November 1, 2014

Why Earth Day Isn’t Every Day

Like many eco-conscious consumers, I’m bothered when I see businesses use Earth Day as a blatant excuse to sell more stuff. Not to mention that many people have questioned in recent years whether Earth Day really serves a purpose anymore.

Earth Day

Shouldn’t we be celebrating Earth Day every day? Hasn’t sustainability progressed so far that we don’t need an annual holiday promoting it?

I’d argue that while, yes, sustainability is talked about and recognized 365 days a year now, that Earth Day — April 22 — still serves a purpose. The problem is that many consumers and businesses have lost sight of that purpose, or never really bought into it.

Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, helped start Earth Day in 1970 because he wanted to take one day out of the year and dedicate it toward public recognition and respect of the environment. Nelson said, in his famous Earth Day kick-off speech on April 22, 1970:

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

Businesses often embark on environmental sustainability for reasons other than the protecting the earth, as pointed out in this article by The Economist. Sustainability can save money. It can improve a company’s image. It can offer new business opportunities. These are all understandable business reasons for adopting sustainable practices. It’s wonderful when sustainability boosts the bottom line and fuels business growth.

But not that many businesses adopt eco-friendly practices because it’s the right thing to do. Consider how long it took some corporations to change their ways, even as signs were popping up that climate change was underway in the 1990s. Today sustainability is expected – even demanded – in the business world, and some companies do it because they pretty much have to in order to protect their image.

Earth Day should serve as a reminder of what business sustainability is all about – why the planet needs protection and what needs to be done about it. Businesses that want to show real concern can use the day to get their employees involved in meaningful ways, including volunteering for an important environmental cause in their community. They can commit themselves to even more ambitious green goals. They can help customers get involved in reducing pollution and encourage them to be more sustainable in their everyday lives.

Sustainable business is making progress, but it’s not moving fast enough to save the earth from disruptive climate change. Businesses should think about using Earth Day as a way to make their sustainability practices about more than just green marketing or saving money.


Earth Photo via Shutterstock

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Kelly Spors


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

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