“Our goal is a new American ethic that sets new standards for progress, emphasizing human dignity and well-being rather than an endless parade of technology that produces more gadgets, more waste, more pollution. Are we able to meet the challenge? Yes. We have the technology and the resources. Are we willing? That is the unanswered question.”
—Gaylord Nelson at the founding of Earth Day, April 22, 1970
Few American politicians have been as passionate about both the environment and small business as Gaylord Nelson. As a Wisconsin state governor and a U.S. senator, Nelson sought bans on pesticides, ocean dumping, and internal combustion engines. He created green jobs, led the effort to improve federal regulation of small businesses, and established small business development centers at the nation’s universities. In his most celebrated act, Nelson founded Earth Day (April 22) to foster public awareness of — and appreciation for — natural resources. Four decades later, the annual event continues to do just that: Earth Day is the largest civic observance in the world, recognized by more than 1 billion people in nearly 200 countries.
Small businesses can get involved in myriad ways, from taking part in official events to using the occasion to start (or reinvigorate) other environmental efforts. Here are seven ways to participate in Earth Day, any one of which can serve as a practical reminder to strive for greater sustainability every day.
- Take immediate action. Do something today to make your office a little greener. This could be as easy as replacing toxic cleaning products, recycling old electronics, or conducting an energy audit.
- Support the green economy. Write to your local, state, or federal officials to express your support for renewable energy. Or sign the Earth Day Network’s petition asking U.S. Congress to pass green jobs legislation.
- Send a message to customers. Demonstrate your commitment to customers by getting green certified. An official seal of approval can give you a competitive advantage and reassure your clientele that you’re serious about sustainability.
- Send a message to suppliers. Ask your partners to evaluate their business practices. Deliver your questionnaires via email or in reusable envelopes with the new “Go Green” stamps from the USPS (which suggest 16 ways to help the planet).
- Organize a community event. Sponsor a day to pick up trash in a neighborhood park, plant trees at a local school, or encourage everyone to walk, ride bikes, or take public transportation.
- Make a donation. Give to your favorite nonprofit environmental groups. Whether you donate $10 or $1,000, your gifts will support a worthy cause (and provide you with tax deductions, too).
- Sustain the effort. Don’t wait for April 22 to come around again: Repeat steps 1 through 6 on a regular basis. Your business and the planet are bound to be better for it.