Looking Back at Earth Month 2016

What began as a watershed victory for environmental activism has grown into a month-long observation of global proportions: April 22nd's Earth Day has expanded into the April-long Earth Month. Since Earth Day's origin in 1970, the month of April has continued to be an important time for environmental action, observation, and celebration.

Earth Month may be over, but the campaigns and initiatives we saw this April have the chance to make long-lasting and considerable changes to the global sustainability landscape. Here are some of the initiatives, events and stories that caught our eye this year.

International Action

A variety of collaborative international conservation and environmental efforts occurred throughout Earth Month, using April as a time to heighten public awareness of environmental issues and the need to create realistic, actionable solutions.

Perhaps most notable was the Earth Day signing ceremony for the Paris Climate Agreement. More than 170 countries-- including the U.S., which failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol--officially signed the agreement on April 22nd. This is just the beginning of the implementation process: the next step for the 170 signatories will be working within their respective countries to come up with actionable carbon-reduction strategies. Still, the signing ceremony marks an important step forward toward global carbon emission reductions.

Toward the end of the month from April 27th to April 29th, the first World Environmental Law Congress was held in Rio de Janeiro, bringing together representatives from 70 countries to discuss the future of environmental legislation. This year's theme was "Environmental Rule of Law, Justice, and Planetary Sustainability," giving judges and state representatives an open forum to discuss the role of environmental law in their respective countries and across the world. The international gathering ended with the creation of the Global Institute of Judges, an institution with plans to investigate and dissect the effectiveness of environmental laws implemented around the globe.

As climate change and other globally relevant environment issues continue to affect health, agriculture, poverty and industry around the world, we can expect to see more collaborative international efforts like these throughout 2016.

Corporate Action

Corporations wasted no time in announcing their own sustainability efforts, partnerships and strategies this Earth Month. Office Depot, for example, announced its new "Greener Shipping Program," which plans to reward Office Depot customers who make larger, more efficient product orders with rebates on a variety of Office Depot and EarthEra products. Office Depot also used carbon offsets purchased from EarthEra to reduce the carbon footprint of the April 10th Subway Fresh Fit 600 NASCAR race. All proceeds from the purchase are planned to be reinvested into renewable energy projects across the U.S.

Beauty brand Aveda used Earth Month as a chance to raise money for the Global Greengrants Fund, which implements clean water projects in dozens of countries across the world where access to clean water is limited. The company matched all purchases of its Light the Way candles with a donation, a strategy that has led to more than $38 million in donations to clean water projects around the globe since 2007.

Waste Reduction

Waste reduction efforts were in full force this past Earth Month. My company TerraCycle, for example, worked with our longtime partners at Tom's of Maine to help support the Less Waste Challenge. Throughout April, we challenged individuals through social media to reduce one pound of waste from their lives per week. Thousands of people from across the U.S. pledged to the #LessWasteChallenge on social media, resulting in an overall (and still growing) commitment to divert over 130,000 pounds of waste from landfills in 2016.

April 1st marked the implementation date for California's mandatory composting legislation for California-based businesses. The law, signed in 2014, aims to capture and compost organic materials typically sent to California landfills in the solid waste stream, of which organics account for about 34 percent. According to the law's April 1st implementation, any business generating a weekly minimum of 8 cubic yards of organic waste must implement measures to compost the waste. Starting in 2019, the minimum will be reduced further to 4 cubic yards of organic waste. The success of this new law will hopefully serve as a benchmark to other states seeking their own sustainability and waste-reduction strategies.

Each year, Earth Month also sees a rise in local environmental cleanup events, bringing communities and municipalities together to keep nearby ecosystems free of waste. Friends of the Chicago River, for example, hosted multiple events throughout the month, removing invasive species from the Chicago area, rebuilding trails near the Chicago River, and removing waste from around the Chicago River system.

Education

The Earth Day Network has for years used April as a time to empower students and inspire them to get involved in activities that protect the environment. MobilizeU is one such campaign, aiming to get college students involved in conservation and environmental protection efforts throughout the year. "Trees for the Earth" is the campaign theme for 2016, with a goal to plant 7.8 billion trees by 2020--one tree per human being on the planet. The Earth Day Network provides students interested in getting involved with an abundance of resources, toolkits, and strategies to help get their respective college campuses involved.

The U.S. Department of Education celebrated Earth Day this year by announcing the recipients of its District Sustainability Award, Postsecondary Sustainability Award, and Green Ribbon School designation. According to the Department of Education, 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions were selected this year based on their respective "innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education."

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) celebrated this year's Earth Day through the annual National Environmental Education Week. From April 17th through April 23rd, the NEEF encourages teachers and educators to hold environmental education events in their communities and at school. In Virginia, for example, Virginia Beach Middle School students celebrated the week with Governor Terry McAuliffe, as they went out into the field to test local water quality and examine the local wildlife.