Opinion: We all have role in Earth Day

Today is the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, a movement launched in 1970 to raise our consciousness about environmental concerns regarding issues such as pollution and public health. For more than four decades it has been an opportunity for personal and corporate accountability – a time when we not simply reflect on our carbon footprint, but take action to do better for the sake of generations to come.

A few years ago, I was challenged by some friends to access my carbon footprint. It was mortifying to learn all of the seemingly harmless things ingrained into my lifestyle that were bringing collective harm to the earth. Last year, I wrote a column here about food waste – buying too much food, cooking too much food and mindlessly tossing out all of the abundance that had expired, spoiled, or that I just didn’t want anymore. As an empty-nester, I now buy less, cook less and produce less waste. But there is so much more that I can do to be proactive in reducing what ends up in overflowing landfills.

I’m pretty good about recycling my newspapers, water bottles and aluminum cans, but why am I buying cases and cases of bottled water? And, speaking of water, do I really need to run the water while brushing my teeth or run the water five minutes before I then take a 15-minute shower?

A little over a week ago, I attended EarthShare Georgia’s annual Earth Day Leadership Breakfast. EarthShare’s mission is to help organizations and employers to work year-round to conserve and protect the air, land and water. In other words, Earth Day should be a 365-day endeavor. The leadership breakfast, though, was an opportunity to recognize the work of corporate sponsors that organized teams to spruce up parks, build new trails, remove illegally dumped tires, plant trees, pick up litter, haul and sort recyclables, and more.

This year, corporate teams from Bank of America, Cox Enterprises Inc., Delta Airlines, Kaiser Permanente, Kimberly-Clark, and Waste Management teamed up with Chattahoochee Nature Center, Flint Riverkeeper, Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation, Park Pride, Trees Atlanta and West Atlanta Watershed Alliance to bring out hundreds of workers in late March and early April to work on some of those projects just mentioned.

I’m proud that Cox Enterprises, parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, not only worked with Trees Atlanta to plant trees in the Grant Park neighborhood, but that its Cox Conserves initiative keeps us focused on protecting the environment year-round.

The 11-year-old Cox Conserves program, with a $100 million investment, has some pretty aggressive goals: to send zero waste to landfill by 2024, and by 2044, to be carbon- and water-neutral. While there are corporate projects that don’t require direct involvement from individual employees, our Cox Conserves and You program gives each willing staff member the opportunity to engage in new behaviors and decisions.

Employees receive weekly reminders and suggestions to do simple tasks, such as using recyclable containers for their lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and my favorite: eating a vegetarian meal with a coworker. I love that the initiative not only encourages us to do our part but also affirm behavior of coworkers doing their part.

So thank you to Ty Tagami for the many days you bike 20-plus miles to work in the cold, heat and rain. Thank you Jim Denery and Bo Emerson for almost always hiking the six flights up to the newsroom, and to Andre Jackson for always using your trusty purple Kellogg School of Management mug for your daily doses of caffeine. And thank you Vanessa McCray for walking around the newsroom your first day in the office trying to find an appropriate container to dispose of your empty water bottle.

And I see you David Gibson and Mike Kanell using those mugs that you never EVER wash, just rinse. And you too, Shawn McIntosh and Monica Richardson, with those cute, oversized water bottles gracing the tables during our many work meetings. And Janel Davis, Catherine Carpenter and Johannes Rosello for leading the newspaper effort to get rid of Styrofoam in the building. And to Ligaya Figueras for writing all the countless times on food waste and launching the Use it Up food column. There are so many others of you modeling responsible behavior, and I applaud you all.

At the recent EarthShare leadership breakfast, we were asked to make a written pledge for something we would promise to do for the next year. I pledged to turn off my lights when I’m not in a room and to do the same for exterior lights at my house from midnight to 6 a.m. to create less harm and disorientation for the birds that migrate at night.

So now, I have a list of simple tasks involving food, water, recycling, energy and lights that can decrease my carbon footprint and honor all the efforts set forth on April 22, 1970.

Happy Earth Day, readers!

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