by Talula Belle Thibault
Certain holidays permit days off work, excuses for gluttony, or needless gift swaps with acquaintances. But great holidays elicit moments of reflection, joyous cause for celebration, and giving in a more selfless way. For these purposes, Earth Day is the epitome of special time to recognize.
The story of Earth Day often sets the opening scene back in the 1960s, when many Americans were starting to catch on to the magnitude of environmental degradation then allowed in the States. Up until that time, the U.S. political focus was far from protecting the planet’s natural resources, and climate activists were few and far between. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the Cuyhoga River fire, Clair Patterson’s discovery of endemic lethal lead problems, the Farmington Mine Disaster, a four day air pollution event that killed 80 in New York City, the establishment of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Apollo 8 revealing the first images of “Earthrise” were all poignant environmental topics of the decade. Listen to Tom Lehrer’s song “Pollution” for explicit explanatory content without the curse words.
Inspired by the anti-Vietnam War teach-in protests on college campuses, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin), developed the idea for Earth Day in 1969. He imagined a grand grassroots environmental demonstration “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda”. The call to action was urgent, and the response was well received. By raising public awareness of pollution and environmental importance, Nelson hoped to bring the matter into the national spotlight. In a starkly suffering natural world, this praise for Earth was a rarity.
But instead of this gloomy opener, the tale really begins in the early 1800s. Allow me to introduce you to the Forgotten Father of Environmentalism (and my historical crush), Alexander Von Humboldt. Humboldt was a German geographer, naturalist, explorer, teacher, and friend to many prominent historical figures. He was constantly curious, insatiably adventurous, and worked at a manic pace — motivated by his passion for nature and science and powered by “concentrated sunshine,” as he referred to caffeine.
Humboldt saw the global environment as a web of life, a single living organism, where every individual part is an animated force that acts upon the whole. Within this metaphoric mesh of organisms, Humboldt said, “no single fact can be considered in isolation;” Even the tiniest parts are important for the overall success of the natural web. When nature is considered in this way, its vulnerability becomes obvious. If one figurative pebble is kicked, the whole rocky mountain might come crashing down in an avalanche.
He studied a range of environmental processes, and helped lay the foundation for the science of comparative climatology. Humboldt was the earliest to describe nature’s powerful capability of enriching the atmosphere with moisture and its consequential cooling effect. In 1800, Humboldt became the first scientist to report on human-induced climate change. He had been observing colonial plantations in Venezuela and felt alarmed by the reckless deforestation, wasteful water resource management and ecological damage from monoculture. He noticed then-overlooked issues that took over 200 years to become common knowledge.
Hence, Humboldt ought to be considered the seed that sprouted and grew into international Earth Day. He advocated for the environment’s success and biologic respect far in advance; far before we reached the current levels of pollution in the atmosphere today.
The short-term forecast for the planet as we know it can look frighteningly dismal. Fortunately, people’s perception of Earth Day is increasingly becoming not just a yearly blip on social media - but a committed lifestyle. This positive shift towards sustainable living will only make the necessary impact it needs if approached from a global scale. Thursday, April 22nd marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, but no matter how long you’ve been observing it, now is as necessary a time as ever to show your affection and respect to Nature.
Ways the Real Estate Sector Can Celebrate Earth Day 2021:
Manage your properties wisely. If your assets don’t already follow best practices for environment integrity, use this year’s Earth Day as an excuse to reevaluate site management practices. Get a handle on your energy and equipment management. Use low-emissions maintenance equipment. Care for the site’s soil health by restoring eroded areas and preventing sedimentation. Operate construction materials and activities in such a way that don’t contribute to air pollution. See that all products used to clean impervious surfaces are certified “green” according to applicable national standards. Frequently monitor irrigation systems, and error-correct where needed. Upgrade recycling practices to responsibly handle several types of waste streams. For assets in areas with harsh winter climates, ensure that defrosters used on site don’t contain harsh chemicals like calcium chloride or sodium chloride, or decide to decrease the percentage of applicable paving area that receives deicer treatment.
