Looking Back on Earth Day
Greenwash, or year-round commitment?
Another Earth Day, or “Earth Week” has come and gone. Begun in 1970, it represents the beginning of the modern environmental movement. When I was a kid, I can remember Earth Days at school being spent picking up litter in order to earn tickets to a lunchtime BBQ.
As I got older, I fell into the crowd of kids who felt generally cynical about the relative value of collecting cigarette butts from the teacher's smoking area. However, in retrospect, I can see the importance of the yearly ritual. The banal futility of our schoolyard clean-up may not have staved off eco-crisis, but it instilled in me a very powerful sense that caring about the environment one day a year is really the LEAST we can do.
Today, all us little cigarette-butt picking kids are grown up, and that means that eco-consciousness has reached a near frenzy-point. It also means that Earth Day has become a paradise for companies eager to tout their green chops, hence the expansion of Earth Day into Earth Week. Earth Day might not be a major holiday, but this year, it sure got advertised like one.
Proceeds were donated, recycled products featured, and marketers recommended web campaigns over print advertising to save paper. What's getting lost in the process? The fact that it's not about selling our green efforts to the consumer, it's about making those efforts.
Already, many consumers are becoming skeptical of the 'green' label, and companies who overhype their contributions risk being accused of 'greenwashing.' Greenwashing refers to a business's focus on advertising their eco-friendliness, as a way to cover up their polluting ways. Branding expert Steven Addis was quoted in Ad Age, saying, “I call it the 95-5 rule. Five percent of somebody's business is green, but 95% of their PR is green.”
Few industries are more at risk of being accused of greenwashing than the printing industry. The service we offer is, by nature, heavily dependent on natural resources. As a printer, the onus is constantly on us to find new ways to do our job while taking our role as environmental stewards seriously. We might not be perfect, but we can make a consistent effort by running our business like every day is Earth Day.
Some days you feel like you're saving the planet, and some days you feel like you're just picking up cigarette butts, but the important thing is to never stop trying. That's the only surefire way to avoid the stigma of greenwashing, and to make Earth Day into more than just a marketing ploy.