Earth Day 2020: An Awakening for Climate Change

Pamela Gill Alabaster
Contributing Writer

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we celebrate the progress we have made over the last half century, while recognizing the work that must still be done to reduce the ongoing impact we have on our planet. COVID-19, in particular, has forced us to reexamine the interdependent relationship between people and nature.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our daily lives in so many ways; in addition to the tragic loss of life, the virus has significantly disrupted society and the global economy. And while the impacts to human life have been unimaginable, there have also been corresponding temporary benefits to our natural world.

Global shelter-in-place mandates have resulted in widely reported climate benefits and significantly cleaner air. As industries, transportation networks, and businesses have slowed or shut down, there has been a dramatic drop in carbon emissions. Air pollution levels in China, New York, Spain, and the UK are meaningfully lower. From clearer water in Venice to blue skies in Beijing, our environment is experiencing positive change as a result of our response to the outbreak. These environmental benefits illuminate the trade-offs we face every day between our human wants and needs and the finite capacity of the planet to satisfy them.

More than 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day celebration fifty years ago, which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of federal laws intended to protect our air, water, and endangered species. Today, Earth Day is celebrated around the world. This year’s theme, climate action, provides us the opportunity to think about how these pro-climate behaviors and low-carbon lifestyles might continue post crisis.

For the beauty and personal care industry, climate action is central to environmental, social, and governance strategies. Today, 15 companies have committed to science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (scope I, II, II) aligned with the Paris Agreement. These companies include: Beiersdorf, Colgate Palmolive, Croda, Firmenich, Givaudan, Henkel, International Flavors and Fragrance (IFF), Kao Corporation, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Reckitt Benckiser, Symrise, Takasago, The Clorox Company, The Estée Lauder Companies, and Unilever.

Our industry recognizes the immediate and potential long-term impacts of climate change – its effect on our planet and the well-being of society. We are committed to improving energy efficiency along the entire value chain, shifting towards renewable energy sources, and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. [Learn more from the industry’s 2019 Sustainability Report, Creating a More Beautiful World.]

Climate change is a tragedy of the global commons. However, just as COVID-19 has brought together people from around the world in solidarity to fight a common problem, so could we imagine a global response to climate change. We have seen the difference communities can make when they look out for one another and cooperate against a common enemy. Let’s learn from this crisis and apply social solidarity to address climate change for the future of our planet.

Pamela Alabaster serves as chief marketing and communications officer for Centric Brands and has been recognized by TriplePundit and Forbes as among the top women in sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility. Prior to her role at Centric Brands, Alabaster worked for the beauty industry for more than 25 years.