Next Monday is Earth Day – the first one was held in 1970, more than 50 years ago. Since then, Earth Day has become a global event that has mobilized 200 million people across 141 countries to recognize our role in saving our collective ecosystem. The United Nations also has included “planet” among its 5 P’s, which are part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since the goals’ adoption in 2015, companies have started a movement to protect our natural resources and reduce negative environmental impacts. We hear about Fortune 500 companies going carbon-neutral, but what about nonprofits? We are in the business of social change, but are we doing our part?  

In 2019, I partnered with Joanna St. Angelo of the Sammons Center to co-author a piece for The Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled, “How Nonprofit Leaders Can Ensure Every Part of Their Organization Advances Social Change.” To expand on those ideas, I wanted to share six tactical examples of how I have seen nonprofit leaders put environmental goals into practice. This year I encourage you to pick one, integrate it into your planning efforts and start the ripple effect in your own organization. And each Earth Day, pick another goal to keep the momentum going. You will find it is easier than you think, AND it could even save you money in the long run!  

Go Paperless

Encourage eco-friendly meetings and electronic file storage to minimize paper. If paper is used, use recycled paper and encourage double-sided printing. 

Reduce, Reuse & Recycle

Measure how much trash you send to landfills. Do you have a recycling option next to every trash can? If so, is it used properly? Could you offer glasses of water instead of water bottles? Can you offer a composting option? Do you keep the area around your building trash-free? Do you give away items that are no longer needed to students or employees, or donate them to a nonprofit-run thrift shop?

Offer Remote Work & Encourage Public Transportation or Carpooling

Review your HR policies to evaluate options for remote work (when the job allows) and the provision of public transportation and carpooling benefits.

Set a Collective Goal for Energy Efficiency

Conduct a baseline assessment of your energy usage, then track it over time. Do you notice any trends? Could your Culture Committee do a PSA campaign with staff to reduce consumption? What incentives could you create to encourage energy efficiency? Could you move to LED lights, automated sensors or smart thermostats? Could you encourage walking meetings?

Rethink Your Supply Closet

Perform an inventory of your kitchen and office supplies. Could you use cloth rags instead paper towels? Could you use non-toxic cleaning products? Could you switch to recycled paper and packaging? Could you eliminate straws or offer metal straws?

Encourage Local & Green Sourcing

Administer an assessment of your vendors. How many of them are local? How many of them have green policies? Could you incentivize local and/or green sourcing in your purchasing? Could you encourage your major vendors to have eco-friendly policies, too?

All businesses, including nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, have their parts to play, whatever their size. By evaluating and shrinking our individual carbon footprints, we can protect the Earth. We would love your input on what small and large eco-friendly changes you’ve made in your organization. And don’t forget to post your solutions this month to show off your work and encourage others to do the same!


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