‘It’s easy being green’.
‘Green is the new black’.
Are you tired of simplistic eco slogans and soundbites yet? This may come as a bit of a surprise — but I’m really starting to hate Earth Day. One might think that the editor of environmental-leaning publication like Inhabitat would live for Earth Day, but the opposite is true for me. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Earth Day is just a shallow marketing opportunity for companies to jump on the green bandwagon and try to make some extra cash using eco-caché. Having one single day designated as Earth Day gives people and corporations an excuse to pay less attention to the environment the other 364 days of the year. The greenest and most innovative companies are not the ones running Earth Day marketing campaigns and giving out eco totes on April 22nd. In fact, you wouldn’t believe some of the ridiculous green-themed press releases I received over the past few weeks leading up to Earth Day. Read on for five of the most egregious examples of greenwashed Earth Day marketing gimmicks I’ve seen, and chime in with the most ridiculous gimmicks that you’ve run across in the comments – we’ll be collecting your submissions and adding them to our post!
1. ‘Eco-shaped’ Bottled-Water
“Eco-friendly’ bottled water campaigns focused around Earth Day are the worst examples of greenwashing I’ve ever seen. Poland Springs claims that its bottled water is green because of a special eco-shaped plastic bottle. What is an eco-shape exactly? According to Poland Springs ‘As part of our ongoing effort to reduce our environmental footprint, we redesigned our new bottle and cap to contain 30% less plastic than our original bottle’. Gee, thanks Nestle Corporation – that is so ‘eco’ of you! What would actually be a lot greener, however, would be to stop putting tap water in plastic bottles, calling it ‘spring water’, and then marketing it to consumers as healthy and better-for-you than municipal water, thus spewing millions of tons of carbon into air and the clogging up landfills with 50 billion non-biodegrading ‘recyclable’ plastic bottles per year.
2. Ridiculously wasteful packaging, surrounding ridiculously processed ‘eco’ junk-food
A few years ago on Earth Day I received a very large box in the mail (by large I mean 3 ft X 2ft X 2 ft). I had no idea what it was, so I excitedly dug into the suspiciously light-for-its-size box, only to discover it was completely full to the brim of styrofoam packing-peanuts. I kid you not – at first I thought this was a practical joke, because there was NOTHING in the box except packing peanuts. Then, finally, after I rifled through all the packing peanuts, at the very bottom of the box, I found a press release and a snack-size 2X3″ mini-bag of ‘eco’ potato chips! What makes a tiny plastic bag of processed junk food ‘eco’, you ask? Apparently sending them to an editor surrounded in 12 cubic feet of styrofoam!
3. Wasteful Earth Day marketing campaigns that totally miss the environmental point.
In my email inbox a few weeks ago I received an invitation to promote an ‘Earth Day’ contest which asked people to send in bottled water bottles in order to win a getaway to ‘green’ spa. The contestant who sent in the most bottles would win a trip across country to an ‘eco’ spa. This is just wrong and so senseless on so many levels. First of all: encouraging people to compete to see who can send in the most water bottles encourages people to BUY bottled water, which encourages bottled-water companies to keep making bottle water, and bottle water is a HUGE waste of energy, plastic, carbon emissions and landfill space. And then having the prize be a weekend ‘getaway’ across the country is a guarantee to spew 4,911 lbs of CO2 into the air – air travel is another huge contributor to greenhouse gases. So what is ‘green’ about any of this? Apparently the spa in question is LEED certified. Unfortunately the giant carbon footprint of this whole competition and marketing campaign undermines any green credibility that the spa might have otherwise had.
4. Flying to an ‘Earth Day’ event and then buying carbon offsets
The idea behind carbon credits is simple enough — pay to offset your CO2 emissions from, say, flying across the country, and an organization will negate the emissions by planting trees, launching renewable projects, or initiating some other sort of carbon-reducing project with your cash. There are a number of problems with this. It’s hard to judge the reputability of organizations that sell offsets — some projects are never completed (or started), and many CO2-offsetting projects would have been initiated anyway. A recent investigation by the Christian Science Monitor confirmed these suspicions. A company called 3Degrees, for example, shills offsets at a carbon kiosk in San Francisco International Airport. But the CSM found that 3Degrees actually just gives money to the Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund to — get this — leave trees standing on land the environmental groups own. Beware of ‘too-good-to-be-true’ one-stop fixes to your carbon footprint, which involve buying your way out of carbon emissions instead of changing your lifestyle. There are no silver bullets.
5. Manufacturing and giving out “Eco Tote Bags” on Earth Day
Stop the eco-tote insanity, people! Sure, we all know that plastic bags are horrible for the environment and that using reusable totes to carry your groceries is the eco-friendly thing to do. But producing millions of these eco totes and handing them out at every event, or worse, emblazoning a really shoddily-made bag that wouldn’t last 2 weeks with your company logo and the word “green” and selling them is just insulting. Just because these bags are a grainy oatmeal color or have a picture of a leaf on them does not mean that they don’t take energy to make. In fact, most totebags take a lot more material, energy, labor, water and fuel to manufacture than plastic bags do. And I think most of us probably have at least 20 of these things already. I know I do. This Earth Day, take it upon yourself to think before you buy or accept a free “eco” bag – couldn’t you easily just use a bag you already have for the same purpose? We know that it’s difficult to turn away free stuff but why take it if it’s just going to end up being tossed away – which totally defeats the purpose of an “eco-friendly” bag in the first place!
Yes, we’ll fess up, Inhabitat is complicit in the eco tote mania, and we did produce some eco totes a few years ago… but we’ll make ourselves feel better by saying that this was before they were easy to find at every grocery store and all y’all already had 20 of them in your closet. We’re not printing them anymore, because we don’t feel that the world needs more eco tote bags at this point. On a positive note, we love event organizers who’ve been practicing the art of “no-bag schwag.” Case in point: guests at the GreenShows eco-fashion events during this past NY Fashion week were treated to goodies placed neatly on their seats for them to tuck into their own purses and bags.
Do you have an Earth Day gimmick to add to our list?
Submit the worst Earth Day greenwashing gimmicks youve seen (along with links to photos) in the comments below – we’ll choose the most egregious ones to add to our post!