May 28, 2024

As many people are familiar, Earth day is a “holiday” that happens somewhere between the middle and end of April. While we might not get the day off, it’s still a good excuse to disconnect from all that is human-made and appreciate the wonders of the world. Unfortunately, most of the hopeful concepts that accompany Earth day are lost shortly after elementary school and the purpose of the day is manipulated to have opposite effects. 

(An orangutan in the Bornean rainforest)

One of the most prominent issues is “greenwashing”, a practice in which companies that are environmentally unfriendly claim to be “doing their part” as a promotional stunt or to distract the public from their real actions. This can be hugely seen in ad campaigns when manufacturers release new eco-friendly versions of their product or misleadingly label the ingredients or process used for their product. Watch out for packaging with images of nature or animals, and labels with vague, unmeasurable terms like “sustainable” and “environmentally friendly” : they are especially convincing yet are nevertheless often guilty of greenwashing. Once you realize what greenwashing looks like, the examples start swarming like mosquitos. For instance, most of us remember Starbucks’ transition from plastic straws for every drink to strawless lids in 2018. This happened around the same time that the “save the turtles” movement was going around the internet and creating a negative image around plastic straws. Was it a coincidence that Starbucks chose that time to become more sustainable? Not at all. This decision was entirely promotional so customers could feel like they were helping the environment with their purchases when, according to, “the lid [contains] more plastic than the lid and straw combination”. Starbucks responded to this information saying their actions were justifiable because the cup was made of a plastic that is easily recyclable but it’s statements like that that prevent the progress of the sustainability movement. So what can you do about greenwashing? Well in the case of Starbucks, I recommend bringing your own reusable cup or supporting a local business instead. But in the grand scheme of things, if you notice a company appears to be greenwashing, do some research as to why they might go to those extremes and consider switching to a more – truthfully- sustainable brand.

(Photo from Starbucks’ official Instagram account)

Despite the fact that big companies may act like they have no care for the environment, they sure love to join the festivities around earth day! However, instead of actually listening to the rampant conversation about the planet that happens around Earth day, they prefer to plug in their headphones and offer the rare “recycling is good!” or “plant a tree!” comment. I myself am becoming more and more aware of businesses participating in earth day by encouraging their customers to become more sustainable; it doesn’t seem very fair for them to pass the blame to us, does it? It appears the same handful of eco-friendly actions are being tossed to us like peanuts to chipmunks. While reducing water usage and growing your own veggies are beneficial to the individual’s carbon footprint, they won’t make a dent in the pollution caused by unsustainable manufacturing. It would take about 90 full-grown trees to offset the CO2 emissions produced by the average Canadian, but in comparison it would take about 123.6 million to offset that of a company such as Apple. Although society may rely on certain manufacturers for their products, do not let them excuse their harmful methods by passing the sustainability responsibility to you.

(The Natural Resources Defense Council’s guide to official sustainable labels)

A belief around Earth day that is shared by businesses and individuals alike, is that Earth day means being environmentally conscious for one day, and returning to normal after it’s done. In reality, the purpose of Earth day is to explore and share ways that make it easy to include sustainability in your daily life. Unfortunately, people seem to have the memory of goldfish when it comes that time of April: we participate for the day, and then go back to swimming in our bowls, forgetting what the point of it actually is. This is why environmentalists are encouraging rebranding Earth Day as Earth Month for the entirety of April until ultimately the general population treats every day as Earth Day. In my opinion, the earth has gifted us with so many wonders in nature, in the animal kingdom, and everywhere else that Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves and connect with what the world has to offer. As long as the earth is working for our survival, it deserves that we do the same for it. So although the month may be over, let’s make our goals from April our achievements in May

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Alissa Ahrens

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