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Earth Day isn't for us

There’s a scene in Mad Men in which Don Draper, his wife, and kids are having a picnic and basking in a gorgeous sunny day. It’s a picturesque view of the vintage American family. After a few minutes they ready to leave. Don throws his empty beer can into the field. His wife, Betty, shakes out the trash-covered blanket onto the ground and the Drapers drive away. End scene.

Were this a 2017 portrait of family perfection, the Drapers would’ve carefully separated paper from plastic and driven them to a proper receptacle in their energy-efficient 2012 Prius. But their actions in the show are a subtle nod to the way things were just 50 years ago. Paper, plastic, aluminum, it didn’t matter - leave it. It was the world’s problem to dispose of.

I was struck by Alden Wicker’s post in Quartz last month. “Conscious Consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world.” That is a headline. Wicker notes that small acts of consumer behavior - recycling, eating locally, and purchasing sustainably made products - aren’t changing the world as quickly as we want.

She doesn’t advocate giving up on those actions but argues the better way to spend that time and energy is to lobby government agencies or donate to organizations and politicians fighting for these causes. She’s right. Those actions are powerful and there is no substitute for them.

Look at May 1971. The very first post-Earth Day poll saw 25% of the U.S. public declare protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.

Earth Day’s pioneer, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, inspired by the teach-ins from the anti-Vietnam War movements, envisioned a large grassroots demonstration raising awareness and starting a conversation about protecting the planet.

That vision became real. Senator Nelson announced the intentions for Earth Day at a conference in Seattle and witnessed the story spread with vigor across the country. Thousands marched, celebrities and members of Congress spoke, and 5th Avenue was shut down for the day.

In 1990, Earth Day brought together 200 million people around the world and today, 40-odd years after its debut, participation in Earth Day activity reaches 1.7 billion people. The history of Earth Day is a success story in the efficacy of public action.

Here’s some more proof. A 2012 report from TIME found in the early 2000’s “only about a dozen Fortune 500 companies issued a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or sustainability report. Now the majority does. More than 8,000 businesses around the world have signed the UN Global Compact pledging to show good global citizenship in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and environmental protection. The next generation of business leaders is even more likely to prioritize CSR.”

“The next generation…” We gloss over this phrase in sound bites and stump speeches. It’s idealistic, out of sight, out of mind, intangible. But it’s the primary reason why conscious consumerism is not a lie, why it is vital.

If the next generation is taught conscious consumerism is a lie, that purchasing and supporting sustainably made products doesn’t matter, what should we expect their actions as citizens, consumers, and eventually business leaders to reflect? What massive change might we be missing years from now?

There is no silver bullet to creating the change we want in the world. There aren’t even four or five silver bullets. There are countless. It takes decades to see progress. It requires hard work and patience. When using your dollar to influence social and environmental change in an era of instant gratification, it can appear as if the needle of progress is immobile.

The truth is, we may never see the benefits of the conscious consumerism we practice today. Don’t. Let. That. Deter. You.

Get involved. Research and advocate for the causes you believe in. Take pride in the fact we no longer live in a world where we are throwing trash to the wind, shedding ourselves of responsibility. Hold the powerful and yourself accountable.

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We have a little company that makes a Grommet that helps you save water when growing your garden because we’ve learned we should conserve water. We have two Grommets that replace plastic bags inevitably headed for a landfill with reusable ones and another Grommet that preserves fruits and vegetables so they aren’t wasted. Those purchases make a difference in your daily life and your kids’ daily life. That's not a lie.

If those products succeed, those Makers succeed. When those Makers succeed, a strong consortium of growing small businesses in the private sector will turn to public advocacy and action to fight for the very cause they built their business on. Our voices will join theirs. They have to. Making conscious purchases and decisions, tackling the challenges of sustainability, that’s not the world’s problem it’s ours.

Comments

  • gloria j. girouard Says:

    My partner and I do the three "Rs" daily, (recyle, reuse and refurbish) and don't let much in our household go to waste. One of the things I am most proud of her for is the fact that she drains off the rinse water of our washing machine into an indoor rain barrel. Then she reuses that water to fill the machine for the next wash cycle, thereby doubling the use of the water. and drastically cutting back on the amount of water wasted in our drought-ridden community. In the "olden days," she tells me, washing machines used to have this "holding tank" built in to the ringer washers for just this purpose. And she should know, since she's been rebuilding and repairing major appliances for over 40 years !!

    We have purchased several Grommets and will continue to do so as long as you provide them for us !! I applaud your efforts, and cheer you on !!!

  • Marlowe Says:

    Wonderful article. Keep on keeping on!

  • Sue Says:

    Sue C. I was recently hired to write a blog post for a company that makes single use microfiltration devices. I promised to reveal how such devices could move a laboratory a step closer to establishment of a sustainable environment.

  • Linda Says:

    Great Article. Thank You for sharing it. God Bless !!!

  • Pamela Says:

    Even back in the 70's we always took our garbage home with us - we were appalled to see people act as you described! We took the attitude that the only things we left in the woods were our footprints.

  • Lily M Sieu Says:

    The terracotta pot in the ground is a great idea, but it needs a lid to keep the mosquitoes out. We have a terrible problem with people leaving their drain dishes filled with water and mosquito larva going to town. Tiger Mosquitoes can breed in 2 tablespoons of water.

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