Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best of Earth Day - 2008

Since I spent most of yesterday home with an ailing 17 month old who sounded more Tom Waits than Yo Gabba Gabba, it looks like I'm playing Earth Day catch-up. As a result, I decided to take a look to see what transpired in my absence.

I was a little surprised.

Times are shifting and attitudes are changing; specifically, mine. As I sat at home covered in baby grime, I couldn't help but watch the boobtube and think, "If I hear the word "green" one more time, I'm going to dump my television in a lake!"

Not very environmentally friendly, I know.

So I sampled various areas of the interweb to see if their green-washing was as bad as their Hollywood brethren and came back with a little more than I bargained for. Apparently, you can have waaaaaaaaaaaay too much of a good thing....especially if the good things are intentions.


The Candidates
Both of the Democratic candidates for president addressed Earth Day in formal statements, while it appears as though John McCain sat idly by on a sweaty turnbuckle.

Barack Obama: ...we can choose a different future – a future where America is energy independent, and no longer funding both sides in the war on terror; a future where we’re leading rather than undermining the global effort to combat climate change; and investing in green energy technology, and creating the jobs of the future.
Hillary Clinton: When I am president, our nation will lead the world to tackle the climate crisis - and lead the global economy in new clean energy industries.
John McCain: Tonight John McCain will show why he will "drop kick" the competition in the upcoming election with his appearance on the WWE's Monday Night Raw.

Full "Sports Entertainment" Disclosure: While all three candidates did, in fact, appear on WWE's wrestling program, it looks as though John McCain was the only to suffer from Hulkamania, seeing as his WWE appearance post was the last one published on his blog. There was no mention of Earth Day or Earth Day-related activities on his blogroll. We hope he gets well soon.

While you're here, why not check your candidate to see how they formally address the issue of global warming?

Obama on Energy & Environment
Clinton on Powering America's Future: New Energy, New Jobs
McCain on Stewards of Our Nation's Rich Natural Heritage

Not much to comment on here...just your typical political hoop-jumping. I never give political accolades on policy, they're an eight year commitment.


The Search Engines

In the spirit of another holiday, Yahoo and Google continued their battle to out-logo one another on their front pages. No offense to Yahoo, but somebody in their graphics department really phoned this one in. In their defense, the still shot shown below is not how it appears. It's actually a nice Flash transition, going from their old red logo to the one shown...that is, if anybody actually enjoyed flash images bogging down their webpages. But does this actually do anything? Sadly, AOL and users were unable to ever see the logos, considering they were all unable to turn on their computers.
Really? That's the best of the best on the front pages of the world's top search engines? Where's the creativity? While I understand that my posts are never world-changing, I do it because I'm my own audience. The information I learn here carries over to my work. But when your company name is, in itself, a noun and a verb, you can afford to move a mountain or two with your audience.


Google did, however, have an interactive pop-up thingy where you could see what the rest of the world was doing to support Mother Earth, but that was about it. Looks like some employees need to stop hackey-sacking in the nap room with their Jamba Juice after their in-house yoga class and start working.


The Tech Industry Big Guns
I'm beginning to understand that the best events/releases seem to be the most somber, not to mention that the process is made that much easier when you make a bazillion dollars per year. So here's the big whigs.

If you can learn anything from these guys, it's that understating your achievements will make them appear to shine a little brighter - something I never really noticed before until now. Let your work prove itself and let others extol the virtues therein.

See for can really tell who's earnestly making an effort and who's got their drinking bird working the keyboard.

IBM: They took the SIMS and made it 50 times more boring by making their earth-saving video game, PowerUp, free to users online. Check out the game here. They also participated in events hosted by the Earth Day Network. Check out their corporate environmental policy here.

Microsoft: Bill and the gang took the creative step of turning the front page of green. Yep, that's about it. Don't hate too much, though...the B&M Gates Foundation is still one of the most amazing and effective charities in the world. I'll support an annual approach to global issues than a one day bash any day.

