Because I was a kid in 1970 I don’t have a personal recollection of the first Earth Day as it occurred. I do, however, recall what we at IBM were doing twenty years ago at the time of Earth Day in 1990. It may not be apparent today to people who are now at an early point in their careers or whose involvement with the environment is more recent, but Earth Day 1990 was every bit as visible and important as this coming Earth Day 2020. Environmental awareness was every bit as popular.

We at IBM were in the midst of three key events:

  • First, we had just won the World Environment Center’s 1990 Gold Medal for International Corporate Environmental Achievement. It was among the most prestigious awards available to a company regarding this subject (and it remains so today). That was significant because it really motivated our people. It showed them that opinion leaders outside of IBM would acknowledge environmental success as well as shortcomings. It showed that good environmental management makes good business sense. It helped rally our global employees to embark upon a new era of sustainability that has served IBM extremely well.
  • Second, we published IBM’s first annual corporate environmental report at that time of Earth Day 1990. This practice has become a mainstay of our global environmental management system.
  • Third, we created a brand new strategic plan for environmental leadership by IBM. It led to numerous IBM leadership initiatives throughout the 1990s and the years that followed. One was creation of a new corporate staff led by a vice president dedicated to environmental affairs. Another was an update by our CEO to IBM’s 1971 corporate policy regarding the environment. Equally as important was how that 1990 strategic plan caused IBM to institutionalize a global environmental management system that integrated environmental leadership throughout IBM’s business so that it became not just a responsibility for a staff function, but rather a systemic aspect of line business operations.

Wayne S. Balta, Vice President, Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, IBM