Earth Day has evolved quite a bit since the first one that occurred 41 years ago.  In 1970, it was mostly a celebration at colleges and schools across the United States--as many as 20 to 25 million Americans went outside to show their support for environmental reform.

We sure needed it.  Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River (pictured recently here) caught on fire, our rivers and lakes were filthy, and chemicals were seeping into every aspect of our life.  Polluting companies and individuals did what they wanted at will.  The day was a success, and soon led to Earth Week, and now Earth Day is celebrated in at least 170 nations around the world.  The long term effects were positive:  we have cleaner air and water, more people have access to fresh and healthful food, and technology and innovation are the driving forces behind environmental cleanup and energy efficiency.  Soon after the first Earth Day, Richard Nixon signed legislation that created what is now the Environmental Protection Agency. I generally skip Earth Day.  It is not about the cliché that every day should be Earth Day:  after all, every day should be Mother’s and Father’s and Secretary’s (or is National Administrative Assistant) Day, too.

Ed Muskie, 1968 VP Candidate and former Maine Senator at an Earth Day Rally, 1970

Ed Muskie, 1968 VP Candidate and former Maine Senator at an Earth Day Rally, 1970

I have found that Earth Day has become cheapened from both people and companies that usurp April 22 to promote their company or to bombard us with messages that are superficial and frankly, boring.  Part of my thinking is personal--the daily onslaught of public relations messages have doubled to tripled the past two weeks.  I suppose I should be flattered.  After all, I am in the position to write about companies or events and I am told afterwards, again and again, that several hundred words can bring attention, and therefore, prospects and sales, to a company.  I love being in that position--to a point.  Some of the emails I have received are hilarious.  Eco-conscious eye cream, promises of money to be sent to Japan, and recycled plastic water bottles that support sustainably-sourced palm oil-based lipstick are just a few that plunked into my inbox in recent days.  The desperate emails and phone calls, by the way, underly a fundamental business strategy--your company needs to differentiate itself in the marketplace, and doing the same thing as everyone else for Earth Day hardly makes you stand out.

Too many Earth Day events involve handing out cheap plastic tchotchkes and paper brochures that are better off if they were not even made in the first place.  In the craze to show how “sustainable” or “socially responsible” an organization is, marketers and public relations folks want us to feel good about a company . . . by having us buy more stuff from them.  Of course they would deny this fact, and say it is all about caring for the earth, but “caring” does not sell product.

The reality is that we are a consumption-based society, and that will not change anytime soon.  The calls for a return to a strong manufacturing base are not realistic as long as we demand cheaper products and people who are paid low wages are willing to make them.  Nevertheless, big macroeconomic factors that are largely outside our control does not mean we cannot take small steps.  We just do not need Earth Day to prompt us to do so.

What you can do to celebrate Earth Day--and no one should feel obligated to “celebrate” it--is to just change a few habits, buy from companies that you trust, treat yourself my making some healthy exercise or food choices, and acknowledge that in many ways, our society is better off than it was in 1970.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.