Wearing bright green t-shirts, a group of more than 30 volunteers descended on the banks of the Hackensack River at Laurel Hill County Park on April 20 to celebrate Earth Day by cleaning up a small piece of the planet.
Staff from Secaucus-based corporate sponsor Panasonic North America came to the park at the southern tip of town to join students from Secaucus Middle School in the clean-up effort.
Thinking globally, acting locally
Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has gradually become a global holiday meant to highlight the critical importance of the environment.
Pausing for a moment with trash bag in hand, Panasonic North America chief operating officer Joe Taylor offered some planet-wide perspective about the local environmental initiative.
“It’s become very politically correct in America to be a ‘green’ company,” he said. “But we’ve been doing this a long time. We have 46 factories in China, a country that doesn’t really have any environmental rules. We follow our own standards of environmental protection that are higher that the U.S. standards. All of you coming out here today to help our own community clean up is a really cool thing to do.”
The volunteers assembled for the clean-up at the Hackensack Riverkeeper’s paddling center before picking up the assorted detritus in the area. Inside the center, Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan affirmed Taylor’s remarks.
“A motto of the environmental community bears repeating around Earth Day: think globally, but act locally,” he said. “The Waterkeeper Alliance that our organization is a member of now has 157 separate member groups around the world. Each individual group deals with their own geographic scope, and each group has to prove that it has community support.”
Sheehan also suggested that contrary to certain conventional wisdom, community support can also come from corporations.
“It’s extremely important that we reach out and become partners with our corporate citizens,” he said. “For too many years, a lot of environmental groups have been guilty of pointing fingers at corporations and saying that they are the problem. My personal opinion is that a lot of these companies are the ones that have the resources to actually make a change. Many of these companies also have an environmental ethic that’s part of their work ethic. It’s very important that the public sees that organizations like ours can work side by side with our corporate citizens. We’re not in business to put companies out of business. We’re in business to help companies do business in a better, greener way.”
Local students step up to help clean up
The students from Secaucus Middle School present at the clean-up were more than willing to get down to business.
Eighth grader Kelsey Snedeker took time out from reporting on the day’s events for the school’s Kid Witness News program to comment on what she saw around her.
“It’s nice to know that we can help and be active in our community,” she said. “Helping the environment happens slowly but surely. When a lot of people contribute, you have a bigger outcome.”
Kelsey’s classmate Gerard Marra spoke about how he felt about being part of the outcome.
“You know that you’re doing something for good,” he said. “Some people realize that stuff like this helps, but some people don’t. People follow people. If you get one person to do it, they’ll tell someone else about it.”
One Panasonic employee who came to help was Amanda McNally. She felt that although environmental issues such as climate change may seem beyond the scope of individual effort, it is precisely this type of work that leads to long-term positive change.
“The dedicated few always come out to events like this,” she said. “If everybody did their own part in clean-ups such as this in their own neighborhoods and parks, we can make an even bigger difference.”
Veteran environmentalist Sheehan looked towards future environmental clean-up efforts with increased community involvement in mind.
“This is when people really start to take ownership of their own environment,” he said. “If you get enough people working on the same page, it’s almost unstoppable.”
Mark J. Bonamo can be reached at email@example.com.