There’s one Earth Day a year, but every day should be Earth Day. We’ve heard this argument a lot, and we find it hard to dissent. Yet this one day and other international sustainability days do capture the attention of millions of people worldwide.
But still, while all these days sound impactful in theory, they may not always be so in practice. And with the endless parade of awareness-awakening Days, I thought it reasonable to snorkel beneath the surface to see what’s going on.
Without further ado, here are 3 of the most important and well-known sustainability days marked worldwide. Let’s look at the global impact and see if they’re good enough or just used as a sort of sustainability subterfuge to capture our hearts and minds.
- Earth Day
- International Day of Forests
- World Oceans Day
- Goal: to emerge environmental consciousness and put environmental concerns on the front page
- Organizers: EARTHDAY.ORG (EDO)
- Serves as a day of action to change individual human behavior but also national and local policy changes
- Each year has a different theme; in 2022, it’s “Invest in Our Planet”
Each year since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated in the name of climate action. EDO works to try and drive meaningful global action with plenty of events – from climate and environmental literacy to The Great Global Cleanup, to many other projects that aim at transformative change.
Still, there is a tendency for folks and businesses to madly rush to show how much they care for the Earth while not nearly doing enough. Ideally, the impact of this day would be so strong that we’d detect clear progress in reversing climate change. But in case you haven’t noticed, that’s not going so well.
This is not to diminish the significance of the day. It’s a reminder that addressing endemic issues hinges on real action. It is this action that creates transformative change, beyond the tokenism, hashtags, and nice graphic designs.
International Day of Forests
- Goal: to remind humans of the importance and impact of forests in combating climate change, but also in many social and health related ways
- Organizers: United Nations
- Encourages local, national, and international activities involving forests and trees
- Each year has a different theme; in 2022, it’s “Forests and Sustainable Production and Consumption”
This globally glorified day aims to raise awareness of the importance of forests everywhere. Reforestation of some of the planet’s most damaged areas takes place, and information about the importance of healthy forests is shared.
Today is International Day of Forests. As billions of people around the world use forest products, it is essential that sustainable wood is used to preserve our forest. Let us remember every gift our forest gives us and use forest products made from renewable wood. #IntlForestDay pic.twitter.com/cGx9YcgkSV
— Horizon Bag (@Horizon_Bag) March 21, 2022
An Estonian producer of sustainably-sourced paper bags launched a video promoting the use of sustainable and renewable wood.
The sentiment is there, at least. I mean, who doesn’t love trees? Tree worship has been around for ages in every corner of the globe. But with the continued chainsaw massacring of trees — all in the name of profit — practices like reforestation can only put so much of a patch on the problem.
Unfortunately, the debate around deforestation has become myopic. Governments and firms free themselves from the pressure of change as long as moral obligation rests on individual action. Folks are encouraged to take part in this day and to invest in carbon offsetting programs, all year round. But the biggest drivers of deforestation, (e.g. animal agriculture) haven’t been slowing down because of the insightful knowledge gained on the International Day of Forests.
So, what our mossy thickets (and 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity) need are for influential governments, organizations, and people to become environmentally literate. This ancient adage explains it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
On that, let’s hope those pledges against global deforestation made at COP26 are kept by those in power.
World Oceans Day
- Goal: to safeguard 30% of the world’s land, waters, and oceans by 2030
- Organizers: World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council / United Nations
- Inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean
- Each year has a different theme; in 2022, it’s “Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean”
Next to forests, the ocean is another essential natural carbon sink and is necessary for all life on Earth. Plus, the large blue is inextricably linked to the planet’s climate. For this reason, it makes sense that World Oceans Day is globally observed.
Plenty of positive things happen on this day. We’re mainly talking about events where industry leaders, celebrities, community voices, entrepreneurs, and more to talk about oceans’ protection, their health, and biodiversity.
On the other hand, seeing certain sponsors of World Oceans Day on the day’s website raises awkward questions. Zoos and aquariums are often cited to be harmful to marine wildlife. They can be damaging to the ocean and their conservation benefits are debated. Yet, there they are. As with any day, you need to keep a keen eye out for talented greenwashers who will take advantage of anything that might make them seem more sustainable than they are with a perfunctory nod to the moment.
Protecting marine ecosystems (and everything that depends on it) requires steps beyond the fancy green words. Some stronger global legislation against single-use plastic would be useful, for example.
Meanwhile, let’s hope that the latest UN Ocean Conference, which is on at the time of writing and aims to “propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action” propels some impactful solutions into the foreground.
Greenwashing in the Age of Social Media
Although social media can be a positive outlet, it’s also the great bogeyman that breeds deceit. Bustle writer Natalia Lusinski refers to this phenomenon as “Vanity Validation”—a term that describes people and companies portraying a false reality online, keeping the truth hidden in the murky depths. As a result, people easily succumb to the concealed claws of greenwashing —it’s a real threat and appears to be growing every day.
Yes, social media undoubtedly connects people to people and people to businesses. But clearly many people miss the forest from the trees. How can you be sure companies live up to their online reputation when they swindle people under the guise of sustainable “involvement”?
Spoiler alert! The quantity of “likes” and eco hashtags such as #EarthDay are not indicators of sustainable action.
So, is it all worth it in the end?
International days can be the push that people need to set aside some time in their busy lives and dedicate thought to an important cause. They also do make an impact.
Undoubtedly, though, it’s not enough.
Raising awareness is a first step but at some point we must move beyond that – and that point should have passed us a long time ago. Instead of hosting events we should be changing systems.
Still, we have to remember not to feel too personally guilty. Maybe it’s not that bizarre to think individual action will slow the march towards collapse when we’re told it’s our fault. While there is some truth in the argument, this approach is apolitical. This means that effort is not really shared. It does not challenge powerful structures. No wonder corporations so easily use the media to encourage people to “be green”.
So, let’s keep celebrating but mindfully – while trying remembering that all of those hashtags and commendable graphic designs don’t mean all that much, alone. It’s real change that matters. And for that it does need action from something bigger than ourselves.