Invest in renewable energy. Start small with solar-powered phone chargers, outdoor umbrellas, or patio string lights. These can be quick adaptations in support of the Earth Day mission. Increased transparency of companies’ environmental footprints plus increasingly stringent government policies are pressuring the corporate world to go green. Property investors go to Longevity Partners to procure and install renewable energy for their assets and portfolios. Both large-scale corporations and anyone on an individual level can provide funding to the renewable energy sector—be it solar, wind, hydro, tidal, or geothermal energy—to unlock lasting environmental benefits and increase long-term profits.
Form and follow a rigorous ESG policy. If you’re the leader of a small- or large-scale business operation, implement a policy focused on environmental management, social issues, and corporate governance –three central factors in an organization’s non-financial performance. Environmental strategies may affect a company’s energy use, waste, pollution, ecological footprint, natural resource conservation, transport behavior, and treatment of wildlife. These principles can be used in determining the company’s environmental risks and how it plans to address and manage such risks. The social component covers the company’s business relationships. Seeking suppliers with similar eco-friendly values, supporting employees’ health and safety, and engaging empathetically with the local community are all advisable practices. With regard to governance, companies ought to ensure accurate and transparent accounting methods, refrain from financial bribes for unfair client treatment, and of course not break any legal codes. Address measurable targets for improved accountability and innovation in each category, and define how your group works to address these matters responsibly. Even if you don’t have the power to enforce such a policy, you still have a voice. Perhaps you could use it on Earth Day to speak up and make a suggestion. With virtually no downsides, encouraging a robust ESG policy may even get you that promotion.
Retrofit your home or office. It’s not enough to just flick off the light switch when you leave a room or tweak TV settings for dimmed lighting. For greater benefits, replace power-hungry appliances with updated, efficient models. Fluorescent lighting contains mercury, deteriorates quickly, emits small amounts of UV radiation, and is inefficient due to its omnidirectional systems. Replace these traditional bulbs with LEDs for higher performance. Look for green-verified products, such as ENERGY STAR-labeled goods, for credible guidance in making your purchasing decisions. Aside from energy upgrades, achieve water savings with low-flow faucet aerators, shower timers, dual flush toilets, and rainwater tanks. Greywater diverters are also great for recycling used-but-still-usable water from things like showers or laundry machines. This ‘grey’ water can then be used to flush the toilet or irrigate the lawn or garden. While these suggestions may have discouraging up-front financial costs in comparison with conventional and cheaper (though inefficient) tools, keep in mind the massive long-term savings.
Purchase carbon offsets. This is a practical, simple, and effective way to address climate change and support the renewable energy industry. According to Treehugger.com, the six best carbon offset programs include: NativeEnergy, Sustainable Travel International, TerraPass, Clear, myclimate, and 3Degrees.
Commute wisely. The real cost of driving to work every day goes far beyond the price of gas or the emotional toll of road rage, stress, wasted-time anxiety, and frustration that are associated with maneuvering through traffic on a daily basis. The real cost of the transportation sector includes the burning of fossil fuels, which contributes about a fourth of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans across the planet. Eco-friendly strategies for work-related travel includes walking, biking, public transit, telecommuting (remote working), compressed work weeks, carpools, green vehicle programs, or even a fun form of zero-emission conveyance – such as nonmotorized scooters, skateboards, and pedicabs. Challenge yourself this Earth Day to navigate real estate properties via zero emission transport methods.
Liaise with building users to reduce single-use plastic consumption. Without disclosing some of the horrors caused by plastics, I’ll say on a happier note that there are many ways to ditch plastic this Earth Day (or whenever!). Encourage occupiers to carry personal water bottles; buy non-perishable goods in bulk; take reusable bags shopping, and reusable produce bags to the grocery market; use other reusable goods, such as ear swabs, paper-less paper towels or cloth diapers; avoid harsh chemicals by cleaning surfaces with water and vinegar; say “no thanks” to single-use straws before restaurant waitstaff delivers the drinks; install water-efficient whitegoods; put a “No Junk Mail” sticker on personal mailboxes, and sign up for e-billing to prevent additional paper mail.
