your Earth Day activities by seeking the OK from your CEO to create an ongoing sustainability team. Get approval, and a budget, for Earth Day events such as a poster contest with prizes or individual pledge forms for employees to sign promising to recycle paper from the copy machine and cans from the lunchroom. Plan a voluntary offsite, weekend event, such as an invasive-species-removal project -- removing ivy growing on trees, for example -- or an e-waste disposal effort, getting rid of old computes responsibly.
Turn the Office Green
Lots of small Earth Day changes can impact on the environment and educate employees along the way. Experiment as the software company Tririga did, and turn off all the lights in your office -- daylight alone may provide sufficient light. Having all the lights off in the building will offer a dramatic reminder for employees to turn off any lights -- if they do them turn on -- when leaving a room. Turn down the thermostat heat setting by 1 degree and increase it by 1 degree for air conditioning to save energy, and change the copy machine settings to print on both sides, thus saving paper.
Earth Day provides a good opportunity to change habits and to educate employees. Revamp the lunchroom by switching to shade-grown coffee grown in environmentally friendly ways. Ask employees to bring in reusable mugs and glasses to reduce the amount of paper they use, and create a plan to unplug appliances at the end of the day. Buy large containers of creamer and sugar to reduce waste. Invite a guest speaker in at noon to talk about the importance of environmental action.
Bringing Earth Day Home
To create an Earth Day event that is more than just window dressing, ask employees to make commitments to sustainability at home too. Sun Microsystems did just that in 2009, having employees list green activities they perform at home and then rewarding those with the most hours of activities by providing prizes. Give employees a list of suggestions, such as recycling paper and cans, reusing plastic bags as garbage bags and using clean kitchen towels instead of paper towels.