04/22/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 06/22/2015 05:59 EDT

Earth Day Should Be 364 Days a Year

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Earth Day is an important date on the calendar that puts the spotlight back on the planet. However, as we all grow more interconnected around the world with a greater ability to have an impact -- both positive and negative -- it's equally important to recognize that the principles of Earth Day can't be ignored the other 364 days of the year.

Since gaining momentum in the 1980s, one of the main and simplest ways to focus on saving the Earth was to execute the three "Rs" -- reduce, reuse and recycle. It was emphasized in schools and it resonated fairly broadly through public policies such as blue and green recycle bins, and personal behaviours such as bringing your own bags to the grocery store.

We've come a long way, but there's still an important journey ahead. Concepts as simple as the three "Rs" have progressed to more complex situations surrounding environmental sustainability and deforestation, for example. There has also been a shift in mindset, morphing from what you can do for the world into what we all can do for the world -- evolving the micro into the macro. Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is a great example of this approach, especially when we must look at the broader impact a company can have.

It's no secret the effect that companies and businesses can have on our planet. Over the last decade or two, many companies have been taking steps to change their practices to decrease harm, and in some cases, improve the environment. This has been driven partly by consumer demand, including pressures from high-profile NGO groups, but also due to companies recognizing internally that they can do better, and not have it affect the bottom line. This realization includes adjusting internal policies, creating more innovative and positive processes, and changing the anatomy of the supply chain.

Without a general understanding and appreciation of environmental objectives infused into the public's mind, we may not have as many eco-conscious engineers designing water savings techniques, forestry experts creating new methods to sustainably harvest trees or multinational executives calling for innovative post-consumer packaging that appears luxurious, but has only a fraction of the impact on the Earth.

CSR has been quite the trending term for the last 20 years. Many companies have either been doing it quietly for years, are still finding their legs, or are about to step into the fray. How can we ensure that companies are being responsible corporate entities, while staying economically viable?

This is where we need company executives to recognize that CSR isn't just a three-letter afterthought or check mark in a box, but a fundamental core value for doing business better. This is where current and future employees must implement a vision that carries these values and innovation that will have a positive impact to the bottom line and on the Earth.

For if these consumer attitudes towards increased environmental stewardship continue to grow as we expect them to, it will lead to a greater and consistent demand for companies to be more responsible in how they do business as usual. In a consumer survey conducted for Asia Pulp & Paper Canada last fall, key findings were revealed, ones which businesses should bear in mind moving forward. As an example, the survey found that 77 per cent of Canadians said there needs to be more environmentally free/greener packaging for food products. What may be more interesting is that a little more than 50 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18-34, a key consumer demographic, are willing to pay more for earth-friendly/deforestation-free/sustainable paper products or products in such packaging.

Results like these not only confirm an appetite for eco-conscious business, but they also indicate that there are many individuals who can promote these values at their jobs on a daily basis. For example, while developing a new process to reduce a carbon footprint may be a technically daunting task, there are other ways to expand responsible corporate citizenry that involve changing the dialogue. It can be as simple as sharing articles and making suggestions about what can be done in the office, to organizing webinars or speakers to discuss how another company is taking a more active approach to improving everyday business.

We must continue to build and grow these values on the work front. It's not only important for business, but it's important for us and for future generations. Eventually, these attitudes will hit a tipping point where we won't need a single day to put the spotlight on doing the best for the earth - it will simply be part of our daily lives.


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