How to do good from home on Earth Day

With social distancing keeping us apart, there are ways to “virtual volunteer” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and help our wider communities.

By Bianca Tamura — April 22, 2020

Beach cleanup? It’s out this year. So are tree plantings and other events where everyone gathers to care for the environment. But there are still ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and our communities even though in-person options are limited. The digital landscape offers accessible opportunities for everyone to help their communities and the planet — from home. 

“The need for all of us to come together and give back as one global community has never been greater,” says Stephanie Dismore, general manager and managing director of the North America market at HP. “In the time of social-distancing, it’s about being resourceful and finding ways — big or small — to help others virtually.”

This year, as we face an unprecedented global health crisis, showing solidarity with the planet and kindness to each other as a collective is more important than ever before.  The Earth Day organization announced they will celebrate digitally with 24 hours of action encouraging people to pressure their elected representatives, promote green spaces in their communities, and educate themselves with teach-ins from scientists. Donating when and where we can (for example the CDC has raised over $46.5M so far to combat COVID-19 and help fund medical supplies, increase lab capacity, and support vulnerable communities), and importantly, we can also donate our time and our expertise, whatever that may be, while staying safely at home. 

“That may mean calling to check on a neighbor or friend, or finding a way to support a local small business, or helping to bring awareness to organizations that are providing essential services and making a difference during this pandemic,” Dismore says.

Here are six ways you can make a difference with “virtual volunteering” from home.

Take sustainable action at home

This year’s Earth Day theme is climate action, a topic that has inspired youth around the world to protest for a greener future. In an indirect way, that future is even clearer as the coronavirus lockdown has reduced air pollution by over 50% in major cities. To keep the momentum going, we can continue to move towards decreasing carbon emissions by following the 50 actions that the WWF provided to fight against this cause even after the lockdown. And while we’re home, the WWF advises slashing your energy use and CO2 emissions by turning off lights if you’re not using them and by switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs.  

Reducing food waste can also have a big impact. Some 40% of the US food supply is thrown out every year, the equivalent of $1,600 worth of produce per family, and rotting food in landfills gives off methane gas, which is at least 28 times more harmful than CO2. Reduce your household’s food waste with an audit, giving everyone insight into how much material is thrown out vs. recycled, and the types of trash your family produces most.

“In the time of social-distancing, it’s about being resourceful and finding ways — big or small — to help others virtually.”

— Stephanie Dismore, general manager and managing director of the North America market at HP

We might not be able to plant trees outside together, but we can still help reverse the effects of climate change behind our computers. Germany-based Ecosia is a carbon negative search engine that donates 80% of its surplus revenue to planting trees around the world — one search removes roughly 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of CO2. Think Google, but green. 

Distance learning is a great opportunity to teach kids more about the environment, with free educational content from HP partners: WWF includes interactive courses, like how to understand climate change, while National Geographic gives kids the opportunity to join a Nat Geo explorer in a virtual field trip during live broadcasts of their Explorer Classroom

Use your professional skills for good

VolunteerMatch recognizes the need for volunteers, even if they are not in person. It specifically offers a virtual volunteer section that lets organizations and individuals post opportunities in a range of areas like health and medicinecommunity building, and conservation. Many of these job posts include putting your professional skills to work — like writing content for mental health projects or using computer skills to help communications for the American Red Cross. 

TechSoup, meanwhile, looks for the tech-savvy to write educational blog posts for their website on topics like configuring Zoom meetings, adopting cloud storage, and data encryption. TechSoup also needs experts to answer tech questions in forums, ranging from topics about databases and software to design and web building. 

Helping the housebound

Around 9 millions senior Americans struggle with hunger and isolation. The COVID-19 crisis has only increased the demand for nutritious meals — and people to deliver them. Meals on Wheels is known for bringing warm meals to senior citizens in the communities they serve, but social distancing has made this difficult. The group is shifting many of their programs to asking volunteers to check in on at-risk seniors by phone.

How to volunteer online on Earth Day

Henry Cunningham

Technology bridges the gap for the demand in volunteering this Earth Day.

Eldercare’s Lifetime Connections Without Walls offers opportunities for volunteers to connect with senior adults by teaching classes on creative and educational topics over the phone. It’s a flexible program ranging from weekly to monthly classes directly from your home. You can also become an administrative volunteer, which includes working with data entry, filing, and answering phones. 

Calling all language experts

Translators Without Borders is a non-profit organization that diminishes language barriers for humanitarian crisis responses. It connects non-profit organizations with language professionals around the world to translate critical health and human rights information in all local languages. It’s playing a major role in informing the public about health-related information for COVID-19. Their global response to the virus states, “People urgently need access to accurate information in a language and format they understand to make well-informed decisions during this pandemic.”

As for learning opportunities, the International Rescue Committee launched a story time initiative for volunteers to video themselves reading children’s books such as The Snowy Day, The Day the Crayons Quit, and A Chair for my Mother  in French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic, and Urdu for families that don’t have access to them at home. The TED nonprofit is looking for translators who can utilize their bilingual skills to subtitle their TED Talks to make their innovative ideas accessible for anyone that wants to listen without language barriers.  

Museum enthusiasts to make a difference  

The Smithsonian Institution is the biggest museum, education, and research complex in the world. Since they are not accepting visitors, those that love to spend time browsing ancient artifacts can still do so by donating their time transcribing online. They are looking for history buffs to transcribe cultural documents, including bureau records, diaries, photo albums, and specimen labels. Volunteers would contribute to public knowledge and researchers by making Smithsonian collections easily accessible and text-searchable online. 

Nonprofits are also looking for attentive and organized individuals to produce oral transcripts.The Multicultural History Society of Ontario needs volunteers to help with their Canadian archives, which include migration, ethnic, and Indigenous histories. Volunteers would have to transcribe oral history interviews as well as translate non-English interviews. 

Coach the youth 

Students across the country are being impacted by a lack of educational resources since schools shut down. Many of them struggle with the shift to learning at home instead of the classroom. Upchieve is a free platform where volunteers can help low-income high school students by coaching them in math, no degree or tutoring experience required.

If math is not your strong suit, you can mentor high school students through ScholarMatch and become a College Coach. Coaches hold one-on-one sessions with underserved students who are the first in their family to attend college, helping guide their application process. They also guide and support students through the process of landing that first post-college internship or job. 

Although our world has shifted, the needs of many have only grown this year. Technology can help bridge the gap until we are back together in person again.

“The value of volunteerism is truly immeasurable.” Dismore says. “In addition to the endless benefits to our communities, volunteerism does wonders for the soul, for business, and for our future.” 


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