After eight years this year’s Earth Hour is my last as CEO. It has been an amazing journey filled with incredible highs, many challenges and best of all, some extraordinary people. My final official day at Earth Hour Global will be August 31st. In the mean time I thought I would share some memories from the last eight years.
2007 – This was the very first Earth Hour and one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had, standing by Sydney Harbour watching this beautiful city go dark and realising that there were millions of people out there who shared our desire for change. But more than this, as the days got closer to Earth Hour, it was the diversity of participation that was most impressive – from priests, rugby league clubs, school kids and major corporations to drag queens and speed daters. It was the start of the manifestation of Earth Hour’s powerful mainstream reach, the people ‘in the middle’ that we in the green movement had struggled to access in the past.
2008 – In year two, we hoped that Earth Hour would spread to cities and towns across Australia. Amazingly, it did more than this and went international very quickly. Toronto signed up a couple of days after EH1 and by the time we reached the event, EH was happening in nearly 380 cities and towns in 35 countries.
It’s definitely not a favourite moment, but four days out from Earth Hour the website crashed and continued to intermittently crash for the following three days. We had not built the site to handle anywhere near the level of traffic that it had to handle. I was awakened continuously by my phone ringing to be met on the other end of the line by a particularly distraught member of the team in the US telling us the site had failed again. We were, in all honesty, a fair bit out of our depth. What a lot of people don’t realise about Earth Hour is that despite its scale, it has always been run by a very small team with extremely limited resources. We have always fired on the passion of great people.
March 2009 – Ten months out from the global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, the world really did ‘vote earth’ with their light switch. The campaign developed with Leo Burnett’s was amazing and we leaped from 379 cities and towns to just over 4000
Earth Hour was celebrated in China and Mongolia. The Pyramids in Egypt turned off or the first time. Since my school days, I’ve always been a big fan of Egypt, inspired by their inventions and development. Seeing the lights go out at the Pyramids really touched my heart. It was extraordinary watching the campaign unfold around the world. Back in 2007, we had imagined that it might be a bit like New Year’s Eve for the planet. It was a very emotional experience and for the first time, I began to see Earth Hour’s true potential as a movement for change.
December 2009 – We all came crashing down to earth at the global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15), where we had planned a special Earth Hour for the event with WWF Denmark. I remember standing on the stage in the main square of Copenhagen and getting a call from a member of the WWF team working at COP15 to tell me that the UN Secretary General – due to make a speech and flick the switch at in 30 minutes – was unable to attend as the talks had gone into crisis. We had TV crews from around the world ready to film his speech and capture the moment. It was snowing and beyond cold. They literally started to pack up their camera gear and leave in front of our eyes, a very sobering moment and a lesson in politics. In hindsight, we realised that we had gone off course and put our faith in politics instead of the power of the people.
Earth Hour 2010 – In the aftermath of Copenhagen, we had to pick ourselves up again. The shock waves to the green movement were palpable after the failure of the UN climate meetings to deliver any meaningful change. We had to decide as an organisation if we were going to stop Earth Hour at this point. Frankly, in my head, I thought if a deal had been done in Copenhagen then we could quite rightfully have done our last Earth Hour there. But the weirdest thing was that in so many places across the planet the desire to be part of something different and global was even stronger now. Not only this, but the vast majority of people not even realize Copenhagen had happened! We got up, brushed ourselves off and tried once more. Earth Hour broke records again, with more than 120 countries involved and hundreds more cities and towns. More importantly, we started to see signs that people were starting to use Earth Hour as a movement that was broader than just a climate change campaign. We saw air pollution and water quality as issues about which people were raising awareness. Earth Hour had a momentum of its own.
Earth Hour 2011 – This year was our first attempt to go beyond the hour. The previous year, we had seen the first signs that Earth Hour had the potential to be more than an event. We were also beginning to encounter more stringent criticism that Earth Hour was just symbolic and didn’t achieve anything. We had always seen Earth Hour has having three potential phases: Symbolic, Beyond the Hour and then (in our dreams), a Global Movement. We launched the Beyond the Hour platform with the clear intention of capturing as many individual actions as possible and inspiring others to do more. For me personally, there were two high points to the campaign. First, there was the story of Nathi, a fifteen-year-old lad from Swaziland who single-handedly started Earth Hour in Swaziland. Between him and his mates, he got schools and businesses engaged, and in the end communities all across this landlocked African country were involved – an amazing effort.
Earth Hour 2012 – This was the year that Earth Hour went into space, literally and metaphorically! Also former rebels in Libya started Earth Hour in Benghazi and Tripoli (with help from the Scouts). We also launched our “I Will If You Will” (IWIYW) campaign – daring people to protect the planet. It went really well and proved for the first time that people could take Earth Hour beyond the hour. Notably, the WWF Earth Hour team in Russia started an IWIYW campaign to pass legislation to increase marine protection in Russian waters. More than 120,000 Russians signed up to the cause, the issue was debated and passed in the Duma 6 months later. We started to see different communities, countries and individuals launching challenges big and small for the environment as part of a broader Earth Hour movement. It was very inspiring to see and something we had hoped for right from the early days of Earth Hour. For me, it was a coming of age moment for the campaign. Now, we were seeing big, tangible impacts for the planet as a result of what had once been just a ‘lights out’ symbolic event.
Earth Hour 2013 – This was our first year as a global team in Singapore. Three of us moved from Sydney so we had to build a new team almost from scratch – quite a challenge – but the stage had been set. Earth Hour now had a life of its own and was achieving huge outcomes for conservation across the planet. In 2014, Earth Hour movements across the world delivered more outcomes than ever before: from a moratorium on deforestation of the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay to hundreds of thousands of trees planted in the first Earth Hour Forest in Uganda to a 3.4 million hectare marine protected area off Argentina, to so much more. Vancouver became the world’s first Earth Hour City as part of WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge competition.
Earth Hour 2014 – It is a fairly wild experience to watch as countries and cities from around the world start to share their plans for the night and beyond the hour. Each story builds momentum and inspires other teams to share and do more. For me, 2014 is the most important year in the project’s history as we see so many campaigns multiplying the effect of everyone’s efforts – the power of the crowd is now the driving force behind Earth Hour. This year, we launched Earth Hour Blue, harnessing the power of the crowd through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, which supports projects and campaigns from all over the world – essentially helping the movement help itself. What also makes 2014 so special is that we have Spider-Man at our side, Earth Hour’s first Super Hero ambassador. Spider-Man is the perfect Superhero for Earth Hour as he stands for hope and action. He’s an average kid driving home the message that really everyone can be a superhero for the planet. Earth Hour 2014 proved to be the biggest yet. More than 160 countries took part, but best of all is the incredible amount of activity happening beyond the hour, from campaigns to protect help communities in the Amazon, to save the Great Barrier Reef, change high carbon emission heaters in Argentina and the list goes on.
It really has been the most inspiring experience and I very much look forward to celebrating Earth Hour with my family in 2015 and watching and participating as the movement, inspired by millions of people across the planet grows to its full potential. As for me, I am taking a bit of time to decide on what’s next. One thing I have learnt from the Earth Hour journey is that whilst we face extraordinary challenges, today we also have the means to connect millions, to use our voices in an ever greater way and find hope and inspiration in the must unusual places.
I want to leave a world for my kids that is a better place than the one I was gifted. If I’m to achieve that goal, there’s a lot more work to be done.