A Day of Celebration, Reflection and Education with Earth Day Canada’s Jed Goldberg

September 2, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re so excited and honored to have on with us Jed Goldberg, the President of Earth Day Canada. Welcome to Green is Good, Jed. JED GOLDBERG: Thanks for the opportunity. I appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we get into talking about Earth Day Canada, can you share a little bit about your story? How did you even become the President of Earth Day Canada? What was your journey leading up to this great position? JED GOLDBERG: Well, in the mid-’80s, I had a business where I imported containers of solar products and recycled paper, natural finishes and polishes and waxes and paints and things and I had all kinds of institutional clients across the country. One of them that used to buy a bit of paper from me was this little fledgling organization called Earth Day Canada and I got quite friendly with them and at one point, their Executive Director told me that he had a position with the international organization and asked me if I was interested in being introduced to their board of directors as his replacement. I had a chat with them and I admired what they did and it looked like a really challenging position with a lot of opportunity so I accepted and I’ve been here ever since. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful; and talk a little bit about the story about Earth Day and Earth Day Canada both because everyone hears about Earth Day now. It’s become sort of part of our vernacular but even myself included, I don’t know the real story behind it so it would be lovely if you shared that story with us. JED GOLDBERG: Well, it was started in 1970 and it was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson who was a real conservationist and someone who cared a lot about the environment and he recognized that there was so little communication and discussion around environmental issues and pollution that he actually worked with a Harvard Law student named Dennis Hayes and they created this Earth Day University and college teaching and it was wildly successful across campuses in the United States April 22nd, 1970 and it attracted a ton of media, so much so that President Nixon at the time enacted the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act and Earth Day then took off from there. It didn’t become an international phenomena for 20 years though. It was pretty much contained in the United States and in anticipation of the 20th anniversary, the same organizers, still Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes, decided that they wanted to blow this out around the world so a small organization was formed to do the coordination and facilitation here in Canada and that was Earth Day Canada. We were supposed to be around for one year just to do that event. We got such incredible response from so many different sectors of society we realized we touched a nerve and also understood that we had an ability to communicate and involve people that up until then didn’t really felt included. They felt as if they wanted to be involved in the environmental discussion but their voices weren’t being heard so we decided to develop programs on a yearlong basis and here we are now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there, we’re on with Jed Goldberg. He’s the President of Earth Day Canada and you can see his great work and the great work going on in Canada at EarthDay.ca. I’m on the site now. It’s gorgeous. Jed, talk a little bit about just a couple of the biggest challenges that environmental challenges you think we’re all facing today. JED GOLDBERG: Well, competition is the number one challenge and by that I mean there are so many big issues that we are faced with right now, humankind, our economic situation and various health concerns that everyone has. So many things are going on that the environment is still considered to be an issue that can wait in many people’s eyes. They’re more concerned about where their next paycheck is going to come from or how they’re going to make their mortgage payments or the cancer that’s developing in their Aunt Mary. All of these concerns as well as the very, very sophisticated advertising and promotion that is done by major agencies across the country makes it difficult for us to get environmental messages through and have the opportunity to change people’s attitudes and behaviors so that’s probably the biggest thing is the competition that we have with other communications and other priorities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How is Earth Day then different from other environmental campaigns? And, then take it one step further. How is Earth Day Canada different from other organizations that exist? JED GOLDBERG: Well, first of all, Earth Day is inclusive. We like to deal with all different sectors of our society, whether it’s individuals or businesses or community organizations or faith based groups, multicultural communities. We deal with as many very different groups as we can that represent the diversity of this country and in terms of Earth Day Canada, rather than simply presenting a suite of programs and saying this is what we do, we need your support, we are more strategic than that and we approach partners and then sit with them and try and figure out the most appropriate way that we can have some type of big environmental impact while at the same time, meet their business objectives primarily and we’ve been very successful in doing projects like that with a number of very big partners and the results have been fantastic environmentally. There’s been some terrific environmental gains that have been made. