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Green your community, change the world! Reflections on UN World Environment Day 2012

The UNA-GB team celebrated UN World Environment Day in full force on Tuesday! We spent the morning at John Hancock Financial’s 601 Congress St. offices recognizing them on their LEED platinum certification and spreading the word about the UN Environment Programme’s transformative work locally and globally.  We then headed to Carson Beach and Dorchester Shores Reservation for a spirited beach clean-up. Our event began at John Hancock’s atrium where Jim Boyle, President, kicked off the speaking program. He shared how the 40th anniversary of WED fittingly coincided with the 150th anniversary of John Hancock and acknowledged this year’s WED theme, “Green Economy: Does It Include You?”  He presented how John Hancock has long recognized the important role they must play in establishing a green economy by having not only respect for our planet but also concern for future generations. They have implemented many environmental initiatives, use resources wisely, and engage in sustainable investing. Jim Boyle saluted the work that the UN has undertaken globally in addressing this critical issue and further recognized UNA-GB for translating global causes into local action.  He then passed the microphone to Richard Golob, the President of the Board at UNA-GB and a committed member of the corporate environmental community. Richard remarked that although Tuesday marked four decades of the important work that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has done, there is much more progress to be made. The UN understands that establishing a green economy is the pathway to a healthier environment and Richard hoped that our event would encourage other corporations and all of us as global citizens to engage collectively in tackling environmental issues. Richard also echoed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for “governments, businesses and all members of society to make the holistic choices that will ensure a sustainable future”. As an example of UNA-GB’s holistic approach, Richard talked about our Model UN programs through which middle to high school students come together to discuss and learn about world issues including clean water, sustainable development, and environmental stewardship.  He noted that Model UN is a viable solution to fill an educational gap. MUN reaches 3,000 students in greater Boston.


Although Tuesday’s event had a corporate emphasis, Richard and the UNA-GB underscored the importance of a collective effort from corporations, government, and citizens to take concrete steps towards real change. Bobbi Kates-Garnick, State Undersecretary for Energy, spoke on behalf of the Patrick administration and Richard K. Sullivan about environmental leadership in Boston. We learned that Massachusetts is the #1 state in energy efficiency and that the state hopes to claim 100 green communities by the end of the summer. She stressed Massachusetts’ commitment to a green economy, through clean energy advancements, and environmental education, such as Model UN programming.

 Next, Brian Glascock, Director of the Environment Department, City of Boston added to Bobbi’s comments recognizing 100 LEED buildings in Boston and explaining green initiatives that Menino’s and his administration have taken on. Boston’s growing tree canopy is an example. He celebrated Boston as an international city and cited this as even more reason to take action and step up to our environmental responsibilities.

Finally, Jennifer Taranto of U.S. Green Building Council’s Massachusetts Chapter presented John Hancock Financial with a plaque officiating their platinum achievement and mentioned their 3 other gold-certified buildings in Back Bay. Afterwards guests were welcome to peruse the green expo that John Hancock Financial hosted which included vendors who focused on recycling, composting, energy, and organic food.

UNA-GB Executive Director Lena is getting in on the action!

After a quick wardrobe change into rain-gear, UNA-GB staff and John Hancock employees along with Vivian from the Boston Harbor Association ventured to Carson Beach in South Boston to clean garbage alongside the beach and walkway. In an hour we made quite an impact, reaching all the way to Dorchester Shores Reservation and returning with 10 bags filled with litter.

How did you celebrate World Environment Day yesterday? What steps will you take to support sustainability at global and local levels? WED may be just one day but supporting our environment is a daily commitment. Not only was it a fantastic way to strengthen our relationships with John Hancock and the BHA but also created opportunities of bonding among our staff and interns. And of course, we brightened up the beach area and helped our environment with a simple, concrete step.  Changing the world really is up to each of us!

-Jessica P

Celebrating World Environment Day with a Boston Corporate LEEDer

Tomorrow, June 5, UNA-GB is teaming up with John Hancock Financial to celebrate the 40th anniversary of United Nations World Environment Day and its theme, “Green Economy: Does it include you?”

The annual World Environment Day was created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 as a way to raise awareness about environmental issues. UNEP focuses on several areas ranging from environmental governance to disasters, conflicts, and climate change, and encourages global citizens to care for our environment in order to improve our quality of life. World Environment Day serves to personalize environmental issues and urge civil society to realize that it is our responsibility to take action. Not only is WED a celebration but it is also an opportunity to come together and initiate change in support of sustainable lifestyles and development.

More specifically, this year WED will hone in on issues of green economies- economies that are low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive. UNEP suggests that because  a green economy is socially inclusive that means that we as global citizens are integral in making a change, that it is not only up to businesses and policy-makers; this is where the bulk of this year’s theme comes into play.

