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Does Earth Day do a world of good?

Earth DayAnother Earth Day has passed us by, marking 42 years of celebrating our planet on April 22. Every Earth Day–and April as a whole–is full of green marketing.

There are recycling initiatives, green pledge drives, awareness events and more. Some are awesome, like Honest Tea’s Great Recycle, but some are only half baked. As someone who has dedicated the last decade of his life to sustainable business, I couldn’t help but start wondering: might Earth Day actually be bad for the planet?

As both an environmentalist and a capitalist, I see both pros and cons in big business and companies celebrating Earth Day.

For one, Earth Day spreads awareness about taking care of the planet and conserving our resources. It’s become as ubiquitous as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, which means that everyone knows that it is happening. Everyone knows what it stands for and most people do something ‘green’ in observance. The increased exposure and awareness help to educate the masses about the principles around Earth Day and why those principles are so important.

However, it’s also an excuse for marketing gimmicks that are green on the outside but are actually just “greenwashing” or are really only for the sole benefit of a company. Reusable tote bags aren’t sustainable if you have ten in your closet that you never use. A prize of a “getaway” involving flying across country isn’t really green at all, and defeats the point of an “eco” contest.

My fear is this: there’s a false sense of security in going to extremes for our planet once a year. And some people only use this “celebration” to their or their company’s benefit. If we think one day of the year is enough for our Earth, we’re in trouble. When companies decide that one annual drive (that often isn’t truly “green” at all) is enough to satisfy consumers, our future growth in the success of taking care of our planet, and our success in the sustainable industry, will be stunted.

Continuing to celebrate Earth Day as it has been for the past few years–full of excuses for crazy, attention-seeking marketing initiatives that actually are actually worse for our planet than our everyday living - we are not helping our planet at all.

As part of the packaging industry–on which there’s a lot of pressure for sustainable measures–we’re partly responsible for this. We can shape our own marketing initiatives that indeed are eco-friendly. We can influence products and companies by providing and encouraging sustainable packaging and making it an affordable norm.

If we don’t push for these changes from an industry that has a lot of control over sustainability, there won’t be any change. People will be satisfied with participating in Earth Day ploys once a year that aren’t even eco-friendly at the core. There won’t be any real change because that one day will be “enough” when we truly do need more. Earth Day needs to be less of a marketing ploy and more genuine if we want it to serve its true purpose: encouraging change and inspiring moves toward more sustainable lifestyles.

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