Intel: They kept it simple with a front page sign that said Earth Day, Every Day. You could then click on a sign directing you to learn why Intel is the largest purchaser of renewable energy certificates. I was actually quite impressed with their work. Read more about it here. They're proof that if you are doing good things, you don't need to shout.

Dell: Dell hosted a computer recycling event in Washington DC in conjunction with the EPA, TechTurn and the National Recycling Coalition. They also accepted monitors, printers, cell phones and PDAs, as well as any other crappy Dell items you might have purchased that finally crapped out.

Sun Microsystems: Sun passed on the party hats (like Intel) and kept their Earth Day activities low-key, focusing instead on their core participation year-round. This concept probably has PR traditionalists up in arms, but will undoubtedly surpass the current model for horn-tooting (read: green washing). Check out their feature Earth Day story here and anticipate awesomeness.

Sidenote: And as much as the corporate big boys and mainstream search engines would (apparently) like to tout their environmental stewardship, there's a severely diseased branch of their tree that's extending from all of their trunks: the data centers. The google's and Yahoo's and Intel's of the world are nothing without their data centers, which are growing in size and need year after year. So while these mainstream corporations continue to steam forward (pun intended) with plans to save the planet, studies show that they're leaving their energy hogging data centers behind:

Fifty-one percent of companies have a solid plan to green their IT operations, down from 55 percent in 2007.

-60 percent said they turn instead to green building standards from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

-Fewer company representatives expressed plans to pursue carbon credits to make up for their operations' emissions: 18 percent in the recent survey, showing a drop from one-quarter in 2007.

-Power demand by data centers doubled between 2000 and 2005.

-65 percent said they lacked precise plans for improvement.

It was interesting to note that the companies doing the most were often the companies publicizing the least. And while it's safe to say that the Intel's, Sun Systems and B&M Gates Foundations are making tremendous headway, I'm interested to see how they move forward and adjust to new market developments, specifically in the area of data storage. It won't be long before such important parts of their companies will be required by LEED and BREEAM to comply with self-sustainability standards. So if 90% of your building is environmentally friendly but the other 10% is using the same amount of energy as the 90%, what kind of impact are you really making?


The Environmental Protection Agency
In honor of Earth Day, the nexus of environmental protection known as the EPA, formally announced a winner to their 2008 photo contest. Out of over 750 entrants, a picture from Richard Burkhart of Battlecreek , MI (below) was chose as the winner of the Enjoying the Environment catagory. Two other categories, Protecting the Wildlife and Nature & Wildlife were also up for grabs.

On this spring day my wife and I were enjoying the environment and beauty of Battle Creek River. I find it extremely interesting that this photo was taken within four blocks from the heart of Battle Creek, MI. Sometimes we can find true beauty and enjoy nature real close to home or in our own back yard. The reason I chose this scene was of the reflections of the trees and natural framing of the picture in this location.

Granted, this isn't the extent of their actions. The EPA, in fact, joined up with many other businesses and corporations to sponsor and participate in much smaller events. But isn't it a little surprising that a Photo Contest was one of the only features on their front page.


Just a small sampling of Earth Day events from some of the major environmental non-profits. I know this isn't much in terms of relevancy and scale, but I had to at least make a mention of their efforts.

National Wildlife Federation: Asked you to make your own Earth Day checklist [here].
World Wildlife Fund: Asked readers to make every day Earth Day and share their Earth Day experiences [here].
Greenpeace: Nothing unusual.
Earthcorps: They're celebrating the entire month of April as Earth month with various activites [here].
Arbor Day Foundation: Surprisingly, they're more in to Arbor Day than Earth Day. Who knew?
The Nature Conservancy: They're not doing much...just trying to plant a billion trees by Arbor Day [here].
Sierra Club: They helped recruit for Earth Day events [here].

