Monday, April 22, 2013

The Business of Earth Day Greenwashing

Just because you paint an oil rig green does not make it environmentally friendly. Businesses have cashed in on the popularity of Earth Day with an avalanche of what can only be described as greenwashing. However, businesses are increasingly understanding that sustainability is about far more than trying to benefit from media attention one day per year. Despite the flurry of marketing activity that tries to capitalize on the event there is a growing awareness that engaging sustainability is about a serious and sustained long term commitment.

The data is clear, corporate sustainability is growing, Numerous sustainability reports support this contention and new research indicates that consumer awareness is driving this growth.

According to The Generation Roadmap, consumers believe that as a society we need to “consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations.” Research shows that 66 percent of American executives think their social responsibility strategies improve their corporate reputation.

Responsible businesses celebrate Earth Day to do more than just raise awareness about environmental issues, they give back to their communities and interact with potential customers.  Most importantly they take meaningful steps to reduce the environmental footprint of their operations.

According to Greenbiz, "tying your sales strategy to Earth Day means you're part of the problem." While this may be overstating the case, it is safe to say that unless sustainability is a year round commitment, that delivers measurable results, the criticism has merit.

While the cynicism often expressed towards corporate brands on Earth Day can be unnecessarily harsh, it is often justified. GreenBiz has made their "Earth Day Fail" an annual tradition.

Just because something's organic, does not make it good or sustainable, nor does planting a tree make a purchase green. Often things like tree plantings are paired with products that are anything but environmentally friendly.

A great example of this is JetBlue which in 2012 said it would plant a tree for each flight taken on the airline during Earth Day. Although this did result in the planting of an estimated 83,000 trees, this is eclipsed by the environmental toll of air travel. Plastic gift cards may be the rage, but even if they come with a tree planting, that does not make the card, or the products purchased with them "green.'

One of the biggest fails of 2012 came from the Glad Company which tries to pair its waste generating garbage bags with Earth Day. These types of tenuous tie-ins are a problem for the planet and the companies that generate them. The simple rule of thumb is that you cannot partner green efforts with environmentally destructive practices.

In two forthcoming articles I will review a promotion from Toshiba which is an example of greenwash. I will also review an example of a 2013 Earth Day promotion from a truly sustainable company called Mightybytes that has launched a new product with real environmental benefits called Ecograder.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.



Related Articles
Infographic - Chronological History of Earth Day in the US
The Historical Roots of Earth Day and its Relevance Today
Video - Earth Day 2013: The Face of Climate Change
Video - Earth Day 2013
Toshiba's Greenwash Fiasco

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