By Kevin McSpadden
We now live in a world where “once in a century” weather events happen every year, and the consensus is that climate change is to blame.
As companies have become more aware of this environmental impact, Earth Day, on April 22, has become an occasion to tout their sustainability efforts through an article, social media or a public event.
But as environmental activists pay closer attention to what companies promote versus what they do, there is an increasing risk of being accused of “greenwashing.” Nothing will turn off supporters more than the perception that their day is being hijacked for an exercise in capitalism by communications professionals and marketers trying to check off the “sustainability” box in their corporate ESG goals.
Surprisingly, clean energy companies are also susceptible to the “greenwashing” label, especially companies that rely on rare Earth minerals for their components or otherwise impact the landscape, wildlife or marine environments while developing wind farms, solar projects, battery storage units, etc.
For any company, Earth Day must be more than a single day to convince stakeholders that there is a commitment beyond virtue signaling. There must be genuine, enthusiastic support of sustainability efforts from the top down, year-round.
Get involved, and don’t stop after April 22
When environmental sustainability becomes part of a corporate mission, little changes can have significant impacts.
For large corporations, this may mean sponsoring major green events, reinvesting in sustainable utility solutions, or partnering with companies. Smaller companies with tighter budgets could make it a habit to bring teams to community events or encourage families to participate in company-organized green activities like planting trees.
Besides protecting the environment, getting involved in green events helps to build a sense of community, which is a crucial part of the success of any company.
A strong community can help build customer trust while improving team morale and making it more likely that employees will place immense value on their relationship with their employer.
Other ways to improve morale and help the environment would be to institute programs like offering one day off per year to participate in a green initiative (such as an afternoon spent cleaning a beach).
Human resource departments can take a leading role in building a culture where annual environmental projects are important to job performance metrics. Or they could adopt a “cause” for a year and reward employees that participate in company-wide events.
From the bottom-line perspective, simple changes like turning off all the lights at night, finding paths to reduce food waste or investing in solar energy could save the company money.
Sure, a little PR bump once a year is nice, but it also risks sending the wrong message. Consistent, long-term engagement will demonstrate to your stakeholders that Earth Day is more than an occasion to jump on a trend. It’s an ongoing investment in the future of the company, its employees and the community.