Why I Don't Celebrate Earth Day

April 21, 2023

by Laura Sutphen, Managing Director, Social Impact + Inclusion

Yes, you read that right.

I have worked in sustainability and activism for more than 30 years. I lead Golin’s Social Impact + Inclusion practice, which focuses on creating sustainability campaigns for clients. I’ve led some of the world’s largest brands on sustainability strategy and innovation. And every year at this time, I choose to not celebrate Earth Day.

A quick triptych on the history of Earth Day:

  • Earth Day was founded more than 50 years ago at a UNESCO conference in 1969, proposed as a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace. It was co-founded by two young environmental and peace activists, Denis Hayes and John McConnell.
  • For many years, Earth Day was only celebrated in the US, and it was not until 1990 when co-founder Denis Hayes turned it into a global moment.
  • In 2016, the UN signed the Paris Agreement, starting the journey to the climate protection treaty adopted by the 195 nations present at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

And then everything went haywire.

Earth Day became Earth Week, and then there were a few years that were positioned as “Earth Season” – the five weeks between World Water Day (March 17) and Earth Day (April 22). Companies started ‘consumerizing’ the month of April. Brands started creating ‘campaigns’ to showcase their work around sustainability – sometimes real, sometimes entry level, sometimes with a ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy. Everyone jumped on the reporting bandwagon. Even major publications like Vanity Fair put out special editions in April called the “green” issue.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for a good observance (National Rescue Dog Day, anyone?). But we have lost the point.

At its core, Earth Day was about activism. It was a moment to connect around peace and understanding. It was a day of honoring the planet we call home so we protect it from where we are in this very moment – crisis. And a crisis from which we are too late to turn back.

So as a marketer or communications expert – what do we do?

Here are five ways brands can activate differently around Earth Day:

Mind the gap. Instead of promoting your brand’s sustainability progress externally, use the day to take a true accounting of the gaps in your brand’s sustainability performance, and double down on closing those gaps to make a more tangible difference. Bonus points for publicizing those gaps and adding them to your sustainability commitments.

Make it an inside job. Use this observance as a moment to engage and inspire employees by giving them the day off to volunteer or contribute to an environmental action they believe in.

Green your Bid. Each year the global commercial production industry produces thousands of tons of carbon, along with thousands of tons of waste. We have the ability today to make our productions both minimal carbon and zero-waste (90% diversion from landfill). A great way to be part of the solution is to join Green the Bid, a nonprofit grassroots organization that will hand you the tools to move to a zero-waste campaign. Your company or agency can take the pledge here.

Create a No Fly Zone. Airplanes emit around 100 times more CO2 per hour than a shared bus or train ride, and the emissions of global aviation are around 1 billion tons of CO2 per year — more than the emissions of most countries. What if your brand made a commitment for zero air travel from March 17 – April 22?

#everydamnday.  This is why I don’t celebrate Earth Day: because the world cannot wait for us to get out of ‘observance mode’ and into the mode of taking a positive environmental action 365 days a year. Instead of a singular action or launch or announcement that uses Earth Day, you (your team, your business unit, your brand) can put Earth Day to better use by making sustainability a part of your Every. Damn. Day.