Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earth Hour: What will you do, huh?

Switching off one light, in one room, in one house, may seem insignificant. But doing so en masse for one hour at Earth Hour shows that when countless people switch off many lights, in many rooms, in many houses, the impact is considerable.

If this action were carried out on a regular basis, and even became a habit and way of life, the impact could be extraordinary. It could grow further if started at a young age and taught at home and part of school education.

Growing up, I was taught never to leave lights on in an empty room, not to squander water or food. Most waste was recycled in the garden compost heap. But at the time it was for financial reasons. This makes me think that affluence is at times a big source of waste.

Earth Hour is a global initiative in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Individuals, businesses, governments and communities are invited to turn out their lights for one hour on the last Saturday in March – the 31st this year -- to show their support for environmentally sustainable action.

Started in one city in 2007, Earth Hour is now a global phenomenon reaching out to at least 1.8 billion people worldwide. The WWF’s Earth Hour is the world’s largest grassroots environmental movement towards action on climate change. Every year, Earth Hour, both globally and in the UAE, grows bigger. It brings together people to celebrate the planet that unites us, and to call for change that goes beyond the hour.

Last year, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people across 135 countries switch their lights off for an hour. It also marked the start of something new -- Going Beyond The Hour -- to commit to lasting action on climate change.

This year Earth Hour has launched the challenge “I Will If You Will” on YouTube to showcase how everyone has the power to change the world we live in, bringing together the world’s biggest social video platform with the world’s largest action for the environment.

It’s simple. You go to YouTube to record what you are willing to do to save the planet or accept one of the challenges already received.

In the Emirates, the campaign is being led by EWS-WWF -- the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). EWS was founded in 2001 in association with the WWF to work with people and institutions within the UAE and the region to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable living through education and conservation initiatives. EWS is a non-governmental organization. Its mandate covers species, habitats, climate change, ecological footprint and natural resources.

Unfortunately, each year Earth Hour takes place on the same night as the Dubai World Cup, the richest horserace in the world, held at the Meydan Grandstand and Racecourse. And although non-essential lights are switched off between 8.30-9.30 p.m., the show goes on.

The brainchild of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the Dubai World Cup was inaugurated in 1996 as a tribute to his love of horses and horseracing. The total value of the prize money stands at over $35 million, with the annual invitation-only Dubai World Cup, worth $10 million.

In 2007, WWF-Australia inspired Sydney-siders to show their support for climate change action in the first ever Earth Hour event. It showed that everyone has the power to change the world they live in. In Sydney, 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turned their lights out for one hour to take a stand against climate change. In 2008, the plan was to take Earth Hour to the rest of Australia. But then the City of Toronto, Canada, signed up and it wasn’t long before 35 countries and almost 400 cities and towns were part of the event.

The invitation to “switch off” is now extended to everyone. It is scheduled on the last Saturday of every March to closely coincide with the equinox to ensure most cities are in darkness as it rolls out around the Earth.

Earth Hour’s 2012 campaign, “I Will If You Will,” digital platform was created by global ad agency Leo Burnett in collaboration with YouTube. It brings together the world’s biggest social video platform with the world’s largest action for the environment.

The “I Will If You Will” campaign uses the YouTube video platform to empower people to share a personal dare with the world by asking, “What are you willing to do to save the planet?”  It gives individuals the opportunity to inspire their friends, colleagues and neighbors to take sustainability actions not just on the hour but beyond the hour, and hopefully throughout the year.

The simple promise can range from recycling, to switching to energy efficient light bulbs, turning off the mobile charger, or signing up for paperless banking.

Nagham Akileh's challenge
Joe Akkawi's pledge
Many of my friends are taking part in the “I Will if You Will” challenge, among them: OmnicomMediaGroup MENA social media manager Nagham Akileh; publicist, columnist for @readmeae, musician, gamer and co-founder of @pazmarketing Joe Akkawi; social brand builder, digital architect, playful entrepreneur and avid gamer Jad Hindy; artist and award-winning filmmaker Ashraf Ghori; and Alexandra Tohme, who covers strategy and business in the Middle East covering digital, retail, startups, futurism, mobile and more.

Ashraf Ghori's promise
Alex Tohme's generous offer
Joe’s challenge is that if 300 people pledge to stop printing emails, he will shave his head in the shape of planet earth. Nagham and Jad want us to switch to energy efficient bulbs. Nagham will pretend she is 14 and blog that way while Jad will plant 10 trees in his garden. Ashraf will make an Earth Hour commemorative painting if we started recycling, and that is worth having. For her challenge, Alex will give up the internet for a whole week if 500 people pledge to re-use plastic containers. And if 1,000 people agree to do the same, she will donate $1,000 to Feline Friends!

My workplace, Dubai Media City -- part of TECOM Investments and a member of Dubai Holdings -- is also taking pledges. And the Phoenicia Hotel Beirut proudly committed to Earth Hour and will go beyond the hour. On Saturday it will be “Lights OFF” at the famous Beirut hotel, which asks: “What are you willing to do to save the planet? We can, we will, will you?

Phoenicia Hotel Beirut joins Earth Hour...
... as does Dubai Media City
In the UAE, participation in Earth Hour began in 2009 and the popularity of the campaign has increased year on year so that landmark after landmark across the emirates switched off lights and residential areas plunged into darkness for Earth Hour. In 2011, all seven emirates saw official participation from key landmarks including; Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Burj Khalifa, Al Qasba and Fujairah Fort. I also noticed a couple of earlier this week Earth Hour advertising panels going up on Jumeirah Beach Road as part of the campaign.

Earth Hour has done much to raise awareness of sustainability issues. But there’s more to it than switching off lights for one hour once a year. It’s all about giving people a voice and working together to create a better future. It’s also about educating children at home and at school about environmental issues and making it a way of life for them.

Pocoyo will plant 10,000 trees
Another excellent initiative this year is the Fun Stuff section on Earth Hour’s site. It’s something parents and schools can participate in with their children.

Teaching children about recycling
For example, there is a Pocoyo Earth Hour recycling game. If 10,000 people play the recycling game, Pocoyo will plant 10,000 trees. It’s a great way to get involved and teach kids about recycling.

Don’t forget to switch off your lights from 8.30 to 9.30 p.m. on Saturday. And, if you haven’t already, take the Earth Hour challenge and tell us what “you will if we will.”

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