Executive Director Kate Alberghini calls Green Up Day “basically an environmental spring cleaning for the state.” But this nonprofit works year-round to educate people of all ages and abilities that they can make a difference in the environment. Shaw’s has supported Green Up Vermont through the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program. Above, overall winning entry in the 2022 Post Art contest by Marina H., 7th Grade from Shelburne Community School.
Tell us about Green Up Vermont.
The idea behind our organization was an event called Green Up Day, and it was the brainchild of newspaper reporter Bob Babcock Jr., who was sick of seeing roadside litter on his daily commute. And so, he brought the idea of a statewide volunteer cleanup to then-governor Dean Davis in 1969. The governor loved it so much that he appointed a task force to plan the event and get it ready to launch in the spring of 1970. That’s how we started.
Our organization, Green Up Vermont, is a 52-year-old private nonprofit, whose mission is to promote the stewardship of our state’s natural landscape and waterways and the livability of our communities by involving people in Green Up Day, which is a statewide, volunteer-based roadside litter, clean up and beautification day. It’s basically an environmental spring cleaning for the state.
We rally tens of thousands of volunteers for this event, which is always the first Saturday in May. This year we had 19,141 volunteers who picked up 500 tons of trash in one incredible day. That translates into 43,000 bags of trash. Beyond that, there are a lot of large items like couches that have been discarded, appliances and that sort of thing. People also collected 14,315 abandoned tires.
So just imagine all of that staying in our environment year after year, piling up and degrading with sunlight and oxygen. All of those microplastics getting into our waterway and our food, indirectly by being eaten by cows or other animals that are raised here in Vermont. And it makes its way into the fish that we catch in our streams and consume. Eventually everything makes it way back around to human beings, so it’s really important to keep trash out of our natural environment.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
I don’t believe that there’s any other organization, nationally even, that does what Green Up Vermont does. We rally statewide participation. We teach people of all ages, all lifestyles, all ability levels, that they can get out and make an impact in their communities. That volunteerism teaches an important civic engagement component.
The crucial environmental message is that we need to take care of our environment by alleviating this litter. The volunteerism on Green Up Day proves that it is so important to do all of these things and that it’s fairly easy to do. People really need to get engaged, be a part of their community and take responsibility for what’s going on. It feels good to help out and make an impact.
I don’t think any other state in our nation does a statewide volunteer event like this. There are other programs like Adopt-a-Highway and community volunteer groups that pick up neighborhoods, but nothing on the scale of Green Up Vermont. The first Green Up Day was actually a week before the first Earth Day, so we really were at the forefront.
We teach people of all ages, all lifestyles, all ability levels, that they can get out and make an impact in their communities.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.
It really is our story. The fact that Green Up Day happens year after year, generation after generation, for the past 52 years is pretty incredible. Even through the pandemic, people were not willing to let go of Green Up Day, though we did have to pivot. It was actually our 50th anniversary in 2020 and I had just been hired in October of 2019. I’m a lifelong Vermonter, many generations, so I knew about Green Up Day and participated, but it was my first year in the leadership role.
When the single-use plastic bag ban happened, it gave us an opportunity to really start to think about what these single-use plastics were doing to our environment. Teaching that a simple habit change can make a world of difference in the environment became easy with the volume of statistics that were being generated. Then the Shaw’s GIVE BACK bag program came online, so it was brilliant timing. It really falls in lockstep with Green Up Vermont’s initiatives and the education process we want to continue.
What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?
I think it’s eliminating 500 tons of trash nearly every year from the environment. Additionally, our year-round initiatives are another huge part of our work. Beyond Green Up Day, we provide year-round public awareness initiatives about the health, economic, and visual benefits of clean environments along with waste reduction initiatives and educational programs for students.
Businesses do better when their streetscapes look better. People want to come to this state because it’s clean, beautiful, and healthy looking. People wouldn’t recreate here if there was trash on trail sides. Tourism is a multimillion-dollar industry here, and we just wouldn’t have that if our landscapes were covered in litter, so it’s really crucial to business.
What do you want people to know about Green Up Vermont?
That we do indeed work year-round on our educational processes and that we want to reach people of all ages, lifestyles and abilities. We want to continue this legacy of a clean Vermont far into the future.
We are working on setting up an endowment fund so that Green Up can continue in perpetuity even after we’re long gone. Green Up is something everyone can do from the youngest child to the oldest adult. Everyone can make a difference here, changing a habit by bending over and picking up a piece of trash out of the environment, or by not throwing that piece of litter on the ground in the first place.
We need to empower our youth to take charge of this, to take responsibility and to lead by example, to be influencers.
If we can continue to share that message and educate the public, I would love to work myself out of a job. Do I think that’ll happen? Probably not, but we’re going to keep trying. We need to empower our youth to take charge of this, to take responsibility and to lead by example, to be influencers. Children can be influencers in their schoolyards and in their environments.
One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Swan, who is a world-renowned explorer and conservationist. He says “Leadership is the power to be brave enough to ignite action within yourself and others” and additionally, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
How did you hear about the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?
I actually shop at Shaw’s and have for a very long time. I saw the bags on display and asked one of your fantastic employees at Shaw’s, who led me to the GIVE BACK bag program.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?
We’re a grassroots nonprofit so all the funds stay right here in Vermont. Since the funds are unrestricted, they can go to a plethora of things, such as educational materials and Green Up Day supplies like the bright green bags you see along roadsides on Green Up Day. They are proudly printed with all of our corporate partner logos and are made of 70% post-consumer recycled waste, making them the healthiest bag to use.
We really focus on putting supporting dollars back into the environment and back into the communities with educational materials directly aligned with our mission. It’s not just about picking up trash; it’s about reducing our waste and caring for our planet.