Earth Day prompts us all to focus on environmentalism. But many associations—through their buildings, sustainability strategies, and advocacy—live the celebration’s ethos year-round.
In the more than 50 years since a nonprofit called the Earth Day Network (now known as EarthDay.org) marked April 22 as Earth Day, associations and other nonprofits have demonstrated that environmentalism can tie into their missions, whether through advocacy, sustainable practices, or clever campaigns that engage their members and the world.
Here are just a few of the ways associations make their commitments to sustainability known:
Implementing less wasteful event strategies. While it may have been a while since you’ve put on an in-person event, when they pick up again, so will the environmental moves that meeting planners have tuned into over the years. Some of the more innovative tactics include initiatives by the National Association of Realtors and the Specialty Food Association to deliver food waste from events to food pantries, while the Society for Personality and Social Psychology has used data from attendee travel to make more thoughtful decisions on where to host meetings based on carbon footprint.
Working out of more sustainable buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards have gained prominence over the past quarter-century. LEED standards have helped organizations such as the American Society of Interior Designers, which revamped its Washington, DC, headquarters in 2016, building offices for productivity, worker well-being, and eco-friendliness. And with many associations looking to reopen their offices in the coming months—possibly with a hybrid approach—there’s opportunity for organizations to rethink their real estate sustainably.
Pushing their industry to take stronger action. Airlines for America, for example, put out a statement saying that its members would take steps to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, including efforts to build a commercially viable sustainable aviation fuel. Campaigns like these, some of which we highlighted in our “100 Associations That Will Save the World” list last year, can create opportunities to reach for bigger solutions.
Taking a more thoughtful approach to paper use. As we noted recently, association pros really enjoy using paper when it comes to note-taking. But many are also careful about waste. That includes adding digital tools to the note-taking arsenal and discouraging aggressive paper use through the long-running Think Before Printing campaign, which adds a message to the bottom of emails recommending that people not print them unless they have to.
Using and reusing computing resources more thoughtfully. Associations go through a lot of computer equipment. Electronics may be necessary, but there’s opportunity to use tech more thoughtfully, including by extending the lifecycles of laptops or other devices and giving old equipment to nonprofits in need. But physical devices aren’t the only medium for limiting resource waste when it comes to computing, either—a more intentional approach to distributing cloud resources when they’re not needed could save not only energy but also money.
Running campaigns to encourage better recycling habits. Just as associations are able to use their advocacy voices to help create change within their industries, so too can they help encourage more practical steps among other businesses and the public. A great example of this is the Association of Plastic Recyclers, which has seen success with its Recycling Demand Champions program encouraging companies to purchase recycled materials for “work in process” use cases. Meanwhile, the American Forest & Paper Association has helped to get out the word that, despite rumors otherwise, people can recycle pizza boxes. Again, small steps—but impactful ones.