On February 28th 1969, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, one of the worst environmental disasters ever occurred. During drilling on a Union Oil plat-form, about 10km from shore, a blow-out caused a major oil spill. It lasted for over a week, and the blowout was only successfully stopped later in April that same year.
Thousands of cubic meters of crude oil leaked into the sea during a period of ten days, contaminating the marine habitat and killing thousands of birds, marine mammals, and fish. Nothing similar had ever happened before and neither Union Oil nor the Federal Government had effective emergency procedures to follow. The event angered the public and generated a stream of demonstrations. The city of Santa Barbara even pressed charges against the company. Protests went far beyond the coasts of California, with pictures of tar-covered beaches and birds throughout the international media, drawing global attention to the pollution and taking hold of the collective imagination.
In an attempt to minimize the magnitude of the event, Fred Hartley, then President of Union Oil, dismissed the general sense of concern from the media and the population. However, such an inadequate response only highlighted the necessi-ty for a better approach to environmental protection.
At a time of rising interest in the environmental cause and against a backdrop of civil rights struggles, Gaylord Nelson – then Senator for Wisconsin – proposed the establishment of a national day of awareness of the environment. On April 22nd 1970, the first ever Earth Day was celebrated. Over 20 million Americans took part in the event, presenting a bipartisan and united front in demanding the government affirm its commitment through regulations. Thanks to these sponta-neous initiatives, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by the end of the same year, followed by the approval of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Act.
Despite the impact Earth Day had on American society in a mere year, the aware-ness campaign only became an international event in 1990. Denis Hayes joined the committee for the very first Earth Day as a Stanford graduate student. Buoyed by the remarkable results in the US, he campaigned to take the event beyond na-tional borders: 200 million people from 141 nations joined up. Ten years later, the number of nations rose to 184. Today, according to the Earth Day Network (EDN) – the organisation that led the original event – the number of people involved in activities and initiatives associated with the Earth Day is about 1 billion, located in 192 different countries.
There is still much to do for the most industrialized nations to support environ-mental protection, but the battles conducted by environmental organizations in the past decades have resulted in some achievements. For example, between 1970 and 2015, air pollution in the United States dropped by 70%. Agreements such as The Montreal Protocol (1989) effectively reduced human activities con-tributing to the depletion of the ozone layer, and recycling became mandatory in many countries.
Despite this, there are many other pollution-related issues that we still have to face. Most importantly, global warming, that has been on the rise for about 150 years now: between 1880 and 2012 the global surface temperature increased by an average of 0.85°C, and the current estimates suggest a further increase of be-tween 0.3 and 4.8°C. Though partly a natural tendency, there is no doubt it has been intensified by human activity since the 19th century industrial revolution.
Timberland has taken part in Earth Day since 1998, and therefore celebrates its 20th anniversary this year: an important moment to increase people’s awareness and sensitivity towards the environment in which we live. Throughout its history, Timberland has been involved in environmental actions. Since 1992, Timberland has offered its employees up to 40 payed hours per year through the Path of Service programme, to spend on community activities. The company also organ-ises two global events for employees and company partners. The first one, Serv-a-palooza, takes place in autumn and addresses local community problems; the other, Earth Day, is devoted to raising awareness on global environmental prob-lems. The activities in which employees are invited to participate vary from clean-ing trails to make them accessible, to building vegetable gardens as part of a community training process , as well as teaching children about the environment. In April and May 2017, these projects involved more than 15 countries with 1400 volunteers and a total of 11,000 hours. For example, for the latest Earth Day, 120 volunteers mobilised in Milan (Italy) in partnership with NGOs such as Legambi-ente and Retake Milan. In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) 50 people worked on cleaning up the urban forest of Bukit Persekutuan, together with the Malaysia Nature Society.