Grow an outdoor garden. The benefits are vast. Improve your and your tenants’ health by knowing exactly where provisioned food comes from. With 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually in the U.S. (where the food supply is considered among the world’s safest), this knowledge means power and safety! Gardens ensure that chemical fertilizers and other contaminants stay out of crops, while fresh, seasonal vegetables stay stocked in your pantry (plus, home grown food just tastes better!). To encourage building users to care for the garden, advertise how the physical act of gardening is great for lowering risks of heart disease, diabetes, or weight gain; In fact, a half hour of gardening is equivalent to a half hour of water aerobics. To bolster this self-care, the fruits and vegetables that can be garden-raised offer nutrient dense meal options that can take the place of animal consumption. This in turn helps fight the root causes of climate change, since livestock and their byproducts contribute at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, which is about half of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Choose to use native or adapted species, and keep pollinator plants in mind, as these support insects such as bees that are necessary for a fertile garden. Remember not to overapply nutrients; don’t use ammonia-based fertilizers or synthetic quick-release fertilizers.
Add indoor plants. Just like with outdoor plant maintenance, the process of caring for living things is joy-inducing and stress-relieving. In addition to adding both therapeutic and aesthetic appeal (by creating a relaxed ambiance) indoor plants have been found to stimulate building occupants’ mood, productivity, creativity, and concentration. Besides this mental health boost, indoor plants promote better physical health as well. Carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, and many other toxins that pollute average indoor air quality contribute to Sick Building Syndrome, which can cause illness. Indoor plants absorb and remove those harmful substances, thus purifying the air. Since people spend roughly 90% of their time indoors (in developed nations), indoor plants are undeniably great to have and a cost-friendly way to celebrate Earth Day.
Get in the habit of composting. Composting is a simple way to enrich soil, reduce fertilizer use, retain moisture, decrease fossil fuel dependence, bolster beneficial bacteria, AND quell diseases/pests from all those plants that you (now hopefully) have indoors or out. Almost a third of what Americans typically throw away (i.e., food scraps and yard waste) has the potential to become useful organic compost instead. Use low-impact ways to divert all building-related plant material waste from going into landfills. Simply gather unused or expired fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings, leaves, shredded newspaper, cardboard, hay, sawdust, fireplace ashes, wool rags, fallen branches or wood chips, and other plant-based or natural materials. These ingredients should ideally contribute to a well-mixed concoction that provides carbon, nitrogen, and water for its ultimate destination. Over time, the collective compost pile becomes a nutritious feeding ground and then thriving ecosystem bacteria, bugs, worms, fungi and more, and what they produce from this mini-habitat becomes nutrient-dense soil for plant growth. Zero methane is emitted from this minuscule ‘dirt farm’ if managed properly.
Plan for resilience. Develop a roadmap for the future to make properties climate-proof. Make measurable, attainable goals for both the near and long term. Design native perennial landscaping plans to replace current turf and annual areas. Aim to remediate compacted soils and support biodiversity. Strategize how to reduce Urban Heat Island Effect. Devise a way to improve rainwater management and irrigation. Plot how to reduce maintenance activities. Set timelines for achieving verified asset certifications, such as BREEAM, LEED, SKA, WELL, or Living Building Challenge.
Praise the planet more. May you be able to channel your inner Alexander von Humboldt and see the planet through a vibrantly colorful, fully animated, uniquely beautiful lens. Hopefully you’ll find a way to show your support and your love for the world on this year’s Earth Day, too. If it brings you happiness, peace, cost savings, therapeutic value, or enhanced occupant satisfaction, then adopt it into daily practice! Together we can make everyday Earth Day.
Appendix For Further Learning. Recommended books include Drawdown (Paul Hawken), The Sixth Extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert), This Changes Everything (Naomi Klein), The End of Nature (Bill McKibben), How to Avoid a Climate Disaster (Bill Gates), and Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan). See an extended list here. Research the inspiring lives of impactful environmentalists. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, George Washington Carver, Rachel Carson, Chico Mendes, Wangari Maathai, Winona LaDuke, Greta Thunberg; the list of key players in the industry of Earth-guarding goes on. If you don’t enjoy reading, opt for an eco-documentary or series on Earth Day. David Attenborough’s voice is all I ever want where narration is involved (listen to Our Planet, Blue Planet, or Planet Earth if you don’t know what I’m talking about). You may also like to watch Before the Flood, The 11th Hour, Years of Living Dangerously, The Human Element, No Impact Man, Racing Extinction, Food Inc., Cowspiracy, Down to Earth, or The Lorax on Earth Day 2021.