Why on earth do we still need Earth Day?

Speaking Sustainably

Why on earth do we still need Earth Day?

A few weeks ago over on LinkedIn, Joel Makower posted a rework of his article from 2011 declaring green marketing "over." I posted a response then and have more to say today, starting with, “Yes.”

Yes: if we define green marketing as “the marketing of a green product.” Within that context, Joel may well be right. Green products have struggled to break through to the mainstream. According to our ongoing polling of Americans on this topic, the 22 percent of the population that leans green and is willing to pay a price premium for green products doesn’t want to buy mainstream brands. So that rules out Clorox Green Works -- but rules in Seventh Generation (and if you look at The New York Times article Joel references that mentions the sales decline of Green Works, you’ll note the article also points out that sales for “pure” green brands such as Seventh Generation and Method are on the rise).

So, yes, if we’re talking about mainstream brands trying to sell a green product with a price premium to the mainstream market, that model has struggled to work.

But that’s not the only model.

In fact, when it comes to green marketing, we must think much bigger. We know from our ongoing polling that nearly half the American population considers a company’s environmental reputation while they’re deciding what product to buy. We also know that “corporate reputation” is now the No. 3 way a consumer decides if a product is green (up from the No. 8 slot four years ago). So every company in America should be figuring out how to package their corporate sustainability story and leverage it at the brand level — which sounds an awful lot like “green marketing” to me.

And that gets me to the title of this post. I’m all for casting a spotlight on the environment once a year and engaging Americans in a conversation about all that needs to be done (as well as their roles). But the very existence of a single day makes it all too easy for companies to see green marketing as an event, rather than an ongoing commitment. A promotion instead of a serious integration of sustainability into a company’s values, purpose and brand.

If we want to see a paradigm shift in our culture — if we want sustainability to become The Way We Do Things Around Here — it must be celebrated, promoted and leveraged every day. And if companies want to see a market or sales lift from the good things they’re doing, they’ll need to go way beyond a strategically placed free-standing newspaper insert on April 22.

They’ll actually need to do ongoing “green marketing.”

Image by Milleflore Images via Shutterstock