ICYMI: The Good, Bad and Ugly on Earth Day 2013

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ICYMI: The Good, Bad and Ugly on Earth Day 2013

Hello. Sigh. Happy Earth Day.

You'll forgive me if there's only so much enthusiasm I can generate for this event, the one day when people explicitly acknowledge and even celebrate the environment, and the day that loads and loads of companies explicitly attempt to capitalize on that acknowledgement and celebration.

As much as this "holiday" fills me with dread and despair -- such that we regularly need to blow off steam here on GreenBiz by skewering the worst of the bandwagoneers -- there's also only so much dismay and disdain I can generate for what are, by and large, well-intentioned if unfortunate efforts to support Earth Day.

In surveying the landscape of this year's Earth Day phenomenon, we see the same broad categories of pitches -- tree plantings galore, efforts to connect Earth Day with conspicuous consumption and some plain off-the-wall announcements. There are also a number of companies that made either significant Earth Day commitments or -- better yet in my book -- made significant commitments that were not explicity tied to Earth Day (but were pretty clearly tied to the theme of the day). So let's begin, by running through the following categories of Earth Day "news":

  • Interesting, Explicitly Earth Day Pitches
  • Unfortunate Earth Day Stories
  • Shopping-themed Earth Day Stories
  • Interesting News Coincidentally Tied to Earth Day/Week/Month
  • Other Interesting News

Interesting, Explicitly Earth Day Stories

Walmart does Earth Month Right: Walmart rolled out a ton of stuff for Earth Month, including a great number of Actual News items, such as its new commitments to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses by 600 percent by 2020, make the plastic toys it sells safer for workers as well as consumers and much more. The company also relaunched and is posting green news and tips on the Walmart Green Room every day this month, and will be releasing its annual sustainability report this week.

NASCAR continues its Race for Green: NASCAR similarly has a slew of green events this month, and is plugging them on http://green.nascar.com/. Among the interesting developments: Lots of tree planting as part of a partnership with UPS to offset the emissions of every NASCAR race in 2013, through its "Clean Air Tree Planting Program;" a new ad spot touting NASCAR Green; a new partnership with Liberty Tire Recycling to recycle 120,000 tires a year; and various promotions from team sponsors.

Telecommuting for Earth Day: The suggestion that employees should telecommute one day per year normally would make me want to lump this story in with the Unfortunates below, but I hope that a survey published last week by TeamViewer (makers of collaboration software, of course) helps convince employers to encourage more remote work. It'll take an organizational sea change for almost any company to maximize the environmental benefits of occasional or frequent telecommuting -- such as reducing office space coupled with flexible workspaces and unassigned desks just as a start -- but it's a smart direction for companies to move in.

Unfortunate Earth Day Stories

Happy F***ing Earth Day: Apparently, Astroglide and Californians for Population Stabilization have different ideas about how to save the Earth. Nonetheless, Astroglide has decided to share its "Fun ideas for Green Dating with the world today.

Driving the Earth Day message home: There were plenty of car-related Earth Day announcements this year, and I am all in favor of purchasing the greenest car possible, but a trio of unlucky winners need to be singled out for attention: AutoTrader.com and Kelley Blue Book, each of which Included in their pitch the unfortunate phrase "Just in time for Earth Day," which is one step short of the much-loathed "Go green in time for Earth Day"... KBB at least also used the day to release its 10 best green cars of 2013 list. Separately, Toyota's pitch is to offer free parking to hybrid drivers at an event its sponsoring in Manhattan. But seriously, who drives in Manhattan?

Eco "Rally Towels"? Somehow, giving out organic cotton towels to attendees of the Pittsburgh Pirates' game yesterday counts as an environmental good.

Welcome home, Earthlings? I simply do not understand Whole Foods' EarthlingMonth idea. The poster is above -- can anyone help explain this to me? If Whole Foods shoppers are "Earthlings," what are the rest of us?

Captain Planet for the Newest Generation: As the parent of two small, television-free children, I cringe at just about everything in this sentence: "Tree Fu Tom, the animated preschool series that's taken Britain by storm, will make its U.S. debut on Sprout®, the 24-hour preschool channel, on [Earth Day]."

