It’s Earth Day Again – Let’s Celebrate – and Pledge Again to Defend Mother Earth!

For Earth Day – Plus 50 – April 22, 2020

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The first Earth Day was the idea of and championed by a United States Senator, Democrat Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin on April 22, 1970. Fifty years ago!

Let’s also celebrate his life (1916-2005) and the environmental movement he helped to launch as we observe Earth Day 2020.

For those of us who were not around back in the day, I will also offer up some background for you as we celebrate the 50th Earth Day.

Why Earth Day?
In 1970, there were too many assaults on the nation’s environment. On Our Good Earth with air, water, soil polluted – in many parts of the nation, we were really heavily polluted!  (There are still SuperFund sites being cleaned in many states.)

The American landscape was rich with manufacturing facilities and processing plants, located in every state. Our manufacturing and processing exports in the post-WW II period comprised fully one-quarter and more of all world trade.

The generosity of the U.S. in creating the Marshall Plan to help our former wartime enemies build up their economies and our WW II allies’ economies fueled the exports of American-made goods. 

Even today, U.S. manufacturing (really cleaner!) accounts for half of U.S. exports. U.S. manufacturing today by itself makes up the world’s 10th largest economy (ahead of China, Japan, Germany and many other manufacturing centers). But back in the day…

The Importance of U.S. Manufacturing in the Post War
After World War II, the U.S. was the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Germany and Japan factories were coming back on line, having suffered tremendous damage [to each country’s industry].

Early in the post-WW II period many European companies began setting up factories in the U.S. (chemicals, pharma) — and many of those companies were serious polluters here, as they were in Europe. (One reason why European investors were early adopters of ESG approaches – not often discussed.)

In 1951, “re-armament” was in full gear and the Cold War was on. Military production was greater than for consumer goods – and that meant many more plants would be turning out goods without necessarily protecting the environment around the plant. (“In the national interest…”)

Solvents used for manufacturing would go into the ground. Emissions from toxic fumes, into the air. Solid and liquid waste – into ground, or waters (streams, bays, rivers, oceans). As consumer goods manufacturing rose, a “Guns & Butter” economy emerged in the U.S., with the factories running in two or three shifts. Out put steadily rose. So, too, nasty byproducts.

The steady assault on Mother Earth by industry and governments steadily rose.

Among the catalysts for action after two decades:

The Cayuhoga River, flowing through Cleveland, Ohio, the industrial city on the Great Lakes, caught fired and the junk on top burned. (Noontime, June 22, 1969 – a five story fire flashed out of the river in the downtown!) Info at: https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63

A huge oil spill just offshore fouled the beaches of Santa Barbara, California. January 28, 1969 – 3 million gallons of crude spilled off the shoreline of the beautiful city by Union Oil (now Unocal), leaving an oil slick of 35 miles in length along the California shores…killing bird, fish, mammals (and tourism!). 1,000 gallons of oil per hour flowed for a month.

The federal government had relaxed the regulations on casing around the drilling hole and an explosion ripped the sea floor. (Sound too familiar in 2020?)

The federal government did stop offshore drilling for a few years (in the state’s waters) but then that restriction was relaxed and The Los Angeles Times (which has covered the story for five decades) says today there are 23 oil and gas leases in state waters.

The California spill is considered a catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Richard Nixon was a California native — then sitting in the Oval Office — and was moved to action shortly after the spill.

The LA Times coverage is at: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969-20150520-htmlstory.html

In the eastern U.S., the trees on mountaintops were constantly seared and leaves gone, branches standing naked of greenery. The “acid rain” coming from parts of the nation to the west wafted high up and denuded New York and New England mountaintop greenery (that was SOX, NOX, etc from smokestacks carried far to the east on the higher winds).

Those with light color cars would be scrubbing the dark stains running vertically on the vehicle. Acid rain streaks. We saw those on our homes (the white paint, the rain gutters, these would be streaked with black stain).
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980928072644.htm

Personal Remembrances
As a boy, heading in the car to Manhattan or Brooklyn with family, I remember being curious about the large black, brown, yellow clouds hovering above the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building in midtown. Wafting along, at leisurely pace. You could “smell” the city as you approached. There was often a coating of soot on my shirt or coat when I returned home.

“Smog” enveloped many American and European cities. (Fog and smoke.) I have written a few times about my flying through or over city smog. Looking down below from the cockpit, thick yellow clouds often blanketed Manhattan on hot summer days. Flying through (at lower levels) I would be on instruments until I was safely over New Jersey’s rural parts heading west. And clean air again filled the cockpit!

