05/16/2012 02:53 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2012

An Interfaith Earth Day Celebration in Roanoke

One of the Earth Day events that I was invited to participate in was an Interfaith Conference on Care of Creation in Roanoke, Va. In the brochure that was prepared for the event, the organizers articulated their vision in the following way: "Conscious of the opportunities afforded by our region being located among the headwaters of three rivers, we are working proactively to engage our communities in preserving, restoring and enhancing both our physical environment and our human understanding of how to live safely, healthily, prosperously and peacefully within and as a part of it."

After escaping the usual tangled Friday afternoon congestion of Washington, we were treated to the glow of the slow late afternoon and evening sun as it turned the western slope of the Shenandoah Mountains to different blue-green shades. Inside and around the beltway, one can very easily forget the beauty that the landscape holds and the fertility that is in evidence across the numerous farms and fields that are clearly visible driving south along interstate highway 81. The constant flow of large trucks on this north-south thruway can very easily cause one to miss the marvelous sights and hints of springtime that are spread across these rolling hills.

The conference workshops gave a clear indication of how the organizers planned to wrestle their vision to the ground and make the necessary connections to the ordinary activities and issues that demand daily attention. "Averting Sickness and Disease by Creative Engagement with Environment & Culture" was the description for a session that reminded all about the numerous ways that individuals and communities are and must be the primary actors when it comes to promoting wellness and safeguarding wellbeing. Too often we assume that hospitals, doctors, nurses and pharmaceutical companies are responsible for these priorities and have the ability to protect us and our communities when threatened by sickness and disease.

Ministry to the whole person, intellect, body and spirit was a call to a vision of ministry in the faith communities that takes seriously the relationship between the different dimensions of our personalities with the customs, traditions of our culture and the local environments and bio regions where we live. A session on nourishing health finally sought to explore how healthy cooking and appropriate eating supports and promotes both health and healing.

My contribution to the event was to share the good news about how faith communities have been collaborating for 40 years to engage private corporations about their responsibilities to the local communities and numerous stakeholders across the world that the success of their business model relies on every day. While their attention to the injustices like that apartheid, child labor and cooperation with oppressive regimes and governments is well known, similar persistence and strategies have been focused on the environment, infant formula and health. The histories of these engagements are available on the website of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Closer to home the responsibilities of corporations, large and small, are now being more closely examined from a number of perspectives. The focus of the conference in Roanoke was an invitation for all of us to identify the numerous actors, institutions and organizations that influence and impact the quality of life, especially wellness and health, in our communities. The activities of corporations from the point of view of the goods and services they provide as well as the impact of their business model on the local communities especially the environment deserve much more scrutiny and evaluation.

We have long been aware of the impact that toxics pollutants, processes and chemicals have on the quality of the air, water and land. We have slowly taken steps enact laws and regulations to eliminate the most egregious of these behaviors. We continue to struggle with the implementation of many of these rules. Local communities are often confronted with proposals that suggest we sacrifice these priorities for the sake of jobs, development or progress. We can have both.

The Interfaith Conference on Care of Creation provides a model whereby faith communities anywhere can collaborate in convening conversations about how to promote health and wellbeing in their local communities. They are also well positioned through collaboration with their regional and national networks and affiliations, that likely contain shareholders in corporations, to bring corporations to the table for this important conversation.

The long term perspective that is often lacking in the short term profit-driven model that continues to dominate Wall Street is a central priority for faith communities that resonate with the vision of the organizers of the Roanoke conference. These and similar local and regional initiatives can also provide corporations with the opportunity demonstrate the depth of their commitments to responsible corporate citizenship.