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, talk a little bit about that. Talk about the impacts that Earth Day Canada is making. JED GOLDBERG: Well, as an example, there’s a very, very large company called CN Rail in North America that’s one of the biggest freight carriers in the world. I had the opportunity to meet with some of their senior executives and they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing a sustainability strategy that talked generally about ways that they could be reducing their environmental impact but they had no idea how they could execute that plan. They have 25,000 employees. Seventy-five percent of them don’t even have an email address, their workers that are out on the line, so we were tasked with coming up with a strategy to engage these folks, have them take ownership of their responsibility to get these initiatives moving, and execute them in their major yards all over North America so we’ve been doing that for a couple of years and the results have been dramatic. There have been huge savings in the fossil fuel use, the waste that’s being generated, the resources that are being used, the toxic materials that are being diverted. All of these things are part of the plan and are all falling into place. Aside from that, we also give away a lot of money so we have funding programs. We give out $20,000 to not-for-profit organizations and schools that are doing environmental projects in their community. We give out scholarships to graduating high school students that have done some great environmental work. We also recognize the work done by individuals and smaller organizations in communities across the country by recognizing their work and giving them grants. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. Jed, you sit in a fascinating position. You get to meet a lot of interesting people. You have great visibility and meet a lot of thought leaders around the world but also corporate people and other NGOs. What’s your position yourself? What’s your vision on who should take responsibility for addressing environmental issues and, as you say, they’re quite large right now, that are occurring right in front of us? JED GOLDBERG: You know, it can’t really be any particular group involved and for us to have impact on the environmental challenges that we have in front of us right now, we have to have tons and tons of irons on the fire. It can’t just be some kind of magic bullet or some massive initiative by one particular sector. It has to be individuals and businesses and government and all sectors of our society that are doing what they can to minimize the impact of the ways that they operate and one of the biggest things that we really need is we need some political will and creativity. That is holding things back dramatically in virtually every country of the world and certainly Canada and the United States are no exception. Without some real political vision and some policy changes, it’s just going to slow things up dramatically. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about what you just brought up though — individuals and corporations. For our listeners out there, we love to talk about solutions here and we’re down to about four minutes but there’s still time here for you to share your important thoughts on two critical issues: Individuals, what can they do to be part of the solution? And, then what can corporations do to be part of the solution? JED GOLDBERG: Well, you know, the big thing for individuals is most people feel dwarfed by our environmental challenges and don’t feel as if their contribution can have any impact at all and really, what needs to be understood is that this is a numbers game. It’s all about large numbers of people doing what they can and cumulatively that translates into some significant environmental benefit so little things done by people in large numbers translates into big environmental benefit. That’s number one and in terms of business, business needs to understand and smart business does, that getting involved in environmental initiatives makes the money, reduces their cost, and polishes their brand image so all of these things are going to contribute to their business moving forward in a positive way while at the same time reducing their costs and their environmental impacts. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s well said. Given that as you said at the top of the show, Earth Day was founded in 1970, Richard Nixon then passed the EPA and the Clean Water Act. We’re now 43 years into this. Why are we facing climate change worse than ever before? Why are we facing massive water shortages more than ever before? Why hasn’t more change happened and do you feel hopeful for the future or where are we really going here? And, we have about a minute and a half so I would love you to just share your thoughts on those topics, Jed. JED GOLDBERG: Well, first of all, in terms of optimism, in a position like mine, you have to be optimistic. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that. That’s awesome. I love that. That’s great. JED GOLDBERG: But, in terms of why, I sort of touched on this earlier and it’s really conflicting priorities. It’s like the story of the frog in the pot of cold water that gets turned on to a boil. Until just before this frog is about to die, they don’t even realize that they gotta get out of there real quick. It’s the same thing with us. Our planet is degrading at a very quick rate and it’s going to impact the quality of life for every organism on this planet. It already has and we’re almost at the tipping point but unfortunately, people are sort of swayed by other priorities and we’re up against some really, really stiff competition in attention and we need to get beyond that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. Well, any last thoughts? We have about 45 seconds left. For our young people around the world that listen to this show, how do they become the next Jed Goldberg? And I’m real serious here. How do they become part of the solution for the future? JED GOLDBERG: They are part of the solution now and the young people need to understand how much influence they have even now as youth. We’ve seen groups of students and youth do some tremendously important work and it’s really all about the basics. It’s about influencing your own sectors of people that are around you that will listen to what you have to say and the voice of youth is a very powerful tool that the environmental movement uses, continues to use, and must develop more strategies to use in the future. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Jed, thank you for joining us today. For those listeners out there that want to continue to see all the great important and wonderful work Jed’s doing at Earth Day Canada, please go to www.earthday.ca. Jed Goldberg, you are an inspiring sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good.