Over the last 25 years, EarthShare has raised more than $300 million for hundreds of environmental groups across the U.S. -- groups that build support for clean energy, protect our cherished natural places, fight for safe products for our families, and much more. And we do it by building bridges between these member groups and people like you; people who decided they wanted to make a commitment to the environment by donating a small portion of their paycheck to our member charities, joining a volunteer event to clean up local parks, or pushing for sustainable changes at their workplace.
As EarthShare approaches its 25th anniversary, we asked founder Earl Blauner, Kal Stein (EarthShare’s President & CEO from '88-'15), and Board Chair and Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects [Georgia Association] Marci Reed to share their reflections on this milestone.
What inspired your interest in conservation/environmental issues?
Kalman Stein: First, I had some exposure to chemical plants as a consultant and these were very alarming. Second, I worked for the Strong Foundation, which makes small grants to environmental organizations and learned a lot about what was going wrong with the environment through the grant making process.
Marci Reed: As a child, I was passionate about animals. Inspired by an article in Ranger Rick magazine I wrote to my Congressman encouraging him to support legislation outlawing steel jaw bear traps. As an adult, when my career turned to commercial real estate, I was interested in the impacts of sustainable design and development practices and how those can positively impact the environment.
Earl Blauner: It goes back to my youth as Boy Scout with a troop in Los Angeles where I grew up. We had an old four-wheel drive Navy surplus truck that got us to camp sites at the edge of true California wilderness, which we explored. That led me to set a goal to someday work for an environmental organization and that came to pass many years later when I went to work for Sierra Club, coordinating their volunteer legal program.
What was your role in the founding of EarthShare?
EB: I wrote a proposal in mid-1988 for a new Environmental Federation of America (EFA), and its two champions -- Rick Sutherland and Marty Rosen of Trust for Public Land -- rallied their colleagues at other leading organizations to commit to EFA. Representatives of 16 organizations met at the Washington office of the National Wildlife Federation and EFA was born. I feel so fortunate for having been a part of its formation, and proud of the support it has provided to the environmental movement.
KS: EarthShare was based on the federation model that was started in California and Washington. I had the privilege of being the executive director of the California federation which had been started by Earl Blauner, who was Counsel at the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) in San Francisco. When the rules for the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) changed in 1987 and created a role for national federations, Earl organized 18 organizations that had been in the CFC to help create the Environmental Federation of America (EFA). Earl managed the process of establishing the organization, qualifying it for the CFC, and starting operations, and I joined as Executive Director.
How has the environmental movement changed since EarthShare’s inception?
KS: Sadly, not that much. The slow growth in membership and donations to environmental organizations seems to indicate that we have failed to communicate the urgency of the issues and the service and value of supporting the environment. The movement has also not diversified that much and has much to accomplish in that area. Meanwhile, there are critical issues that are getting much worse. I truly believe we are in a race to save the future habitability of the planet, and that we are falling behind.
MR: It’s gotten more sophisticated and businesslike, which is good, except sometimes it’s harder to attract outright, no-strings-attached philanthropic support.
What environmental issue is closest to your heart?
KS: It’s very hard to pick one given that there are many areas of concern. But my heart is always with rivers. I think they are beautiful, fascinating, and absolutely critical to environmental health. Some of my happiest days on the planet have been spent on rivers and I would love to do that more. Tied to that is a love of our amazing national parks, they are the jewels of America and I like to visit them as often as possible.
MR: For me it's the link between sustainable design and development practices with healthy communities and people.
EB: It remains land and wilderness conservation, but with the recognition that all environmental issues are connected and all fronts need to be pursued.
What makes EarthShare unique among environmental organizations?
KS: EarthShare federations represent the full breadth and depth of the environmental and conservation community, and we have expertise in working with employers and in communicating the value of supporting the environment.
MR: The fact that it represents such respected and diverse charities and corporate partners. There is something for everyone under the EarthShare umbrella and we are playing a unique role in connecting companies with the charities their employees want to support.
EB: As an umbrella organization, it has served to help unite the environmental movement. While its purpose is primarily fundraising, it has been a forum for staff from many different organizations to get to know one another and to show a unified front to the public.
What have you learned from serving as President & CEO (Kal) and Board Chair (Marci)?
KS: That’s actually a hard question. You have to learn a lot to last 24 years. So I’ll fall back on Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
MR: The EarthShare network represents a complex mix of interests. Even though they have the same big picture at heart we are not always aligned and it takes sensitivity, practicality, business savvy and good humor to navigate the rough waters. We’ve come a long way and there is a lot more to do but I hope I am leaving the organization in a good place for the next Board Chair!
What’s a favorite memory you have from your time at EarthShare?
KS: There are a lot, most importantly the friendship and collegiality of all the staff, board members, and member reps over the years has been invaluable and wonderful. Helping start EarthShare Australia was really cool: I got to travel all over the country for three weeks and stayed with local folks in all the major cities to help organize and publicize the effort (which was sadly not sustainable). Also, many years ago we filmed a public service ad (PSA) in Yellowstone and the Tetons and had back country access, and that was a wonderful privilege.
MR: My first board meeting. I felt so awed to be in the company of the national member groups. I was from a relatively small organization with only a regional impact; I felt like I had “arrived” and everyone was really welcoming, even the new folks that were still a little confused about the issues at the national level.
EB: I have a flow of memories of the joy that came from gaining access to new campaigns and the resulting flow of financial support each year to member organizations.
Why should someone donate to EarthShare?
KS: Because the environment needs help in so many ways.
MR: EarthShare represents the most respected environmental network in this country and the world, and we make sure the most reputable and effective organizations put your dollars to work for all of us.
EB: It is a powerful way to make a statement about caring for the well-being of the planet, including humans. The broad range of organizations supported get practical results.
Congratulations and thank you to all the wonderful supporters and workplace partners who have helped to keep EarthShare’s mission alive and thriving for 25 years – we couldn’t have done it without you!