You could always see the bellowing smoke coming out of New York City’s electric generating plants, furnaces fired by coal in those days.

For a time, to build flight hours, I flew around the city and suburbs on weekends broadcasting as “Captain Hank, Your Eye-in-the-Sky” for radio stations WGBB and WGSM. Checking on traffic to the beach, open spaces Jones Beach parking fields, fishing offshore, surfing at Gilgo Beach, and the like. Quite often I would be dodging in and out of smog banks that drifted eastward.

Up in Connecticut, driving one day along a river road, I was startled to see “rubber rocks” along the river bank. A large rubber tire company’s outflow of waste from the factory to the river had coated the rocks before heading downstream into Long Island Sound and then to the Atlantic Ocean. Everything would just disappear into the seas, right? (Prevalent thinking of certain business leaders at the time – externalize the crap and let someone else pay for results.)

Up in The Bronx (boro of New York City) and the northern parts of Manhattan, trucks would idle for hours as they picked up or dropped off food at the terminals…the children of minority populations living there had high rates of asthma. Part of the payment for the necessary local industry that employed their parents.

New York City – the Manufacturing Center!
It is hard to believe here in 2020, but New York City was once a mighty manufacturing city for goods now produced in Asia — apparel, footwear, jewelry and accessories. Also, for food and beverages (local beer manufacturers, sugar processing factories, colas). The Brooklyn Navy Yard produced mighty battleships and repaired aircraft carriers damaged in battle (the USS Enterprise).

Manufacturing is still big in Gotham City – but it is far cleaner, safer, more responsible in operations — by many magnitudes. https://nycfuture.org/data/manufacturing-in-nyc-a-snapshot

City of Transportation
New York has a magnificent harbor. The shorelines of Manhattan and Brooklyn boasted of many ocean shipping terminals for both passengers and cargo. Railroads ran along the shoreline (one abandoned line is now the High Line, an important Manhattan tourist attraction). The line brought carloads of meat to the west side, and then on to giant cruise ships of yesteryear.

Trucks ran uptown and downtown (my father owned a local trucking company and I would ride along on school breaks). The driver would back a truck up to the dock, load it, run around the city to deliver and pick up, bringing freight to the waiting rail cars along the docks, which would go on large barges over to New Jersey and out to the nation.

All of this activity pouring engine emissions into the air of New York, and with drip-drip-drip from transport machines (oil, gas, fluids) tricking down into the sewers and out to the rivers and out to the ocean.

This was at the height of 20th Century industrial America, the Arsenal of Democracy of World War Two. From east to west coasts and all through the heartland, factories poured out war materiel, and then shifted to peak production of peacetime goods for 1950s and 1960s consumer purchase. Along with Cold War materiel. Guns & Butter.

We were the world’s major manufacturing exporters, then, not China.

But at a cost. And so the rivers burning, smog choking the cities, creeks and bays and inlets and rivers and then oceans polluting.

Earth Day Helped to Change All of This – Looking Back, Rather Quickly
Senator Nelson was impressed by the 1960s “social revolution” with protest across the country as especially young men and women voiced their opposition to the status quo. Sit-ins were staged at universities to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marches took place in the south despite the marchers suffering beatings and arrests.

The senator was fascinated with civil rights sit-ins at southern soda fountains and marches by both black and white leaders — including many clergy and public officials. By the early organizing efforts to protect and ensure the rights of females and passage, state-by-state of the ERA – the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to reach the votes to become part of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).

According to the Earth Day origin story, Senator Gaylord Nelson was thinking to himself: “If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student ant-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.” And he did!

He set up an “Environmental Teach-in” (like civil rights counter “sit ins”!) to tell the story of the environmental degradation of the country and send a call to action to college campuses and schools. (Hey, let’s do that again today — so many youngsters are at home in the digital classrooms during this virus crisis!)

The result in 1970 was that 20 million people — roughly one-of-10 citizens — participated that first Earth Day (and that would be like 33 million people celebrating Earth Day today, out of our 330 million population!).

The midterm elections of 1970 saw many long-standing members turned out and a new wave of consciousness sweep the country. President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress on January 1, 1970 moved to pass the National Environmental Protection Act – which created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Then came passage of Clean Water Act (1972), Clear Air Act, Endangered Species Act, RCRA (waste), SuperFund (CERCLA-1980), Wilderness Act (1974) and many more federal and state regulations.

