Amid a flurry of media and with Soca and African beats playing in the background, Conservation International (CI), Harrison Ford, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, and a slew of top corporate executives joined forces to announce their efforts in the formation of "Team Earth" in Greeley Square, New York City Monday.
As a "global sustainability movement" that'll include just about everyone - from educators to scientists to businesses to non-profits and little kids - Team Earth's first campaign centers on tackling deforestation.
Resonating with the campaign theme, a life-size origami forest - complete with colorful trees and animals made out of paper - served as a backdrop for the speakers.
After Peter Seligmann (co-founder, Chairman and CEO of CI) spoke about different societal sectors coming together, Harrison Ford, a long-standing member of CI and the headliner of the event, took the podium.
"We've had many small victories, but nothing of the scale we need," said Ford. "Team Earth is different...[it's] a Team that can reach new audiences."
He urged the audience to commit to the event's main call to action: to join the movement by e-signing a petition for forest protection. Team Earth is hoping to gather one million signatures to bring with them to the Copenhagen climate negotiations this December.
Following Ford's speech, it was the corporate executives' turn to each speak briefly. Rob Walton (Chairman of Walmart/Chairman of CI's Executive Committee and Board), Gary Loveman (CEO of Harrah's Entertainment), Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), and H. Fisk Johnson (CEO/Chairman SC Johnson) all spoke about their companies' commitment to green efforts and the balance between profitability and eco-conscience.
Loveman of Harrah's highlighted how in his company with 85,000 employees, everyone involved in the enterprise is committed to green efforts, from recycling to reusing cooking oil to power on-site company vehicles.
Other CEOs chimed in about their business philosophy. "Companies that balance profitability [with a] social conscience are the ones that are going to town," said Schultz of Starbucks. "Starbucks is based on consumer acceptance."
Johnson of SC Johnson further elaborated on the relationship between consumers and businesses. "We are facing a crisis of consumption," said Johnson. "We can't get where we are if business acts alone; all of us need to work."
The efforts of the companies present to lessen their ecological footprint, as well as their commitment to financially back environmental campaigns, are praiseworthy. However, the CEOs at the event did not directly address the campaign of the hour: ending deforestation.
Moreover, perhaps this wasn't the time or space, but the companies chose to highlight current environmentally friendly practices that put them ahead of the game (with things they ought to be doing from the beginning like recycling and lessening energy consumption) rather than focusing on real future efforts to further greenify their companies.
After the executives spoke, the focus temporarily turned to acknowledging the legions of T-shirted youth present. Ann Friedman, an educator and board member of CI, then gave a spiel about how students and classrooms can get involved in the environmental discussion through ePals and Team Earth, before the media event cycled back into a more in-depth discussion of deforestation.
Russell Mittermeier, President of CI, grimly cited the statistic that the destruction of forested areas accounts for 17% of global carbon emissions. When coupled with land use, the figure jumps to 33%. After he cited these figures, kids and origami master Robert Lang ran onstage (in sync with a functioning smoke machine) to rip and tear down parts of the origami forest in theatrical fashion.
After things calmed down a bit, President Jagdeo of Guyana finally got the opportunity to step forward and talk about his country's efforts at stopping deforestation, despite the fact that the country is highly forested. He echoed the theme that was rampant throughout the day: that economic development can go hand-in-hand with (forest) conservation and sustainability efforts.
"[Deforestation] has not happened out of malice or ignorance, but because most of the world's forested nations have no alternative but to generate income by cutting their forest," explained President Jagdeo.
Thus, President Jagdeo's call was for the UN General Assembly, which is meeting this week, to economically support countries (like Guyana) that aren't cutting down their forests since such forests naturally sequester carbon. With financial support, President Jadgeo specifically believes that Guyana can then invest in low-carbon development projects while protecting the country's forests.
Let's be clear: while all the parties present at this event made their commitment to being part of Team Earth and protecting forests known, I hope they will continue to improve the state of the environment as they continue to seek economic growth.