Corporate Preservation of the Open Space

August 8, 2016

By Gabriel McLarnan

EcoCenter, Palo Alto– Although Silicon Valley is known as an epicenter of technology and innovation, the region offers a truly beautiful backdrop of preserves ranging from redwood forests, chaparral-covered hillsides, riparian corridors, grasslands, and wetlands along the San Francisco Bay. As residents of such a breathtaking region we have a duty to protect the natural environment where we live and prosper. In response to increasing population due to the technology boom, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is embarking on a multi-year Vision Plan project that will engage over 1,500 individuals who will help determine the future of the open space in Silicon Valley for the next 20 years.

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One of the ways in which Midpen engages the public is through the Preserve Partner program and Special Group projects, which utilizes volunteers for beautification and restoration across the District’s 26 preserves. Recently, a Preserve Partner project was held at Rancho San Antonio Open Space where 5 volunteers removed Yellow Star Thistle, an invasive weed that has taken hold in large swaths of land in the preserve. The volunteers worked on an acre-sized restoration meadow pulling Yellow Star from the ground where native species of grasses and plants had recently been placed.

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In the past year, companies that have demonstrated a commitment to stewardship and preserving the open space through Midpen’s volunteer programs include NVIDIA, Appirio, Walmart, REI, Antea, Marketo, Stanford Alumni, and Facebook. In particular, NVIDIA hosted a volunteer fair through their CSR program at their campus that Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District participated in.

Photo Credit: Ellen Gartside (Volunteer Program Lead at MROSD)


Although a lot of companies in Silicon Valley preach and promote a triple bottom line mission, priority towards employee volunteering is not met with the same level of urgency as a profit driven initiative. For a lot of companies, employee volunteering is even seen as an extension of the job where employees are compensated for their volunteer work instead of intrinsically incentivized. Ellen Gartside, Volunteer Program Lead at Midpen, states that the true value of volunteer work for these corporate employees isn’t just measured in dollar signs:

“My philosophy about the volunteer projects is that the most important aspects of the day are that the project is enjoyable and rewarding, I want people to come back! The majority of the projects we do are invasive plant removal and I think people get a feeling of satisfaction from pulling weeds once they get into it. I also try to make the connection that although they may feel like they are just “weeding” they really are doing habitat restoration and helping the District to improve the land for native plants and animals so there is a purpose to it and I want them to get that restoration connection to the activity. For some of the company projects, although the participants work for the same company they may not know each other because they are in different departments so the project is a social event for them.”

As Ellen described, companies who genuinely care about being stewards for the open space not only remove weeds in an effort of sustainability, but also receive a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that is totally unique from the workplace. Ellen tells us the most common response she gets from corporate volunteers is “It’s great to be outside and not looking at my computer!”

EV Community Program Coordinator Rodrigo Alfaro speaks with employees from HP Enterprise


At the EV, we share in the motivation to provide a volunteer experience where corporate employees can feel gratified by their impact on the natural world. As we covered last week in our blog post on the two LinkedIn employees who removed Black mustard plant from around the EcoCenter, volunteers provide genuine positive feedback after removing  invasive weeds. Recently at the EcoCenter, the EV hosted a group of corporate employees from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (pictured above) who had reiterated the positive experience of habitat restoration efforts in the Baylands.

Similarly, Kristina Fernandez from NVIDIA viewed the Midpen program as “a great event for [their] volunteers” and expressed excitement about returning back for future projects. The Environmental Volunteers celebrates Silicon Valley companies who cultivate stewardship-centric employees willing to make a tangible impact in the local environment. It is not enough to manufacture an aura of environmental responsibility at a company by just talking the talk. Companies who volunteer with organizations like Midpen belong to the vanguard of corporate stewards whose purpose goes beyond the bottom line.