How Detroit Celebrates Earth Day During a Pandemic

Detroit’s Office of Sustainability had to shift plans for Earth Week in response to the pandemic, leveraging partnerships to expand offerings in the city.

Detroit city government is rethinking what Earth Week looks like, reflecting a response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day. Normally, the city’s Office of Sustainability would commemorate with its tradition of tree planting. But under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay at Home” order, tree planting is not an essential service. Detroit’s General Services Department, which plants trees throughout the city, has postponed plantings until the fall. 

Joel Howrani Heeres is the Director of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability. He tells WDET’s Annamarie Sysling about how his office is commemorating Earth Week in light of the pandemic.

“We went through a period of grief and mourning over not being able to do that celebration of Earth Day and Earth Week,” says Heeres. “We really had to adjust and think about this more fully.”

Click on the player above to hear how Detroit will be celebrating Earth Day while social distancing.

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This year, Heeres says the office will sending out an email newsletter containing a variety of ways to engage with the natural world from the safety of home. 

Heeres says the Office of Sustainability is sending a comprehensive email this week with ideas for home projects, sustainability tips and a link to an environmental documentary. Sign-up for the newsletter here. 

On Thursday, the office is co-hosting a webinar with Ecoworks Detroit on water and energy saving tips. 

The office is also focusing on reaching out to grocery stores on what they need to remain safe places for workers and the public, in partnership with the Detroit Food Policy Council and their Great Grocer Program.

He says the collaboration has allowed for the distribution of public service announcement posters with best practices for those working in and shopping at grocery stores in Detroit. 

Here’s the Office of Sustainability’s Plans for Earth Week in Detroit.

“Grocery stores right now are supplying a vital supply for us and it’s one of the few places we can go legally,” says Heeres.

So far, they have distributed more than 5,000 masks to Detroit grocers through a partnership with the Quicken Loans Community Fund.

Heeres says his office has also been able to distribute floor stickers to help create clear safe spacial boundaries at grocers through funding from the Americana Foundation, and adds that they’re also passing out hand sanitizer to grocery stores made locally by Detroit City Distillery. 

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