This year, Earth Hour communities have taken the event to a new level.
Much more than an hour-long event, it is being used by WWF teams and volunteer communities across the planet to generate significant environmental outcomes. Russia really set the standard last year when the community there secured major legislative change for marine protection by mobilizing tens of thousands of people to lobby parliament. Now many other countries are following suit, using the Earth Hour movement as the vehicle to create monumental changes. In Botswana and Uganda, they are creating forests from degraded areas. In Kuwait, Earth Hour is being used to introduce comprehensive recycling. In Romania, people collected nine tonnes of plastic bottles in the lead up to Earth Hour!
The hour itself is celebrated on an enormous scale in countries such as India where Earth Hour was started by IT workers in Bangalore. Even war-torn parts of the world are participating, and areas only recently out of civil war like Sri Lanka. This tells me that people everywhere care about the planet.
But there are three questions I always get asked: How much energy does Earth Hour save? Is one hour enough? Whose idea was it? On the cusp of our seventh Earth Hour this Saturday, March 23, here again are the answers to all three questions.
How much energy does it save? I genuinely have no idea -- and more importantly, that genuinely isn't the point. We started Earth Hour because we wanted to find a way for citizens to show their desire for action on climate change and their willingness to be part of that process. In other words, we stole from many other successful major social change movements and created a symbolic moment -- one for which it didn't matter what your background was -- young or old, gay or straight, right or left -- you could show where you stood. Unbelievably, it worked that first year, with more than two million people taking part in Sydney. And then the story went around the world, from the original concept of Earth Hour becoming like New Year's Eve fireworks with lights of celebration rolling around the planet. We even planned the date so it fell on the equinox to get the most number of cities dark at the earliest point in the night. Just for a moment I thought it was really simple to change the world -- it was just about a good idea, good partners and hard work... the naivety!
But here's the thing: People responded to it. And people continue to respond to it. Those who participate in it year after year understand that the hour itself is symbolic. It signifies their concern for the future of this planet, but it doesn't mean an hour-long lights off is the one action they are committed to.
From the IT worker in Nigeria committing to do a peace walk to Mali if 20,000 people sign the country's pending Climate Change Bill petition, to a six-year-old Greek boy who has committed to give up chocolate if 50 people green their balconies, individuals and organizations from all pillars of society and all corners of the globe are using Earth Hour's I Will If You Will campaign as a platform to share their commitment to the world.
Is one hour enough? This has to be the craziest question asked because if the basic premise of Earth Hour is that we need to mobilize governments, businesses, organizations and people on an incredible scale if we are to avoid hitting a two-degree temperature rise and secure the Earth's sustainable future, how could one hour in any way be enough?
The hour itself is a moment to reflect, a moment to summon the determination to make changes in the coming year. So the question is not 'is an hour enough?' but rather how will you go beyond the hour? Will your government implement tougher standards on car emissions or implement a carbon tax? Will your Mayor govern with an eye to developing your city not only sustainably but also to become a better place to live (LED lighting in streets looks better, cost less and cuts emissions)? Do the brands you choose walk the talk and are they doing everything they can to move the agenda forward? Or are they spending money to hold things back? And from an individual level, can you reduce your footprint? Can you vote for that change you want to see in the world?
So finally whose idea was it? I've actually sat at two separate dinners and been told by the person sitting next to me that they were at the original meeting where the idea was first discussed. I was a bit surprised given that they weren't. As I sit here a few days out from the seventh Earth Hour, I know that actually there are a lot of founders out there. There are the youth groups in Gaza and Palestine, divided by geography and politics, and the team hoping to secure Argentina's largest ever Marine Protected Area (3.4 million hectares) by mobilizing citizens. There are the thousands of girl scouts who changed 135,000 light bulbs to LEDs in community centers across the U.S. and there is the mayor who was there right at the beginning and had been pushing the idea of Sydney becoming a more sustainable city long before I turned up. Lots of people make Earth Hour happen around the world.
These to me are the founders of Earth Hour. Earth Hour the movement, over and above the event.
So if you haven't been a founder of Earth Hour before -- join us this year on March 23 at 8:30 p.m. local time, and be inspired by the stories from around the world, expect more from your politicians and your brands and yourself -- I will if you will.
Andy Ridley is the CEO and Co-Founder of Earth Hour, the world's largest mass participation event for the planet that invites individuals, businesses, governments and communities to turn out their lights for one hour on Saturday March 23, 2013 at 8:30 p.m. to show their support for environmentally sustainable action. Earth Hour began in one city in 2007 and by 2012 involved hundreds of millions of people in 152 countries.