It’s Earth Month: 5 effective Earth Day campaigns and the history of the holiday

Updated: 
April 4, 2023
Article

Every April, people around the world celebrate Earth Month, a time to reflect on our relationship with the planet.

the earth in black and white

April is Earth Month, a time to celebrate our planet and take action to protect it. Earth Day, which is celebrated annually on April 22nd, is the largest civic event in the world, with over a billion people participating each year.  

Earth Month continues the Earth Day movement, which began in the United States in the early 1970s. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Earth Day and Earth Month, take a closer look at five effective campaigns that companies have launched to celebrate Earth Day, plus five things your company can start doing now.  

The history of Earth Day and Earth Month  

The first Earth Day was held in the United States on April 22, 1970 as a grassroots movement to raise awareness about the country’s environmental issues and environmental justice. At the time, pollution was rampant—around 26.8 million tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) were emitted in the U.S., compared to 7.6 million tons by 2021—and there was little government regulation to protect the environment (the EPA didn’t yet exist).  

Started by Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, the Earth Day movement was supported by a network of activists, organizations, and millions of people participating in events and activities across the U.S.  

The inaugural event successfully raised public awareness across the country on the impact of pollution on ecological and human health and spurred the government to take action. In the years that followed, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and a number of environmental laws were passed, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

How Earth Day has raised awareness about climate change

While staying grounded as a grassroots public civic event, Earth Day has maintained a central role in America’s policy, regulations, and corporate climate action. Some statistics that demonstrate its impact:

• Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has led to the passage of several important environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

• In 2016, the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, was signed on Earth Day.

• The 2023 theme of Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet.” Its focus is to account for everyone and hold everyone accountable, including businesses, governments, and citizens.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, with events and activities taking place worldwide, marking the beginning of Earth Month, which is now celebrated every April. The event grew in popularity, and in 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 as International Mother Earth Day. Today, Earth Day is celebrated in over 190 countries. While Earth Month is a time to celebrate the progress made when protecting the environment, it’s also a time to reflect and double down on action to address the climate crisis and the environmental challenges that remain.

While many individuals take the time to reflect on their own behaviors or to make changes in their personal lives, for companies looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint while also improving efficiency in operations or supply chain management, Earth Day offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on what they are doing right—or wrong—when it comes to sustainability initiatives.

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5 effective Earth Day campaigns from popular companies

Businesses have an important role to play in protecting the environment. Here are five effective Earth Day campaigns that companies have executed:

1. Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign

In 2011, outdoor clothing company Patagonia launched a campaign called “Don’t Buy This Jacket” for Earth Day. It was designed to politely discourage consumers from buying new clothing. Instead, it encouraged them to repair or reuse what they already have to support a circular economy. It’s an example of “Systematic Authenticity” that puts people and the planet before profit, though there’s no doubt that campaigns like this have led to Patagonia’s ongoing and long-term success, despite highlighting the importance of sustainable consumption.

2. Apple’s “Liam” recycling program  

In 2016, Apple launched a program called “Liam” for Earth Day. Liam was a robot designed to recycle iPhones and recover valuable materials, such as aluminum and cobalt, that could be reused in new products. The program helped to reduce e-waste, promote sustainable manufacturing, and deepen the tech giant’s commitment to carbon neutral products.

3. IKEA’s “Buy Back” program  

In 2020, furniture retailer IKEA launched a program simply called “Buy Back” for Earth Day. It allowed customers to sell gently used IKEA furniture back to the company, which it would then resell at a discount.  

While IKEA’s brand was often synonymous with disposable products, the program encouraged customers to keep furniture out of landfills. It was a huge success—19,000 pieces of furniture recirculated in the first year—and helped change the brand’s image. The buy back and resell program continues to this day.

