Why Business Is Good for Earth Day

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Why Business Is Good for Earth Day

The health of our air and water in the U.S. has come a long way since Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970. So has corporate sustainability.

From the beginning, Earth Day has had a mix of grassroots fervor and corporate/government support. The first Earth Day – the brainchild of a senator – was both the perfect reason to hold community celebrations accompanied by folk music and openly challenge the status quo, including how industry was affecting the environment.

There were companies participating in those early years. Target, for instance, gave out tiny trees to customers, and in 1972, dedicated its first parking lot recycling center for the use of the surrounding community. Other companies are more recent converts to the cause thanks to a steady cultural shift within corporate leadership and the population at large.

Today, we expect to read about events our favorite brands are sponsoring in various communities or how they’ve teamed up with a nonprofit to support a specific cause. As I’ve been writing this, an email landed in my inbox announcing that Apple has teamed up with World Wildlife Fund and 24 developers for “Apps for Earth.” Proceeds from these apps support WWF’s conservation efforts.

We also expect our own workplaces to do something to support Earth Day. In fact, for a lot of us, thinking about Earth Day conjures up associations with our jobs, not with our communities or personal lives.

Each April, I run across articles expressing concern that businesses have co-opted Earth Day … and that people everywhere are learning that buying products marketed as green is a better environmental solution than getting actively involved and writing your congressman. (In fact, here’s an older but particularly noteworthy example of such an article. It cites a study that found the folks most worried about climate change were way more likely to live out their concern by buying green products than by contacting an elected official multiple times.)

What’s most interesting to me, though, is that these articles’ authors aren’t as worried about businesses using Earth Day for PR as they are disappointed that the power and excitement of the early Earth Days has been so watered down.

Indeed, the fervor of the 1970’s environmental movement is largely absent from today’s discussion on the environment. I could point to some clear reasons why:

  • Climate change is the bad guy now, and it’s much more abstract than the visible pollution that burned your eyes and caught rivers on fire in the years leading up to the first Earth Day.
  • Environmental issues have become way more politically divided since the ‘70s. (Remember, a Republican administration launched the EPA and most of our foundational environmental legislation.)
  • We do see some environmental passion playing out on social media and blogs – but in our individual lives these days, we’d really prefer to let others take care of the big issues for us (which is something we repeatedly see in our research).

That’s exactly why business’ participation in Earth Day is important – and powerful in a different way. Businesses have the opportunity to be modern grassroots leaders helping Americans be much more mindful of the environmental impact of their daily decisions. So it’s not just about selling greener products that your customers can feel a little less guilty about purchasing; it’s about helping them see how the decision to purchase that product can create a positive chain reaction, in the supply chain and in their own behaviors.

If enough businesses connect these dots for consumers, we’ll begin to move Americans to a social norm where sustainability is quite simply “the way we do things around here.” Earth Day, then, is a catalyst for that storytelling – and a terrific opportunity to generate some excitement and interest in the environment, whether you’re a global manufacturer or a local retailer, a utility or a solar panel company.

So start thinking about Earth Day as your opportunity to lead, to connect dots and to tell compelling stories. Done right, that will create excitement, energy and, more importantly, results. No folk music required.

Skills

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Posted on

April 19, 2016

About the Author

Meghan McDonald

Meghan McDonald

Meghan concepts and writes copy for clients and also reviews creative deliverables for clarity, grammar and brand alignment. She brings an interdisciplinary background in environmental studies and journalism to our team. If you want to know the name of a tree or flower, she’s the one to ask.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.