Forty years ago, millions of Americans across the country took a stand against the environmental degradation wreaking havoc on the planet; the first Earth Day was born. Over the years, the phrase “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” has become a classic motto of the movement in order to decrease waste and create a more responsible cycle of utilizing material goods. However, like most other movements which begin with the best of intentions, Earth Day has become yet another tool of our profit-driven country. Instead of buying less, we are encouraged to buy green. Environmentally-friendly, organic, and sustainable logos are stamped onto goods to ease consumer’s guilty consciences. In reality, the commercialization of Earth Day is watering down the true environmental message, only fueling the consumption-waste process that is slowly destroying our planet.
It’s officially called green marketing; companies promoting their environmentally-friendly properties (and often hiding those that are not) in order to get consumers to purchase their products. Many companies use Earth Day as a spring-board for this type of advertising. In fact, a study by Environmental Leader, an online group which brings environmental news to businesses, shows that 82 percent of companies surveyed plan to use more “green messaging” as a marketing strategy. There is no doubt that this reflects the eagerness of people to help improve their planet; in fact, the 2009 Global Green Brands Survey showed that 76 percent of consumers plan to either continue or increase their purchasing of eco-conscious products. This clear desire to improve the environment indicates a positive change in American society, but the road to get there seems to be paved with confusion.
Choosing to direct your money towards an organic T-shirt is undoubtedly better than buying a conventional one created using hazardous pesticides. Plus, the eco-message on the T-shirt is a tempting one to spread; you want the world to know that you care. But when your closet is jam-packed with dozens of other shirts, buying yet another simply because it is “green” only creates more eventual waste. It’s no wonder that the United States is the fourth most waste-generating country. When being confronted by a product, the question should not only be “Is it green?” but more importantly, “Do I need it?” If the need is legitimate, buy an environmentally conscious version. If there’s no need for it, simply put the item back for the benefit of the planet.
We must also consider the energy that is exhausted in order to produce green products. Take SunChips, for example. Their new 100 percent compostable package is tempting when you pass them in the supermarket; delicious for you, healthy for the environment. Since the package biodegrades in the ground, it’s easy to assume that SunChips are waste-free. But how much material, water, and energy went into making the chips? The bags? Running the factory? Shipping the finished product? With one-quarter of all Carbon Dioxide emissions stemming from manufacturing, there is more to waste than meets the eye.
In the end, life is about choices. Helping the environment is not about perfection, but about doing the best you can with the knowledge and capabilities you possess. While green marketing can be enticing, flooding reusable bags with surplus “green” goods only adds to the stress that overconsumption puts on the Earth. And when it comes to advertising, cautious optimism is a must; one good quality of a company or product does not negate the waste that went into creating it. Resources like Goodguide.com, a website which ranks brands and their products based on environmental, social, and health factors, can help consumers make more beneficial decisions. When it comes to the health of our planet, both the actions and inactions of humanity play an essential role in dictating the future of our delicate planet.