Not all philanthropic efforts are about charitable giving.
By Kal Stein, President & CEO, EarthShare
There are many issues affecting our planet and our daily lives, and many ways of dealing with them. Consider the issue of climate change, for example. Not only are there a number of suggestions and initiatives to mitigate its effects, there are also those who deny that it is even taking place, and yet others who would insist that it is not a man-made dilemma.
As I made clear in a recent post, the need for reliable environmental information from viable sources is incredibly important -- a fact that places companies in a unique position as 'gatekeepers' that can connect their employees with information and organizations they may otherwise have never known about. Once employees get involved in projects and causes that matter to them, they also become more engaged within the workplace. This can reap serious benefits for employers.
So what are some of those issues and -- more importantly -- what kind of information does it take to encourage employees to step across the threshold from interested non-participants to active participants?
At EarthShare, our goal is to be a trustworthy partner that facilitates the process of introducing new audiences to and connecting them with America's most respected environmental and conservation charities. Because we are committed to providing the information our partners and supporters need to make educated decisions about where to give their support, our list of concerns is more than just a pet project: it's a snapshot of the most pressing environmental issues we face as a society.
Here are a select few that every employee – and employer – can relate to:
1. Making our Businesses Greener
Not all philanthropic efforts are about charitable giving. Often, they're about changing our own behaviors and those of the people around us. With companies now starting to see the value of being green, sustainability officers have become almost ubiquitous.
Natural resources are becoming scarce and costly; simultaneously, customers, employees and investors are increasingly environmentally conscious. As the benefits become more apparent (and the alternatives more untenable), our member organizations are working with business and industry in a variety of ways to help them strengthen their commitment to sustainability.
It is no longer debatable that championing sustainability allows businesses to align deeply with their missions and engage customers on a more meaningful level. More and more companies are opening up the responsibility for sustainability to green teams, usually comprised of employee champions across the organization with often very varied skill sets.
One of the ways we support our partners is by convening Green Team Roundtables in major markets across the country to bring sustainability and environmental leaders together to share ideas, educate each other and discuss challenges and roadblocks in a private forum. (Watch for more on this in a later post.) The attractiveness of a private forum in a socially and digitally connected world is appealing for our partners and aligns well with our mission of educating them and learning from each others’ skills and perspectives.
2. Climate Change
Of all the issues out there, climate change is easily the most contentious.
There’s probably no other environmental issue today that has so much misperception surrounding it, and such a range of people and organizations lined up to deny that it exists. That denialism and obfuscation has significantly affected our society’s ability to meet the challenge head-on is one of the main reasons that organizations like EarthShare are a critical part of connecting people with authentic, accurate information.
Part of our role is to work with our vetted member organizations and other reliable sources to provide information and resources that inform current and potential supporters about the latest research in the field, the organizations that are leading the way in finding solutions, and providing them with effective ways to make a difference. Our workplace partners consistently tell us that these resources are invaluable in motivating employees, encouraging workplace giving and shifting the mindset on critical issues and behaviors.
How can a business-to-business organization place water efficiency in business terms for example? And how is deforestation affecting a manufacturer's long-term business plan and new markets? Why should a healthcare company invest in planting trees in China or working with farmers in Rwanda on clean technology and efficient resource allocation?
All these questions are connected to climate change but hard to connect to a business' bottom line without extensive research, measurement and projections. EarthShare’s program connects businesses and workforces with organizations working to address these gaps, and to support their sustainable development efforts while helping them make a difference.
3. Children’s Health and the Environment
While the connection between obesity and the environment may not be immediately apparent, it is a strong one. Obesity is a defining challenge of our age and one that touches a range of societal issues, from the cost and availability of healthcare to food production and marketing practices. When you consider that obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in America and that this is triple the rate from just one generation ago, it is clear that the place to begin fighting it is in childhood. This means modified diets and behavioral changes that include, of course, increased physical activity.
The need for healthy and safe places for kids to recreate outdoors – such as community parks and playgrounds -- could not be more essential to this equation. And in urban environments and lower income communities where fresh air and green space may be in short supply, it’s even more necessary.
On the flipside, however, while getting children off the computer and outside is a worthwhile goal, it can be counterproductive if their outdoor environment exposes them to harmful toxins. Exposure to certain pesticides, for instance, has been linked to lasting health problems in children, including asthma, preadolescent breast cancer, diabetes, leukemia, obesity, organ defects, autism and more.
One of the most likely places a child will encounter pesticides is at school: on sports fields, playgrounds, and even in classrooms. Children are more vulnerable to chemicals like pesticides than any other age group, and even low levels of chemicals are dangerous because of their developing organs and high metabolisms.
Building awareness and implementing programs that offer safe alternatives to harmful chemicals is an important challenge that several of our member charities focus on every day through their mission work.
Incidentally, one of the factors that affects giving and philanthropy is a strong sense of connection to the local community. Connecting with EarthShare member organizations working to develop and protect parks and playgrounds, as well as protect our children in their school environments, is an easy way to unite cause with passion.
4. Wildlife Protection
With the risks to our planet's wildlife increasing in recent years, it is no longer just man's best friend that needs protection. In the aftermath of environmental disasters such as the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, species including marine life are developing deformities, shifting the ecosystem, and even becoming extinct. Whether we’re talking about pollination or pest reduction, or regulation of prey numbers to maintain the delicate balance necessary for healthy forests and other ecosystems – wildlife occupies a crucial role in our ecology.
From creating safe landing spots for migratory birds and keeping coastal regions habitable for fish stocks, to preventing poaching on the African savanna, the need to protect wildlife is acute and is one that resonates with many people. And, like so many other issues, wildlife protection isn't simply an end in itself. It's an issue that touches everything from the safety of our food supply, to the concept of biodiversity.
While these issues are diverse and only represent a handful of causes being addressed by the environmental and conservation community, they are all issues that can be tackled at local and national levels through community engagement and workplace giving. For companies that want to make a difference and ensure that they fulfill their social license to operate, these issues present opportunities. Which one will you champion?
More: One Environment. One Simple Way to Care for it