THE BLOG
04/21/2014 10:47 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Affluence. Effluence. Influence.

The fact that you are reading this article on a screen instead of paper tells us something about how much the world has changed since the first Earth Day in 1970.

Back then this writing would have been published in a newspaper. The paper would have come from a tree, hauled to a mill, been pulverized and bleached, shipped to a printing press, and trucked to a newsstand or delivered to your house.

Perhaps after 20 minutes -- with two minutes spent reading this column -- you would have tossed the paper in the trash, waiting for a truck to take it to the landfill.

Where it would still sit today.

Electrons are not without environmental costs, but from a global footprint perspective, they clearly step more lightly upon our forests, rivers and fields than did many of their physical forebears.

At ACT, one of our six formal values is "Sustainability." What does sustainability have to do with assessment, and assessment with Earth Day?

We believe that just as young people will sustain our civilization into the next generation, every step we take today helps determine whether our affluence will wind up burying us in our effluence -- so it's up to each of us to use our INFLUENCE.

Little things count. In the last few years at ACT, we've set "two-sided" as the default on our printers. Our cafeteria uses compostable plates, cups and napkins. We've replaced non-native plants that required lots of water with indigenous plantings that can survive Iowa winters and Iowa summers.

On a larger scale, like the newspapers that began this column, we're carefully migrating from paper-and-pencil to digital alternatives. As a result, millions of test booklets, answer sheets and score reports that were printed this year won't be printed in just a few years to come.

To paraphrase the late Senator Everett Dirksen, "A million sheets here and a million sheets there, and pretty soon you're talking about real paper."

At ACT, we are fortunate to be located on the edge of a forest. In February, Audubon International designated our headquarters as a "Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary." We were the 74th property in the world to gain such recognition for businesses and organizations.

While we are proud, sustainability is not an award to stick on your mantel. Organizations that do more with less are, by definition, more efficient and thus more likely to enhance their margins and advance their missions.

Mid-century, the world will be looking back at Earth Day 2014. I hope they say nice things about us, but I KNOW the organizations most likely to survive to see tomorrow are those that best practice sustainability today.

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Jon Whitmore is CEO of ACT, a global nonprofit organization whose mission is "Helping people achieve education and workplace success."