I had an interesting conversation recently with Alex Kaplan from AdWeek. He asked me if brands should still celebrate Earth Day. Or, given the amount of coverage, give up on the attempt to break through. You can see his article at this link: https://bit.ly/earthdaybrand.
My answer was, yes of course, brands should mark Earth Day. The issue is grave. The emissions we are responsible for put earth’s future and our survival in peril. Ignoring Earth Day would not be right.
But, Earth Day is in urgent need of a rebrand. It is old. It was initiated by Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin, in 1970. This was before climate crisis. The issue was pollution. The impetus was a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara the previous year. The intention was to make young people aware of the importance of the environment. Its purpose was educational. It was designed by older people to enlighten college and high school students. The orientation was community and grass roots.
More than 50 years later, the tables have turned. It is the young who are the most acutely aware and desperately concerned about the degradation of the environment. They are driving the topic among older generations.
Presciant has just partnered with Vice Media in research which shows that the environment and climate change are the number one issue for GenZ globally. Young people feel they have been watching hopelessly from the sidelines, while their irresponsible elders destroy the world they will inherit, leaving it to them to try to clear up the mess. Thanks to social media and their emergence into the workforce, they are starting to exert their power and to make themselves felt, led by activists such as Greta Thunberg.
Earth Day’s brand has been left far behind. Here are my three suggestions for what it should do to catch up.
#1. Change the name. A name is a signal and ‘Earth Day’ sends the wrong signal. The word ‘Earth’ conjures up a blue and white ball seen from afar. It suggests space travel. It is remote, not intimate, not relevant. Instead, we should use ‘Planet’, a word which we now associate with environmental urgency. And ‘Day’ implies a lack of seriousness. You can’t accomplish much in a day. We all know how difficult it is to combat climate change. The problems require committed ongoing action.
#2. Put brands at the center. The organizations that can make the greatest difference are corporations, not governments, regulators and educators. It is industry that is responsible for the emissions, land degradation, depletion of water resources, and waste, that are placing intolerable stresses on the environment. All brands are complicit – not just oil and gas and automotive, but everything from consumer packed goods, to fast-food and fashion. It is brands that should take the lead in changing things.
#3. Take part. Earth Day’s purpose must be no longer to teach or preach but to amplify the voice of the younger generations and increase the pressure they are able to put on their elders. This cannot be a one day thing. A one day, or one week celebration can galvanize, but is nothing like enough. What is needed is for Earth Day to form partnerships with brands, become the nexus for initiatives which can have real impact. Listening, learning and supporting. Constant, continuous action.