4. Google’s “Your Plan, Your Planet” campaign  

In 2019, Google launched a campaign called “Your Plan, Your Planet” for Earth Day. The campaign provided users with a personalized carbon footprint assessment and suggested actions to reduce carbon emissions. Google also pledged to offset the carbon emissions generated by the campaign. (FYI, Sustain.Life also has a free personal emissions calculator.)

5. Adidas’ “Run for the Oceans” campaign  

In 2019, Adidas launched “Run for the Oceans” for Earth Day. The campaign encouraged people to run and log their miles using the Runtastic app. For every kilometer logged, Adidas pledged to donate $1 to the Parley Ocean School, an organization that educates and empowers young people to protect the ocean.  

5 things your company can do to celebrate Earth Month

If you’re thinking, “ok these are massive companies with multi-million-dollar campaign budgets; what can my company do?” The answer: plenty.  

1. Learn how to calculate emissions from your electricity use  

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings account for over 76% of electricity use—and only about 20% of electricity comes from renewable sources. Measuring how much electricity your organization uses helps you spot trends and identify equipment that consumes large amounts of energy so you can make environmentally friendly adjustments.

2. Engage vendors and suppliers about sustainability

Even if a service-based company thinks it has a minimal carbon footprint, its actions can influence the behaviors of other stakeholders and create a business environment conducive to long-term growth.

3. Make sure your next event is a sustainable one

Event organizers know that there are thousands of decisions—little and big—that go into organizing a successful event. Layering sustainability into those decisions can seem daunting at first, but if you start with what’s most impactful—for example, eliminating disposables, choosing a venue in a walkable city, providing water refill stations, or measuring and offsetting the emissions you can’t avoid—the rest will become second nature.

4. Offer carbon offsets as an employee benefit

To really engage employees and get cultural support, you can go beyond your corporate boundaries by offsetting the personal emissions of your employee base as an employee benefit.

5. Share your sustainability journey with your audience

70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it’s important for a brand to be sustainable, and 87% of buyers say they will buy a product because the company supported an issue they care about. So start sharing your sustainability story on your website to help you stand out from competitors, attract new customers, build trust, and increase sales. And if you’re just starting out, sharing your sustainability story is a valuable precursor to more formal sustainability reports. Bonus points for timing the release with Earth Day to generate even more excitement!


Sources

1. Statista, “Air pollutant emissions in the United States from 1970 to 2021, by pollutant,” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1139418/air-pollutant-emissions-by-type-us/ Accessed April 4, 2023

2. EPA, “EPA History,” https://www.epa.gov/history Accessed April 4, 2023

3. EarthDay.org, Accessed April 4, 2023

4. Patagonia, “Don’t Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times,” https://www.patagonia.com/stories/dont-buy-this-jacket-black-friday-and-the-new-york-times/story-18615.html Accessed April 4, 2023

5. Harvard Business Review, “Patagonia’s Provocative Black Friday Campaign,” https://hbr.org/2012/11/patagonias-provocative-black-f Accessed April 4, 2023

6. Apple, “Liam - An Innovation Story,” https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Liam_white_paper_Sept2016.pdf Accessed April 4, 2023

7. Apple, “Environment,” https://www.apple.com/environment/ Accessed April 4, 2023

8. IKEA, “Buy Back & Resell,” https://www.ikea.com/us/en/customer-service/services/buyback-pubfeb6cc00 Accessed April 4, 2023

10. Google, “Your Plan, Your Planet,” https://yourplanyourplanet.sustainability.google/ Accessed April 4, 2023

11. Runtastic, “RUN FOR THE OCEANS 2022: LET’S MAKE THE IMPOSSIBLE HAPPEN!,” https://www.runtastic.com/blog/en/run-for-the-oceans/ Accessed April 4, 2023


Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
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Sustain.Life Team
Sustain.Life’s teams of sustainability practitioners and experts often collaborate on articles, videos, and other content.
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Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
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The takeaway

– Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has led to the passage of several important environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.  

– In 2016, the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C, was signed on Earth Day.