[This piece was written with the intent of being an EcoGeek article for Earth Day. It may get posted there, either in this form, or else with some editing, but for now, it’s just some of my own thoughts about what Earth Day has become to some.  Evidently I’m not alone in this, because I’ve seen a few other editorials on other sites with similar sentiments.]

Rather than writing something fun and happy for Earth Day, what seems to be coming to my mind is a lot more curmudgeonly.  I’m not finding myself filled with optimism right now.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m older than Earth Day, and I want all you damn kids to stop messing up my green lawn.  Maybe you disagree; I am happy to have the discussion.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and lots of people are commemorating the event in a wide variety of ways.  Unfortunately, Earth Day is coming to be seen as one more marketing opportunity for PR firms to push tenuous bits of information.  There are lots more people riding the coat tails of Earth Day and trying to wrap themselves (and the companies they represent) in a veneer of greenwash in order to sell more of whatever it is they are selling.

Why is it that coffee shops will give you a discount on Earth Day if you use a reusable mug?  Shouldn’t we all be regularly using reusable containers?  Shouldn’t a business like that regularly encourage its customers to use reusable containers?  Why does this still get promoted as though it’s something new and fresh?  This ought to be standard operating practice by now.

A few days ago, Hank tweeted, “Every Earth Day I get like 10,000 press releases from companies promising to be green…for one day. So discouraging.”  All of us, and not just at EcoGeek, but writers at lots of green blogs, get sent stacks of these supposedly green press releases.  As EcoGeeks, we are (at least we hope) more continuously aware of Earth Day issues, and, fundamentally, what we want to know is simply why can’t businesses be green all year round?

A lot of the press releases we get, though they may have some incidental “green” content, are principally written to promote the company.  One that went out earlier this week was supposedly about a company unveiling its new wind turbines.  Only, if you read the full text, they are just buying power from someone else’s turbines that have been built nearby.  More tellingly, the first two paragraphs of the PR piece repeat the company name five times and mention the company’s product four times, but “wind turbine” appears only once (and “wind energy” appears twice, as well).  What is this piece really about?

How about the one that had over 100,000 employees worldwide; one of their initiatives was that “hundreds” of their employees had created “green zones” within the company where they recycled and stuff like that.  I guess maybe the other 95% were wasteful pigs?

A few years ago, I got a press release from a company touting its green initiatives and the millions of dollars it was spending.  Companies like to talk about the millions of this and billions of that they are saving, because big numbers sound impressive.  But, for a big corporation, that figure may be little more than their regular spending on that part of their business. Regular maintenance on a corporate office building runs to millions of dollars annually.  In this case, they weren’t really spending any more than they would have for routine maintenance anyway.  But they were trying to spin it like they were really extending themselves and doing great things for the Earth.

If you think “Shop for the Planet” is the answer for Earth Day, you’re doing it wrong.  Make sustainable choices when you need to make purchases.  But you will have far more impact by deciding to reduce your total consumption than you will if you think that the best way to celebrate Earth Day is to go and buy a “green gift.”