These questions arise just as the UN is gearing up for the Rio+20 conference, taking place June 20-22. The conference marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledges World Environment Day as the perfect opportunity to prepare for Rio+20 and to reflect on how we fit into green economies (read his official statement here).  World leaders and thousands of participants from governments, NGOs, and the private sector will convene  to discuss “priority areas” including green economy and its role in poverty eradication. For more information on this topic, check out Rio+20’s green economy resource and this Guardian article on green jobs and how they can help lift workers out of poverty. And to get involved take a look at Rio’s page on engagement.

UNA-USA has sprung into action by responding to efforts to ban UN’s Agenda 21 and encouraging members to let their voices be heard and write letters to editors. Additionally, the UN Foundation has established Rio+Social and the 6 Minute Speech project as a way to connect to the event through social media- an easy way to get involved! Both organizations are hosting a live web conference on June 22 @ 1 PM EST to get an insider’s look at Rio+20’s sessions (RSVP here).

With all of those options there are still more opportunities to help! UNEP challenges us all to join in the WED  and Rio+20 action by not only asking ourselves how we can be included in promoting sustainable development but also by simply organizing a neighborhood clean-up, planting a tree, or even walking to work.  More than 8,400 WED activities, including Tuesday’s program at John Hancock, have been registered at UNEP’s global 2012 WED website.

This year John Hancock Financial’s headquarter offices at 601 Congress Street in downtown Boston became the first existing building in New England to become LEED certified at the platinum level by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) At UNA-GB’s event, John Hancock Financial will be recognized for its environmental commitment and leadership. Our hope is to encourage other corporations in the Boston area and beyond to take similar steps such as striving for the greener rankings as John Hancock did or by supporting environmental efforts elsewhere in their company or surrounding communities.

Although the event focuses on corporate action, we must not forget this year’s WED theme; does the green economy include you? We should ask ourselves what we can do to be more involved in environmental issues. UNA-GB will be volunteering with the Boston Harbor Association on Tuesday by cleaning a park near John Hancock at 12:30pm.

UNA-GB is also deeply committed to educating the next generation of global citizens about environmental sustainability beyond just World Environment Day – through our Model UN program this past year, more than 600 students have debated environmental topics, including clean water, green building and sustainable development.

What will you do to celebrate World Environment Day? What actions will you take to support the environment on June 5? And on June 6th and beyond? A great first step is to join us for World Environment Day on Tuesday. Hope to see you there! You can also check out how else you can support the planet with 50 Ways to Help.

Boston Event details recap:
Tuesday, June 5
Event at John Hancock Financial, 601 Congress Street
10:15-10:45 AM- Tour of John Hancock’s new LEED certified building
11:00-11:30 AM- Brief speaking engagement with UNA-GB Board President Richard Golob and State/city environmental officials.
12:00 pm- John Hancock vendor fair
12:30-1:30 PM- Park clean-up with Boston Harbor Association (To participate in the clean-up, email info@unagb.org your name!).

-Jessica P

Realizing MLK’s Dream This Summer

This summer, UNA-GB had the exciting opportunity to partner with John Hancock’s MLK Summer Scholars Program. The goal of the project is to employ Boston youth in various non-profits throughout the city for the summer, allowing them to gain professional office experience. UNA-GB was lucky enough to be one of the selected non-profits, and we employed a rising junior from Boston Latin Academy, Bianca Diaz, to be our Summer Scholar.

Along with working in a professional office throughout the summer, the Scholars attended workshops every Friday at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Each week, the workshop had a different theme, ranging from what to do with your summer earnings to physical fitness, from personal branding to social responsibility.  I was fortunate enough represent UNA-GB as a mentor for a small group of MLK Scholars during the Friday workshops. In our group discussion, the Scholars talked about how to improve the education system in the city of Boston, how to manage their student loans after they graduate from college, and how they feel about their neighborhoods.

At every workshop, the Scholars heard from a distinguished member of the Boston Community, who represented the theme of that week’s workshop. One of the speakers was Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who shared her journey from growing up in the urban environment of Chicago where her mother lived paycheck to paycheck to make sure she attended the best school in the city to entering the Boston political arena. The Scholars were extraordinarily impressed with her candor and her passion for the city of Boston, and her desire to see each one of the Scholars and all of Boston’s youth succeed.

At the end of the 7 week session, the Scholars participated in a celebration of their achievements, and their gifts. Many of scholars put on performances of their own forms of personal expression, through rap, dance, song, and poetry. One particularly inspiring young woman, who interned at Write Boston, shared her story about growing up in Afghanistan and how, due to the violence and turmoil, her family had to flee to the Russian Federation, and eventually immigrated to Boston. She challenged the group of over 600 Scholars to join advocacy efforts to build a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

Overall, the MLK Summer Scholar experience enabled the Scholars to gain invaluable insights into the professional world, while serving the community.  I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to share in the Scholars journey, and UNA-GB and I feel privileged to have been a part of the program.  We look forward to working with more students in the future!

Check out a video about the program below and learn more on their website. 

-Rebecca Corcoran, Model UN Coordinator

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