Shopping-Themed Earth Day Stories

Keeping up with the Greens: I am sure that Mintel imbues this headline with negative connotations: Green to be seen-some consumers only going green to impress others, reports Mintel -- but I'm actually kind of stoked that you can earn cred through greener purchases (inasmuch as I can be stoked about any kind of not-entirely-necessary purchases).

• There were a great number of hotel- and tourism-related Earth Day pitches, many of which GreenLodgingNews has rounded up for us. You can/should fly to Hawaii, Chicago, Santa Monica, Boston or any number of other places to celebrate the environment.

• Here's an interesting idea, poorly presented: I received an email pitch about Bambooee -- the washable, reusable, bamboo-based paper towels with the strange name. I'm actually kind of into this idea and I'd probably check them out ($10 for a roll); I just don't think tying Earth Day to shopping is a smart idea.

• Evergreen Packaging has four "simple steps to be an green-minded shopper". Why yes, they are all about packaging...

• EcoTools, an oddly named cosmetics brand, is offering $1 donations for every purchase made in April.

Interesting News Coincidentally Tied to Earth Day/Week/Month

• The annual Goldman Prizes were awarded last week, honoring the best of environmental activism around the world. Among this year's winners are leaders of an anti-fracking campaign in South Africa; a nonviolent occupation effort to protect forests in Timor; a campaigner that shut down two of the dirtiest coal plants in the U.S.; and the leader of an effort to restore marsh ecosystems in Iraq.

• New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg got 10 major partners to his PlaNYC emissions-reductions project: five finance heavyweights, including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, as well as Google, JetBlue, and Bloomberg the Company all signed on to cut their emissions by as much as 40 percent in the next 10 years.

• The EPA released its annual list of companies that use the most green power; the top five is a list of familiar names to anyone who has been following the Green Power Partnership: Intel, Microsoft, Kohl's, Whole Foods and Walmart.

• The Princeton Review, in partnership with the USGBC's Center for Green Schools, released its annual list of the 322 greenest colleges in the U.S., and Green Mountain College in Vermont once again scored first place, with a perfect 99 rating from the Princeton Review.

• Starbucks is now offering reusable, £1 cups for its UK customers.

• Kroger this week announced that it would source 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

• Sony unveiled a new sustainability strategy that includes cutting its carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2020, a goal that will be made much easier as it begins to phase out DVD sales.

Other Interesting News

• The International Integrated Reporting Council released the much-anticipated consultation draft of the IR framework, an effort to tie financial and environmental performance in annual corporate reports that promises to change how investors and corporate leaders think about environmental impacts.

• The Association of Climate Change Officers this week published the first version of the first stage toward creation of a certification for sustainability professionals. The Core Competencies for Climate Change Officers and Professionals draft are open for public comment as they take shape for launch in 2014, and will help people working at every level of corporate sustainability -- from green team members to CSOs -- take the reins of their work.

• China doubled down on its commitment to reduce its emissions, saying at an event in Beijing that environmental issues are now a "domestic requirement" and that it will continue with its goals to reduce emissions "even if other countries say they will do nothing." This is good news, especially as, according to a new report from the Climate Policy Initiative, China is responsible for 68 percent of the world's increase in emissions between 2000 and 2010, compared to just 8 percent generated by its similarly fast-growing neighbor India.

• Sure, we joked about hotels encouraging air travel for Earth Day before, but I am pretty keen on the pilot Global Sustainable Tourism criteria that are about to be tested out in Machu Picchu, Peru, and Lake Llanquihue in Chile.

• In closing, Bill McKibben published a short but sweet piece in Grist yesterday praising two Earth Day heroes -- Tim DeChristopher and Sandra Steingraber -- for their personal sacrifices on behalf of the planet. Having long followed McKibben's work with 350.org, and having just finished reading the autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., I am greatly encouraged and inspired to see these kinds of efforts applied to climate and environmental concerns.