With greenwashing is in the spotlight and increasing regulation focused on curbing it, I’ve been surprised this week to see the number of brands still co-opting Earth Day for their own gain – falling short in promoting the urgent positive change needed to address climate change. Shallow engagement undermines public trust in brands as a whole – including those meaningfully advancing environmental awareness and taking bold actions as they reduce their carbon footprint, invest in renewable energy and support conservation.

53 years old and tied to adland from the start

Earth Day was first recognized in 1970, when a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Senator Gaylord Nelson, organized a national demonstration to raise awareness of environmental issues. When Julian Koenig, the creative behind the famous ad for the Volkswagon Beetle, learned about the event, he reached out to the organizing group to get involved. Alongside offering a set of tear sheets announcing the campaign through a full-page newspaper ad, Koenig proposed a number of different names — Earth Day, Ecology Day, Environment Day, E Day — to motivate the organizers to revisit their working name Environmental Teach-in, strongly recommending Earth Day as the right choice. 20M Americans in different U.S. cities participated demonstrated, and in December of that year Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the EPA.

So what can companies do to make a real impact and treat every day as Earth Day?

  • Begin with commitment to genuine engagement and to transparency…. Being open to tough conversations and dialogue (and yes, sometimes with activists) about their environmental impact and the real steps necessary to reduce it. And sharing progress and challenges on the pathway to becoming better.
  • Continue with leveraging the marketing power of their brands to promote sustainability and meaningful behavioral change…. Educating people (consumers, employees, investors and the general public) about the environmental impact of their purchases and day-to-day activities, encouraging them to make more sustainable choices while simultaneously amplifying the voices of environmental advocates to cultivate greater collective action. 

So brands – and indeed all of us – tomorrow, let’s celebrate Earth Day as a reminder to shift the focus from short-term profits to long-term impact. And as in doing so, take a moment to reflect on the behavior changes we individually and collectively must make to protect and regenerate the planet. Together, let’s make Earth Day 2023 a turning point in creating a brighter, sustainable future!