For the second year in a row, we’ve partnered with EARTHDAY.ORG to support their Protect Our Species program, an initiative that helps save the precious pollinators who make our perfumes possible from extinction. This year, we’ve felt honored to raise awareness about declining butterfly populations by launching fragrances like CLEAN RESERVE Lush Fleur and CLEAN CLASSIC Pure Soap, and sharing information about how you can save these important insects. So, you could say we were more than a little excited to catch up with Kira Heeschen, Senior Education Manager at EARTHDAY.ORG, to discuss what it’s like to work for an environmental organization as well as why protecting butterflies should be a priority for all of us. Read on for a conversation we hope inspires you to #FlutterForChange, and check out our IGTV to watch a recording of the Live event!
CBC: How did you find yourself working in conservation?
KH: I initially started college thinking I wanted to be a geologist because I love rocks and volcanoes. But as I started taking my courses, I noticed I loved learning about the earth and teaching people what I know. I ended up getting my Master's in Environmental Education and Climate Change Education because I wanted my efforts towards teaching to help people connect to the earth and understand what they can do to protect it. Since then I’ve worked with a national park, I’ve taken little kiddos out on field trips, and I've also done climate education for city officials and city planners to help them understand how climate change will impact their community and how they can prepare for that. Here at EARTHDAY.ORG, I get to do everything! I communicate our policy and initiatives to the general public, help people understand what these complicated things mean at the global scale and for them specifically, and create resources for teachers and students that build their capacity to learn and act.
CBC: What motivates you to work towards EARTHDAY.ORG'S goals?
KH: There’s a lot of bad news out there which can make it hard to stay motivated so I like to look for stories of hope. They might not be the ones most covered in the news, but if you look for them you’ll be overwhelmed with the incredible inventions that are coming out all over the world, and the incredible efforts activists as young as nine are taking to change their country’s policies. I also let myself look to the future and imagine what the world could look like if we take the action we need to. Rather than think of environmental protection as a chore, we can see it as an opportunity to build jobs, clean the air, and protect species.
CBC: 90% of flowering plants and about 35% of the world’s food crops depend on butterflies and other insects for pollination. How do these insects help with pollination, and how is the butterfly’s role different from the roles of pollinators?
KH: Firstly, pollination is the process of carrying pollen grains from one plant to another to allow that plant to be fertilized. This helps with plant reproduction which helps our favorite flowers, trees, and food crops to grow. Pollination can occur through non-living forces, like wind and water, but it can also occur when pollen is transferred by living creatures, like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and mice.
Pollinators and plants that are native to a certain area have evolved together to live in the best partnership. Flowers have evolved to be the most attractive through smell and color, while pollinators have evolved to have certain body types to best reach the nectar and carry the pollen. Therefore, butterflies have evolved to have the right body shape to reach the nectar in the plants they’re responsible for pollinating. These include vegetables and herbs like cilantro, lavender, rosemary, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower. They’re also drawn to flowers that are red, a color that bees can’t see.
CBC: What species of butterfly need our help?
KH: There are 17,000 species of butterflies in the world and in the United States, about 19% of ours are at risk of extinction. The monarch butterfly is disappearing at one of the highest rates in the US. Part of this is because they have a migration pattern that's thousands of miles long so when habitats are lost along the way, they can’t complete this journey. There’s also the Schaus' swallowtail which is native to Florida. It's been listed as threatened since 1976 and endangered since 1984, and was the first butterfly to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, it’s still endangered today. The Palos Verdes blue butterfly is another one. This butterfly is native to the Palos Verde Peninsula in California and is largely threatened by weed management.
Clean Beauty Collective Tip: Find native plants that can help the pollinators in your area with this tool.
CBC: What are the consequences of certain butterfly species becoming extinct?
KH: There are food webs in each ecosystem and when one part is impacted, the rest gets thrown out of balance. If butterflies disappeared, our crops would suffer because they wouldn’t be pollinated. This will impact our food supply and whether or not we’re able to feed the earth’s growing population. Other animals rely on butterflies as a food source so when this becomes limited, they’ll start to seek out other options or maybe travel further beyond their natural habitat. But butterflies also deserve to survive for their own sake. They’ve existed for more than 50 million years and belong here!
CBC: Can one person really make a difference when it comes to butterfly conservation?
KH: Although it’s often difficult to see how just one person can make a difference in our complex world of issues, every social change and every environmental change has been put forth by a collection of "one persons". Senator Gaylord Nelson, who organized the first Earth Day, was just one person. He got support in the senate and then recruited college students who got 20 million people to take to the streets on the first Earth Day.
I like to think of environmental action like going up a ladder where every step makes a difference in getting you closer to goals like having a lower carbon footprint and living more sustainably. When we can get more people to go up the ladder with us, we reach these goals faster. Study after study finds that the best way to make your steps ripple out is to talk to your close friends and family members.
Clean Beauty Collective Tip: Spread your wings—and the word—on social media by tagging snaps of your butterfly-protecting efforts with #FlutterForChange.
CBC: How can we urge the government to take action too?
KH: Part of EARTHDAY.ORG’s legacy is inspiring action from the government. Within three years of the first Earth Day, EPA was formed and many different environmental acts were passed. People wanted change and the government responded. One way we can achieve the same results today is to vote. Put people in office who reflect your values, and stay in communication with them once elected to make sure they continue to represent you. You can also take our Pesticide Pledge, which helps stop the use of pesticides on an individual level but also creates momentum at the national level.
CBC: What are some other actions we can take to help butterflies?
KH: Make sure where you’re putting your money reflects your values. Another way to take action is by planting a pollinator garden using our pollinator garden planning worksheet. You could also become a citizen scientist through an app called Global Earth Challenge. This app allows you to upload pictures of pollinators (as well as plastic pollution, the sky, and even crops) which are then fed into a database where people identify the details to help paint a picture of environmental health. Finally, you can tune into Earth Day 2021 on Thursday, April 22 when lots of exciting environmental events will be taking place!
To learn even more about butterfly protection, check out our #FlutterForChange resources here.