As published in The Record.
Forty years of awareness. Forty years of action. Forty years of progress. Suffice it to say, we have a lot to celebrate this Earth Day.
But most importantly, we are celebrating the end of a long, divisive dispute about whether we need to do something to protect the environment.
Simply stated, we no longer debate “if” we need to do something; we only debate “what” to do. And, by itself, that’s a huge win.
In fact, despite all of the acrimony over climate change legislation and global warming science, one thing is clear: Our country understands the critical need to protect the environment. That is good news for our environment … good news for our economy … and good news for our national security. Consumers demand it, and the private sector has embraced it. And it’s a prime mover in creating jobs and economic opportunity and is a central theme of our foreign policy.
Granted, we may not agree on the science. We may not agree on the causes or remedies. We may not even agree on the terminology. But over the last several years, we – generally speaking — have come to agree that the environment is important and must be protected. We now recognize that clean air and clean water are invaluable … and in danger … and that we must work to preserve both for ourselves as well as future generations.
To this end, much has been done. Recycling laws and recycling bins are everywhere. Smaller cars, including hybrids, are in style, despite stabilized fuel prices. Solar panels and wind turbines are becoming more commonplace. And environmental concerns are often topics of conversation between leaders of government, business and academia.
Much of this progress – and the intellectual foundation on which it sits – owes itself to government and non-profit leaders, who blazed early trails through conventional thinking and against great odds. But this movement picked up real steam with the involvement of the private sector, particularly those businesses responsible for clean energy technology.
These transformative technologies have been giving new, exciting meaning to the sustainability movement – one that has had a tremendous, positive impact on our economy as well as our environment. Increasingly, entrepreneurs and private businesses are investing their time, energy, and money into such green technologies, and in so doing, they are fundamentally changing the way we live our lives … for the better. They preserve the environment. They create lasting jobs. They strengthen our independence. And they make money – for the company owners as well as the communities in which they operate.
In other words, they are redefining the concept of “going green” and mainstreaming efforts to protect the environment.
As a result, the new sustainability movement is less about sacrifice and more about opportunity. It is about doing things better, cheaper, and greener. It is about redefining the concept of “going green” to mean making money as well as protecting the environment. And it is about rejecting the false choice between doing right by our environment and doing right by our country.
Not surprisingly, this paradigm shift is now being driven by the White House. In fact, President Obama has been outspoken about the need for a thriving U.S.-based green economy – something that is central to both his domestic and international agendas. In his recent State of the Union address, the President underscored this point when he called for “a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America .… because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”
This paradigm shift, in turn, is being embraced by an increasing cross-section of the American people. Democrat. Republican. Activist. Business leader. Some see it as a way to make money. Some see it as a way to “do good”. And some see it as a way to do both.
Regardless of the motivation, the fact remains – green is fast becoming the new normal.
So, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we should celebrate all that has been done and rededicate ourselves to all that we must still do. And we should heed the simple, albeit compelling words of Earth Day founder, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who effectively summed it all up – “The challenge is to forge a society that is economically and environmentally sustainable.”
Michael W. Kempner is the President/CEO of MWW Group ( www.mww.com ), a Top Ten National Public Relations Firm based in East Rutherford and an Operating Advisor for Pegasus Capital Advisors.