Spotlight on Endowment Fundholders: earthday365
When Jessica Watson became the new Executive Director of earthday365 in March 2020, she had no idea that she would be the first forced to cancel the 30-year-old St. Louis Earth Day Festival. “I was there maybe three or four weeks when we received word that our permit had been revoked due to COVID,” she says. “It was a huge blow, but we didn’t stay down long.”
Over the proceeding weeks and months, the organization pivoted to assist community organizations with outdoor cleanups and gardening days, known as Environmental Justice Days of Action. Focused on neighborhoods rife with vacancies and illegal dumping, earthday365 brings dumpsters, tools and manpower to help community partners clean up and restore the streets. The program, which continues today, has removed an estimated 22,000 pounds of waste from areas in North City, North County and South City.
Watson says the organization was able to lean on its endowment fund through YouthBridge during this time of transition. “It gave us the ability to take a step back and rethink our programming in a COVID world,” she says. “The endowment has been an important mental shift for us, providing stability and long-term sustainability.”
The idea to start an endowment came about 10 years ago with earthday365’s desire to see its annual festival continue in perpetuity, says Watson. “We also wanted the assurance that important year-round environmental programming would continue.” The fund has done that and the choice of YouthBridge as endowment fund manager has provided added benefits, she says. “They’re not just about managing your endowment but also providing education on capacity growth. They also are a leader in social impact investing, and the whole idea of investing funds at the local level really reflects our values.”
While its efforts are on a local level, earthday365 is recognized as a national leader, hosting the largest Earth Day Festival in the Midwest. This year’s event will take place April 22nd and 23rd on the Muny grounds of Forest Park. Watson says the two-day community tradition showcases sustainable products and services offered by local businesses and organizations, local area nonprofits that share Earth Day values, local entertainment and local Green Dining Alliance restaurants.
The Green Dining Alliance (GDA) is one of many earthday365 initiatives the organization is able to highlight at the event, and one of its most impactful, she says. Through robust audits and sustainability consulting, restaurants are able to earn GDA certification and make a tangible impact on sustainability in the region. Some of the goals for restaurants include diverting landfill waste, reducing energy consumption and increasing sustainable food and product purchases. The GDA programs helps eliminate an estimated 6,000 tons of waste each year, says Watson.
“Even if restaurants can’t commit to the certification process and make one change because they see that these efforts are becoming expected by customers, we consider that a win. Everyone can have a direct and meaningful contribution to a more sustainable future.”