The good news is that while Senator Nelson hoped to kick off a movement, he did — and observance of Earth Day took hold – the year 1990 (20 years in) saw the peak participation in the U.S. and by 2000 some 184 countries held formal observances. There’s interesting background at: http://www.nelsonearthday.net/earth-day/

Alas, here in April 2020 we are homebound and not able to march or gather in groups. But we do have our electronic platforms of all kinds – so let’s connect and celebrate Earth Day that way.

We only have one (Earth) to protect and in the spirit of Senator Gaylord Nelson and those early organizers, let’s say we are still here, still with you in spirit, and there is much work still to be done!

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!

Shared Perspectives
You might be interested in the environmental movement perspectives here from March/April 2005, my column from the former journal, Corporate Finance Review. Popular Movements: A Challenge for Institutions and Managers” – explaining the emergence of ESG and the Sustainability Movement.

When Sustainability Movement Champion Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, in April 2007 he delivered a wonderful speech – A Greener, Greater New York – presaging his wonderful work in helping many of the world’s cities make their environments safer and more sustainable. This is what great mayors do!

One of the influential voices following the lead of Senator Nelson in our time is Bill McKibben, whose books and extensive writing have helped to influence the more recent sustainability movement. He was interviewed by the Times Union (Albany , New York) newspaper for this year’s celebration. 

You can follow him on Twitter.

Can’t get into the streets today to help celebrate? Earth Institute at Columbia University offers some suggestions on sheltering in place and celebrating

Corporate Responsibility – Sustainability – Citizenship: Is It In Jeopardy in the Trump-ian Years? Don’t Think So!

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute
April 17, 2017

The mid-1960s….the time of the wonderful beginnings of the modern era of Corporate Social Responsibility. Corporate Citizenship.  And then large corporations began backing off their prior commitments as new administrations came to power in Washington.

The relationship of large corporations to the general society (i.e., the rest of us) has long been of interest to me. My career has been an exciting journey through up and down cycles of clear demonstration of corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, environmental responsibility, by large corporations…and at times, and at times, a clear lack thereof.

The news has mostly been very positive for the past two decades about CSR and sustainability — and corporate citizenship. Will this continue in the months and years ahead?

This of course is a question on the minds of some as the Trump Administration and the Congress continue to at least verbally assault the New Era of Enlightenment of the corporate sector.

Corporate-Society relations — this is something I closely monitor and am involved with daily in our Governance & Accountability Institute work, of course. And the progress made, or at times lack of progress, is a subject area that I have often commented on in my writings over the years since the 1960s.

* * * * * * *

Consider:  U.S.A. – Industrial Powerhouse of the Postwar Era

The publisher of Time magazine (Henry Luce) commented that the 20th was the “American Century,” in great measure thanks to the fantastic production of the United States corporate community.

The nature of the post-World War II economy was firmly set in place by the production prowess of the war years (1941-1945), when the United States of America was the “Arsenal of Democracy,” with fantastic output of weapons and war materiel by large companies. (Ford Motor stopped making cars and instead made B-24 bombers; General Motors turned out tanks, with innovative transmissions that became best-selling features on post-war autos, etc.)

The rapid military buildup helped to lift large U.S. manufacturers and their tens of thousands of workers out of the dark days of the Great Depression era and into renewed prosperity. A “military-industrial” complex thus arose that continued through the decades onward to today. The great American middle class was set firmly in place after the war and the world’s greatest consuming economy was created in catering to the needs and wants of the population.

Because American and British bombers had devastated the factories of Germany and in other European countries, and American bombers the manufacturing facilities of the Empire of Japan, the U.S.A. dominated postwar [world] trade, for many years accounting for fully half of global trade flows.

* * * * * * *

Civil Rights in Focus

Despite the broad and inspiring progress made in uplifting American families to middle class status, not all “boats rose” on the rising tide of progress.  The benefits of Corporate America were not evenly enjoyed.

The relationship of the corporate sector, and of the public sector, and the nation’s African-American population, was over the years problematic. There was discrimination in hiring, in training, in promotion, in access to goods and services; the African-American community steadily lagged behind white peer groups.

The sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by The Voting Rights Act of 1965, set in place public sector commitments to change things, to open up opportunities in employment, in access to college education, to affordable home mortgages, and more.

Of course, not all American citizens welcomed the changes; particularly in the American South, there was pushback and protests and defiance of Federal anti-discrimination laws. (Including the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Ed, which seemed to assure equal education for all citizens.)