More proof that if you're celebrating the Earth year-round, why need a special day? Notice that all the sites made the information available to the reader without forcing it down their throat. 5-10 years ago these sites would have been just as saturated with green backwash as green peakcock of NBC or the ironically sponsored Caterpillar Green Spot on the Discovery Channel website.


The Interweb
I also took a small moment to summarize the Earth Day happenings of various websites, but wasn't really sure where to begin. There is such a large pond to fish from, so where a good place to start?

Many, myself included, would agree that Time Magazine's Top 15 Greenest Websites isn't the best place to start, but it'll have to do. While I don't agree with the way the sites were ranked, what can it hurt?

The daunting task of sorting through the web, however, was all the more proof that environmental information is now readily available on the net, so much so that it loses credibility. The reader is becoming more and more savvy to empty facts and graphic persuasion that websites that can simply offer an arena in which to learn are rewarded with the largest audience. Basically, give us the facts in a timely manner and let us decide. Feed us compost and get called on it immediately.

I'd like to see a corporate website with an unmoderated comment section :)

1. Grist
A whole heck of a lot of articles. They also asked you to stop recycling...annoying green cliches [here].
2. Treehugger
Asked its readers what they were doing for Earth Day [here].
3. Dot Earth on the NYT
Looks like they also rest on the hippie Sabbath. No blog update yesterday.
4. Climate Change on the Guardian UK
Just the usual articles [here].
5. Real Climate
A simple wrap-up about the Eauropean Geophysical Conference [here].
6. Environmental Capital on the WSJ
Wondered aloud if Earth Day was actually good for the Earth [here].
7. No Impact Man
Colin Beaven asks how he can be the kind of person who wants to try? Can the way you live really make a difference [here]?
8. EcoGeek
Just the usual articles [here].
9. Ecorazzi
Covered the Green Apple Earth Day and it's usual celebrity-related events [here].
10. Switchboard
Covered a story about the Sox and a family in the Bronx trying to live green [here].
11. Mongabay
Featured an interesting, non-Earth Day article on the nomads of northern Kenya, the Turkana [here].
12. Climate Ethics
No update since 4/21.
13. Climate Progress
Asks you to intellectually dump Earth Day [here].
14. World Changing
(First, can somebody tell me how WC is #14? Top three, at least!). Anywhoo, WC covered some of the top Earth Day stories of 2008 [here].
15. Planet Ark
Nothing out of the ordinary.

Once again nobody is really celebrating or actively participating in Earth Day per se, other than the fact that most are going about their business as environmentally friendly way.


If the above sampling is any indication how future Earth Days will come to pass, I give the planet only a couple more years before the celebration is not only commonplace in every household, it will last year-round.From what I can tell it's a banner year for Earth Day, insomuch as it might be facing an enthusiastic death on its own accord. And I think corporate America is starting to fear the fact that we might find the other two r's: Reduce and Reuse.

No longer will shoppers grudgingly accept a petroleum-based bag at the grocery on days when they forgot their cloth, but rather reduce their trip to only what they can carry. No longer will the SUVs be accepted as status symbols on suburban streets simply because Oh, the Midwest is just a car-oriented community, but rather ridiculed with the same absurdity they merit on their 7-mile per gallon trips to the soccer field. And no longer consumers consume for the sake of consuming, but rather necessity.

The notion and need for April 22nd as an individual day of awareness is naive. Such celebrations used to be necessary, but have expired under the weight and saturation of information. The public is ready and able.

And I know my words --particularly the previous paragraph-- have been said time and time again, but the culture has shifted (i.e. yes, dagnabit...and this time we mean it!). There's an EV hybrid mass transportation unit purring quietly off in to the future. If you're a corporation, a television company, a search engine, industrial magnate, celebrity, or even (have you checked the stock prices lately?) a commodity, your position of history on the totem pole no longer matters. If you don't jump on board, you could easily be left behind.