Robyn Beavers on Earth Day
I am sure that many of us reading this blog post can say that this holiday has been a part of our lives for several decades. Perhaps we first learned about it in the classroom or through local and national media campaigns. But the purpose of the day remains the same regardless of how it was introduced into our lives. The existence of the day allows us to step back and focus on the interconnectivity of people, the natural environment that supports us and the built environment that we construct around us. As a sustainability professional, Earth Day has meant many things to me over the years and I thank MAKERS.com for encouraging me to again step back, take a breath, and focus on the celebration again.
When I was in grade school roughly 20 years ago, Earth Day was just gaining traction in the schools and public consciousness. In school, we learned about the virtues of recycling. We studied globes and satellite images of the earth, learned about endangered species and about the environmental challenges we were facing. And we also pitched in a little. We planted trees, did trash pick-ups, and made quiet promises to always strive to be good to the environment.
A decade later, when I was a little older and heading off to university in California, Earth Day had grown up a little too. The center of gravity for the holiday was energy – where our electricity came from, how much we use, and how much potential the sun had for the future. Green building guidelines were being adopted by local governments. A new crop of sustainability books hit the scene and people started talking about ‘sustainability’ as a practice and a direction. We were starting to fully understand the direct connection between cultivating the natural environment and the quality of human life. And we also knew that we were obligated to do much more than celebrate the earth. We had to work hard for it too.
Add another 10 years to this timeline and that brings us to the present. It will be interesting to see how the holiday has aged, especially since a great deal of progress has occurred during these past few years. For example, renewable energy generation has steadily increased as a share of total global generation. . Real estate and construction companies need to have green building capabilities in order to stay competitive. Almost every Fortune 500 company has a Chief Sustainability Officer, a role and title that barely existed just 10 years before. Universities all over the world now offer robust sustainability curricula in engineering, sciences, economics, and business. Enough money and risk taking has been put into clean tech starts ups that we have had just as many failures as successes (which in start up land is a good thing). We can now start to celebrate the earth as well as the results of the hard work to innovative and readjust our foundations so that we are poised to really make transformative moves.
By the time I revisit this blog post in 2022, I hope that Earth Day will have turned yet another page. In my ideal future world, the field and results of sustainability work will be pervasive, exciting and influential. Leaders and innovators will have found a way to not just worry about how the built environmental can stop harming the natural environment, but how they can become more intertwined in a beneficial way. By learning from the living systems around us, we can breathe life into the static world we spend some much time and money building. I predict that the future will be an era where networks of distributed systems for power production, water treatment and delivery, and agriculture dominate the landscape. While these concepts of distributed systems are familiar in our current time, Earth Day 2022 will be a time when we see, and rely on these distributed systems. And we will be able to measure the results of this work.
So here’s to Mother earth and the human race! May we continue to learn from one another and prosper together. Happy Earth Day.