Even on a chilly December day in Chicago, polar bears and their Arctic habitat seem ever-so distant to most of us “southerners.” But on Dec. 5, at Coca-Cola’s Arctic Home event at the Shedd Aquarium, I realized that the 4 million people who call the Arctic home – and the wildlife they share their land with, including the majestic polar bear – face planning and conservation challenges both similar to and intertwined with our own.
Through Coca-Cola’s Arctic Home campaign, the company is partnering with World Wildlife Fund to protect 500,000 square miles of Arctic ice from the effects of global warming. The campaign reflects more than just the company’s nearly 90-year advertising relationship with the iconic polar bear. Worldwide, Coca-Cola sells 1.6 billion servings of some 3,300 beverage products each day – products that require energy, water, and natural and synthetic resources to produce, package, distribute, refrigerate and recycle. As a Fortune Global 500 company, and well aware of its influence on its own industry, Coca-Cola has been expanding its corporate responsibility and sustainability program since 2008.
Though Arctic Home is focused on a place thousands of miles from metropolitan Chicago, its goals and tactics seem strikingly similar to regional planning efforts, such as the two-year process of research and public outreach that ultimately led to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GO TO 2040 plan. At the Dec. 5 event, Emmy award-winning TV anchor and author Don Shelby moderated an impressive line-up of experts: Geoff York, Arctic biologist with WWF; Will Steger, famed Arctic explorer and advocate; and Celeste Bottorff, VP Living Well, Coca-Cola North America. The group discussed Arctic Home’s core strategies, including tapping the expertise and buy-in of local residents, businesses, and people indigenous to the Arctic; cutting-edge research; and additional conservation advocacy with partners. Their plan for protecting the Arctic by partnering with a range of stakeholders on research, advocacy and implementation also has striking parallels to MPC’s own approach to regional planning and policy change.
York’s remarks in particular served as a poignant reminder that our actions in our communities – wherever we live – are inextricably tied to the well being of our entire planet, and vice versa. “The loss of reflective snow and ice cover [in the Arctic] means the whole world gets warmer, and gases such as methane currently trapped in permafrost have the potential to thaw, further increasing global temperatures,” said York. This “think globally, act locally” perspective puts a new spin on the importance of working toward a more sustainable Chicago region.
So the way I see it, here are a few ways you can help the polar bears:
- Encourage responsible local planning. In the Chicago region, you can do this by urging your local elected and appointed officials to plan in accordance with GO TO 2040 or Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
- Take actions in your own life to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. Walk to the grocery store instead of driving, recycle, insulate your home to save energy, and purchase energy and water-efficient appliances (look for Energy Star and WaterSense labels.)
- Support Arctic Home. Coca-Cola is making an initial donation of $2 million to WWF and inviting everyone to join the effort. By texting a package code to 357357, you can make an individual donation of $1 toward WWF’s efforts to protect the polar bear’s home. You also can donate online at ArcticHome.com. Coca-Cola will match all donations made with a package code by March 15, 2012, up to $1 million.