* * * * * * *

The Rise of Civil Unrest in the 1960s

With rising civil unrest in the inner cities, filling with African-Americans in the Great Migration north, there were riots in 1963 and 1964 in Birmingham and Savannah; in Chicago and Philadelphia; with both whites and blacks involved, battling each other, and more often battling police.

In 1965, there were riots in Los Angeles (the “Watts” neighborhood), 4,000 people were arrested, 34 people were killed, hundreds were injured, and tens of millions of dollars of property damage resulted.

The year 1966 brought unrest to Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland (“Hough” neighborhood) — 43 disorders in the U.S. in all. More people died; the National Guard was mobilized; more protests were in store for the next year. And in Spring into Summer 1967, there were riots in Tampa, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Newark and Northern New Jersey, and Detroit.

The Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (issued March 8, 1968) noted: The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them, shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation. The worst came during a 2-week period in July, first in Newark (N.J.) and then in Detroit.

Said the authors. this is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.

Reaction to the disorders has quickened the movement and deepened the division. Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American. (end quotes).

* * * * * * *

An important irritant: the increased involvement in the war between North and South Viet Nam — a conflict in which young men of privilege (attending Ivy League schools, for example) could skip military service while a high proportion of African-Americans would be drafted and shipped to the war zone.

* * * * * * *

Corporate Sector Response

After passage of civil rights legislation, companies doing business with the Federal government were required to meet certain requirements; state and local governments had to come in line with affirmative action (such as set-asides in hiring for members of minority communities).

As the rules-of-the-road of the Federal civil rights statutes were set in place, both government agencies and America’s largest employers began to change their strategies, practices and policies to match the law of the land. This was not always easy — and certainly was not met with universal acceptance in many quarters of our population.

As the corporate community adjusted, G.A. Lloyd, a respected director public affairs/ community affairs manager at Humble Oil and Refining Company became an active public speaker on the changes taking place.

He wrote a small booklet: The Human Side of History (published 1967 – 16 pages) to help to educate his corporate community colleagues in the business sector on the changes taking place. He delivered a delivered powerful speech at University of Houston and around the Southwest, in late-December 1967, a time when I had been appointed as the “citizenship officer” of my employer, American Airlines (so I was paying close attention).

The Great Progress Made in the Private Sector

Mr. Lloyd advised us that “…leadership socially-conscious companies business organizations” such as those encouraged in the day’s electric utility industry association) were striving to make a difference. (Was this the beginning of modern-day “corporate social responsibility”? Perhaps.)

The corporate functions involved included public relations, community affairs/ community relations and philanthropy.

His employer — Humble Oil Company – in November 1967 was reacting very positively to key government action: passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act

The chairman of the board of his company, M.A. Wright, in October 1967 said: “The business community’s involvement with social problems must take a new look. In the search for solutions, they must bring into play their leadership and analytical capabilities. They must devise new and better approaches to existing public programs. Businessmen have no practical choice but to insist social problems be given the same analytical treatment that business uses in solving its own problems. ”

There were three outstanding business attributes and resources to bring to bear, the common wisdom told us: the three E’s of education, employment, environment.

G.A. Lloyd was busily telling business and academic audiences, “poor youths” were being put to work in the NASA Manned Space Center in Houston, Texas; 187 youths were recruited, paid a wage and provided training (“learning skills” was important).

Note the accepted language of the day: They were “economically-deprived boys and girls” from families of “the hard core unemployed,” and the objective was to keep them from falling into poverty as they grew up. They learned to type, run duplicating machines, operate machinery, and learn about electronic equipment.

The community-based programs that they were recruited from included: Job Fair; Junior Student Trainee Program; Job Opportunities for Youth (“JOY”); Vocational Education Program; and Back to School Youth Opportunity Campaign. Buses picked the students up, brought them to work and back home.

By the year 1967, Lloyd informed us, some 348 U.S. insurance companies had agreed to invest $1 billion to upgrade U.S. “slums” (concentrated primarily in major U.S. cities).

And more good news:

U.S. Gypsum (building materials) bought or optioned tenement buildings in Harlem and a handful in Cleveland to rehabilitate.

Smith, Kline & French (the Philadelphia pharma) rehabbed buildings in its neighborhood and sold them to the local housing authority.

Hallmark Cards in its home city of Kansas City planned over the next 16 years (that would be to 1983) to invest more than $100 million in rehabbing a “run-down” 85-acre area.

