Another Earth Day came and went and while those of the recent past were front page, major events covered by virtually every form of media, this one just kind of happened. Certainly the fact that Earth Day landed on a weekend, especially a Sunday, did not help, but I believe the minimal media coverage indicates something else that is worth noting – it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach non-believing consumers.
Not for Lack of Effort
I noticed and appreciated a few large events held across the country, mostly on the West Coast and in the Northeast, that drew large, enthusiastic crowds. They were well organized and well publicized, and even drew some local TV news cameras. However, I did not see the national coverage of Earth Days past, and even those successful gatherings can probably be best described as “preaching to the choir.” In other words, well-meaning presenters repeated messages the audience has already heard on numerous occasions from a variety of other presenters.
The environmental topic or cause just does not seem to generate the same level of interest and call to action from the mainstream than it did just a few years ago. The ground swell of support we all hoped for that would motivate even the most eco hard-hearted, has simply leveled off and is not surging the way we witnessed it in the past.
Commercial versus Infomercial
There is no doubt that Earth Day has become much more commercial and if you travel in green circles, you were likely inundated as I was with Earth Day sales and promotional offers on some really good green products. Unfortunately though, and I think we all agree, we are not likely to achieve our much needed sustainability objectives by attending green events while wearing our 100 percent organic cotton tee shirts printed with a clever environmental slogan.
The challenge I still believe is education and the dissemination of information that is fact based and not intellectually insulting, designed to frighten people into doing the right thing, whatever that may happen to be. There seems to be little the environmental experts can agree on, with major disagreement on most eco topics from planet-wide global warming, to backyard composting so any argument along those lines is almost certain to alienate half of the potential audience.
Most of us profit from sustainability in one way if for no other reason because when properly implemented it has the power to impact us all in very real and positive way. The economy and saving money is where most minds are so we have to continue reinforcing that message until the masses listen. This is important because if “saving the planet” is the best feature/benefit of the product we have to offer, we are certain to quickly run out of ammo in what is sure to be a long, tough battle.
The Problem with the Green Savings Message
As a past manager I met used to say, “It’s simply not sexy.” A company reducing their energy consumption by 15 percent results in a significant impact on the bottom line but it is not going to be the headline story on the evening news, not even on Earth Day. When we assist a manufacturer to reduce their packaging by over 20 percent (by weight and volume) it is an accomplishment but People magazine is not likely to contact our client for an interview.
Much of the sustainability work being done, especially in the packaging arena where we play, is done in the trenches. It is not glamorous and does not get a lot of attention but it is extremely effective and has helped countless companies reduce their costs and their carbon footprint. However it is not the type of news story the mainstream media wants so it is incumbent on us to perpetuate the message.
Education or Legislation?
The only thing we can possibly do is to continue offering real value and educating the public so that most will voluntarily agree to participate in the solution to our environmental problems. We can “buy” mind share and market share by creating better products and services, making it difficult to resist the savings being offered. I may be overly optimistic but I sincerely believe that half of the people will do the right thing if they understand the benefit and if the savings offered sufficient incentive.
The rest of the people are probably never going to buy into sustainability until they are forced to by law, and it is enforced with stiff penalties. With an election coming up, we are not likely to see meaningful environmental legislation because almost everything positive for the environment will require some level of compromise and/or sacrifice making it unpopular and an unwise political move. Regretfully, this problem will continue to be passed forward until it can no longer be ignored or put off.
Maybe then Earth Day will be celebrated and it will become front page news again.
Dennis writes in the area of sustainable packaging with his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via GlobeGuardProducts, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies. Recently Dennis also made news by launching GreenPackagingGroup, which is a B2B packaging blog and directory for eco-minded buyers. He is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging.