1. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Thoughts on Earth Day 2022

Put your money where your self-interest is.

The organizers of Earth Day 2022 are urging people to help promote a prosperous and equitable future by putting their investment money to work for the greater good. I love this  ― not only because it is actionable, but because it reveals how far we’ve come in fifty years.

I was just a little kid when the first Earth Day was declared in 1970. Growing up, I heard the term “tree hugger” used as a pejorative to dismiss anyone who was concerned about pollution,  spotted owls, or the tons of non-compostable materials piling up in landfills. The notion that what was good for big business was good for America prevailed and the “greenies” were summarily dismissed.

Eventually, however, kids like me became business leaders and we realized that what’s good for the planet is good for business. This sea change in corporate America is refreshing but hardly surprising given demographic shifts. I suspect this has been exacerbated by the retirement, early in the pandemic, of nearly thirty million Boomers and the shift in the workplace to the Gen-Z and Millennial generations. It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of people over the age of fifty-five have now left the workforce. This makes Millennials the largest generation in the workforce, and they have clear opinions about environmental and social justice:    

  • 83 percent of millennials want companies to align with their values.
  • 65 percent say they have boycotted a brand that took the opposing stance on an issue.

This demographic shift is surfacing everywhere in the marketplace. Recently, in a focus group conducted by Freeman, we asked meeting planners to rank the top issues they are facing in both short- and long-term planning. Understandably, short-term disruptions such as world events and supply chain challenges rose to the top. But when asked the same question regarding their long-term outlook, DEI and Sustainability led the way.

Today, environmental justice and social justice are inextricably linked. Businesses that are serious about holding themselves accountable to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion standards must also account for their carbon footprint and include sustainability measures in their business plans.

That’s why we make it a matter of policy that every Freeman event must follow a rigorous set of sustainability standards. We collaborate with clients to reduce waste by reusing, upcycling, and donating exhibit materials at the end of a trade show. We continue to scrutinize the supply chain to reduce truck mileage and associated emissions. And last November, I had the privilege of joining with other leaders from the global events industry at COP26, where we committed to construct an industry-wide roadmap towards net zero by 2050, and emissions reductions by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement.

For a sense of how these efforts will scale, it helps to consider that there are approximately 13,000 trade shows in the US every year ― which accounts for only 40% of all trade shows around the globe. If we reduce waste and engender positive change in each of those events, imagine the difference we can make. And if investors reward those who make the greatest gains, consider how our progress might accelerate.

We applaud the organizers of Earth Day for urging people to invest in responsible organizations and divest in those that fail to measure up. This is good news for most of us. As this  Harvard Business Review study shows, companies with strong Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards out-index others across a range of metrics, including profitability.

We have no excuse ― sustainability has become a fiduciary responsibility. So, in that case, let money talk. Maybe it can say something good for a change ― change that speaks to the common good.

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