Polaroid (then based Cambridge, Massachusetts) established a “job clearing house” and invited colleagues in from more than 700 Boston-region firms to hire “underprivileged Negros” sans high school diplomas to earn that diploma on company time and expense. Companies responding supplied interviewers at the clearinghouse.

Met Life in New York City was recruiting new employees through The Urban League and social service organizations and put them through a 13-week training course. This process includes a “culture fair test” (no details provided).

Pacific Bell & Telephone dispatched African-American and Spanish-speaking recruiters out to barber shops, pool halls, beauty parlors and “where ever people meet” to identify potential new employees. Those selected were given training to develop skills; 18 of the first 20 men and 21 of the first 22 women became full-time employees.

Jobs Now (operating in Chicago) helped street gang members and those with minor criminal offenses to get local employers to look at candidates that had been on the straight-and-narrow for at least six months. High school diplomas were waived.

For his company, Humble Oil, applicants with low math and “chemical comprehension” (knowledge) were provided with lower entrance qualification testing and given training. (“They were educationally-deprived,” he noted. (In those days before self-service at gas stations the company was training minority men for jobs as service station driveway salesmen at the pump in Newark, New Jersey; Baltimore; and Los Angeles, working with local job development agencies.)

What did all of this mean for the people and communities involved?

  • They got a job – and a salary. And were trained.
    Dignity and self-respect was restored.
    They were able to buy an affordable home. With an affordable mortgage.
    There were less people on the welfare rolls.
    More minority youth were able to attend college. And become professionals.
    There was less potential for civil unrest – the riots of recent past years.
    Neighborhoods could be rehabilitated.
    It was good for business — especial for the private sector.  Major companies and small businesses would prosper.
    Entrepreneurial businesses gained a good foothold.
    These were optimum results at minimum cost, as some experts observed.

* * * * * * *

Hedley Donovan, Editor-in-Chief of Time magazine and one of the most influential of American journalists, observed that it was good business to apply the same creative radicalism used to create good, and sometimes great, products, into create “good” and “great cities.”

* * * * * * *

Importantly, a manager of public relations at giant DuPont (one of the dominant industrial firms of the era), advised that a major objective of American business should be “public service,” not just pursuit of profit. That is, public service through new or better products for the benefit of humankind…the objective is “just making money” was not sufficient, in his view.

Even in those faraway days there were many men (mostly men) who had stopped looking for work and too much unemployment concentrated in minority communities.  American corporations tried to do their part to change this situation.

This was all good news, of course, but there were changes in the wind.

* * * * * * *

As a long-time student of the Corporate-Society Dynamic, I have concerns that with the election results of November 2016, there might be backsliding in the efforts of Corporate America to be “better citizens,” and to continue to “do well by doing good” in terms of benefiting the American and global societies.

We shall see. The early signs are very encouraging. So far, this is not a revival of the actions of Richard Nixon presidency. Even though then-President Nixon encouraged adoption of the Federal Environmental Act and created the US EPA, his dog whistles to the business community helped to bring about an end to much of the above described good works of many major companies.

With the rise of right-leaning political leadership, the era of “Neutron Jack” Welch at General Electric would become the model for other CEOs. Slash and burn, chop away at R&D budgets, get rid of people, concentrate on profits and not people.  And please Wall Street. Not the many Main Streets of America.

Good news:  We have not yet seen a repeat of the rhetoric of Professor Milton Friedman as he so eloquently stated in The New York Times Magazine of September 13, 1970: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. (You can read that essay here: http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html)

In case you have not read the piece, the summation of the essay was: “…the doctrine of ‘social responsibility‘ taken seriously would extend the scope of the political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ in philosophy from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine. It differs only by professing to believe that collectivist ends can be attained without collectivist means. That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called it a ‘fundamentally subversive doctrine’ in a free society, and have said that in such a society, ‘there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.’ ”

We have come a long, long way from those positions as stated by a respected academician of his time. This is so very long ago in today’s corporate rhetoric on corporate citizenship.

What will the future hold? We’re closely watching the Trump Administration and the Congress to hear the dog whistles and see the signals perhaps being quietly sent to the business and investing communities.

With all the progress being made by “universal owners” (the all-important independent fiduciaries of our time), and wide-awake NGOs and other key stakeholders, I don’t think we’ll have a Nixon-ian and Ronald Reagan type of backsliding. Not just yet. That’s the good news.

Your thoughts?