Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Mixed Marketing

Happy Earth Day! For whatever reason, I never thought to explore the origins of Earth Day – something I just accepted as a yearly occurrence since I was a child. According to Wikipedia, the first Earth Day in 1970 was designed as an environmental “teach-in” on university campuses around the country.

More than 40 years later, what has Earth Day become?

Well, it certainly is a bit more visible. And it seems global, both of which are fantastic. But I wonder if we’re headed down a path where Earth Day becomes a “Hallmark holiday,” designed to generate commercial sales and absent of the original organizers’ intent.

As someone who is entrenched in “Corporate America” every day, maybe I’m experiencing this from one particular lens. Since I’m not in a school setting, I don’t know if educators still use today as a touch-point for teaching. There also does seem to be a lot of media this week that aims to educate the public about our fragile planet. In my opinion, however, the loudest Earth Day voices are the corporate ones. Has Earth Day gone corporate? If so, is this a good or bad thing?

Let’s take a look at some Earth Day messaging from the private sector:

Starbucks – Long a leader on all things CSR, Starbucks is offering free coffee to patrons who bring in a travel mug today.

Levi Strauss – The jeans pioneer is continuing to promote its Levi’s Water Tank facebook game, which draws the connection between global access to water and the amount of water that it takes to create and wash a pair of jeans.

Whole Foods Market – Almost synonymous with planet-friendly, Whole Foods is not using any disposable bags today, instead encouraging customers to bring in their own reusable bags and offering some at a discount.

BCBG – The fashion retailer has a collection of items that benefit the Sierra Club. Its “Be Chic, Be Green” campaign is visible online and in its store windows. Some of the products feature recycled materials. Others just seem to look cool.

Microsoft – The company is sparking discussion about the connection between technology and environmentalism through its blog post about cloud computing.

Old Navy – In a partnership with TerraCycle, the discount fashion house is encouraging customers to bring in old flip-flops that will be recycled into playgrounds.

No doubt, hundreds of companies are also focusing inward, encouraging employees to connect back with Mother Earth. Virgin America, CA Technologies and Verizon are three companies whose employee programs are also generating some good buzz.

On this Earth Day, it’s almost impossible to ignore the corporate voices that encourage me to recycle a little more, reduce my disposable containers or conserve energy. And whether it’s the Corporate or the Responsibility in CSR that’s driving these messages, I don’t think it’s doing any harm. I just have to remind myself that maybe a better way to celebrate is actually going outside for a hike instead of ordering a new jacket made of recycled materials.

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