Brands and Ramifications of Earth Day’s Collateral Damage

Earth Day has always been a peculiar holiday when it comes to marketing and promotional ties that are made to a day reminding us to honor the planet. Even though the tie to honoring nature was clearly evident in the film AVATAR, I still had a concern when we were promoting it for release on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  I totally appreciated the strong message in the film and how it related to the holiday – I just wondered how people would react to the additional physical needs required for releasing on Earth Day (it fell on a Thursday rather than the traditional Tuesday release day and the amount of packaging manufactured was huge for the highest selling BD/DVD of all time.)  Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much of a backlash as I thought.  There was barely any. So, for all of the hubbub about Earth Day and the interests of brands in promoting their products in the spirit of the day, there is quite a bit of collateral damage.

Heading into Earth Day this Sunday, there are a number of companies tying themselves to the holiday – with Target being among the largest.  They are giving away 1.5 Million re-usable bags on Sunday and promoting a bunch of their ecologically sound products.  Other companies are doing their own twist on the theme with Disney Stores allowing guests to trade in 5 disposable shopping bags for a themed re-usable one, Origins is offering the opportunity to trade in existing skin care product for one of two Earth-friendly products at Macy’s stores, and Pottery Barn Kids providing sunflower seed packets.

The value and awareness that is brought by large retailers and brands doing their own bit to celebrate the day are great and definitely needed.  Perhaps it could become the exception when a company is NOT doing something in support of the day. Partnerships with eco-organizations are the easiest ways to both make a statement and increase awareness.  There are definitely a large amount of non-profits that fit the bill.

The bizarre thing is what I refer to when mentioning Collateral Damage – the ill effect that some programs have on the environment.  While Target is doing their huge program and increasing awareness by fostering a strong partnership with Recyclebank, an organization that is working towards a world without waste by rewarding people for taking everyday green actions – like recycling and reducing water use – Target has created a huge opportunity for waste.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are doing something for the better good and they are not new to the game – they have been giving $.05 discounts to consumers who use their own bags since November of 2009.

Their true good has been made murky by the fact that they have created 1.5 MILLION bags – objects that would not have existed otherwise – and brought them into the marketplace.  The message is strong about helping the ecology, but what about the message of all the materials that went into that manufacturing?  Additionally, their promotion of savings on numerous eco-friendly products requires consumers to print out coupons on pieces of paper.  Couldn’t they just say that all those items are on sale on Sunday – no coupon/waste required?

Ultimately, it’s a challenge.  How do products that require manufacturing of some sort ever even themselves against any real or perceived destruction of the ecology?  I’m not saying that brands and retailers should throw up their hands and say its no use. It’s just the opposite.  They should be looking deeper into how they can make a statement – whether through packaging, year-long practices and the simple things like having items be on sale without requiring paper to be wasted in order to redeem the savings.

To some extent, we will always be playing a zero-sum game with the idea of consumption and preservation.  Perhaps we will get to the point where we are actually preserving and recycling at a greater rate than what we are wasting.  It is baby steps and we can only hope to keep the damage to a minimum – especially as we celebrate Earth Day.

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