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Is Earth Day the New Pride?


The Youth Lab at THINKHOUSE, one of the world’s leading independent agencies, works to demystify youth culture and future-proof some of the world's largest organisations through insights, strategy and innovation consultancy. This week, The Youth Lab tells brands and leaders how they can behave around Earth Day

Is Earth Day the New Pride?

“We seem to be inundated with Earth Day campaigns this year... many of them feeble (at best). Has it just become the marketing fluff calendar event de jour? 🌍 👀” Ellen Ormesher, senior sustainability reporter via LinkedIn

Earth Day (April 22nd) has been recognised since 1970. Since then, the environmental movement has mobilised one billion people worldwide. Its objective is to engage people, governments, and businesses to recognise our collective responsibility and help accelerate the transition to an equitable, prosperous green economy for all. Events, like marches and clean-ups, allow for collective citizen engagement. As Earth Day cements itself on the cultural calendar, more brands and businesses are becoming active and undertaking marketing campaigns. With increased activity comes the increased risk (rise) of greenwashing, with many young people comparing Earth Day marketing to Pride month and pinkwashing. It’s all starting to look a bit the same and it doesn’t look great

For this week’s 52INSIGHTS, we’re discussing if or how Earth Day is the new pride and how brand leaders can engage without greenwashing. 

Earth Day Is Not a Commercial Opportunity

“Ten years ago, Earth Day felt really important and nowhere near visible enough. Now, it feels like a circus; overused as a platform for consumerism.” Alex McIntosh, creative director at Create Sustain, via Vogue Business

In recent years, April and the days leading up to Earth Day have been awash with brands publishing content, often with unsubstantiated sustainability 'greener' goals or initiatives, or selling a product. In a time where a sense of urgency is needed, Earth Day is becoming synonymous with some brands using it for their own commercial gain (similar to Pride) rather than good. In such cases, it is being used as a marketing opportunity to communicate a message of solidarity and promised commitment to our planet and people without the evidence to back up the claims. Not too surprising given a EU Survey from 2020 highlighted that 53% of environmental claims made by companies contain 'vague, misleading or unfounded' information. While some of these marketing campaigns are done with the best of intention, sending out an 'Earth Day 20% off sale' email is ‘tone deaf’ to the meaning of the day and prompting some to unsubscribe - with growing numbers quicker to understand the true meaning and impact of greenlabelling

The Fear of Greenwashing Is Real

“From a marketing point of view, for companies walking the talk, Earth Day provides an opportunity to spotlight their ongoing efforts, though most working in this space are choosing not to contribute to the noise. What we notice is that it's generally the least sustainable brands that are the noisiest during Earth Day, and for that reason, April is certainly the most greenwash-y month!” Lucy Von Sturmer, creatives for Climate via The Drum 

As we’ve previously shared, the World Federation of Advertising green claims guide and new EU greenwashing directives are providing brands and businesses with clearer frameworks to curb greenwashing. They are reinforcing the message from climate scientists worldwide - the importance of providing clear evidence to help citizens make more informed decisions.  There are nuanced ways that brands continue to greenwash, including putting the main responsibility back onto people - known as greenshifting. This TikToker poked fun at it. The dangers of greenwashing and making inaccurate or false green claims, has been highlighted recently in the case of high street banks communicating a focus on renewable energy while silently supporting fossil fuel companies. It was beautifully personified in this recent viral video by Make My Money Matter. Banking on Climate Chaos, a recent report from Rainforest Action Network and partner organisations, highlighted that in 2022 the 60 largest banks injected $673 billion to the fossil fuel industry. 

Data platform CreativeX, used AI to analyse 2.5 million ads from more than 1,000 brands between January 2020 and March 2023. They found that sustainability messaging is featured four times more in automotive ads (an industry that contributes almost 15% of total global CO2 emissions). They also revealed that sustainability messaging increased through December 2022 but fell 47% in the first few months of 2023. In an interview Anastasia Leng, founder and CEO of CreativeX, thinks the dip in sustainability messaging could be to do with budgetary pressure in the cost of living crisis and the price of sustainable goods. As increased legislation comes into effect, the risk of being non-compliant can also be a reason for this decrease. With pressure from citizens calling out brands, the fear of greenwashing is real - as seen with fast fashion retailers removing their 'sustainable' fashion labels. This emergence of ‘greenhushing’ is often a result of fear and lack of literacy. 

Forget Earth Day, Think Earth Years

“​​We’ve arrived at a humanity-defining moment. The most important brief of our careers is to rework our imaginations to drive truly life-affirming outcomes in our work.” Laura Costello, strategy director purpose and planet, THINKHOUSE

With an increased demand for sustainable products and increased expectation for companies to ‘take a stand’, it is more important for brands to consider their impact and actions all year round - and beyond ‘quarterly’ cycles. The reality of climate chaos doesn’t take one particular day or week off, if the rest of the year a brand causes more harm than good. People are challenging these messages from brands sent on Earth Day, and instead are asking for help to create a good life for all now and in the future (which we visualised in our Good Life 2030 response to brief contribution, more below on that).  It’s about acting with integrity and taking action every day of the year for real change to happen fast. 

This week, for example, the advertising industry brought over 200 people together at Tate Modern to explore how we can level up the transformation of our work to serve the future. Led by Purpose Disruptors, the Earth Day Ad summit featured a keynote with creative legend Brian Eno and Jon Alexander (who wrote ‘Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us’). They spoke about how we are in a revolution that we can all be part of. In a ChangeMakers workshop session Thinkhouse strategy director Laura Costello shared learning from our agency journey and the story of developing the Purpose Disruptors community in Ireland. Read more about the conversation here in the LBB write up.

“I think we’re headed for catastrophe..  But I want a better catastrophe…” Brian Eno at the Earth Day Ad Summit

It makes more sense for brands and businesses to support citizens on a daily basis and for Earth Day to be about driving more progress. With all the surrounding discourse on what role brands need to take while calling out empty messages, it’s clear that it needs to be accounted for in the long term, and not a day in the marketing calendar. Leading up to 2030, the next 6.5 years being critical - brands have a responsibility that extends far beyond one day. The latest IPCC report, which we recently wrote about, highlighted that we need to act immediately. 

Brand Takeouts

Adopt Green Skills For The Future -  To be a leader and change-maker in our industry, it’s important to learn and use green skills to mitigate the climate emergency. Educators in the field have highlighted 15 green skills needed for the future. Green skills are the values, knowledge, abilities, and more, that can help connect humans with nature, make informed decisions and ensure justice in decision making. 

Here are key skills that will be key to brands, but all 15 of these skills should be adopted by all:

  • Critical, systems and nature-centric thinking - understanding the interconnectedness and interdependence of our world
  • Scientific understanding - it has never been more important to understand the what, the why, the how and backing it up
  • Long-term thinking - decisions need to be made with the future in mind, planning for evolution and resilience 
  • Pioneer and entrepreneurial skills - being a visionary leader that embraces collaboration and cooperation 
  • Diverse thinking and non-neurotypicality - thinking differently, really listening and responding to diverse perspectives will be key to creating equity for all
  • Artistry and storytelling skills -  to inspire wide-spread change, using creativity will be key to inspiring people to be a part of creating a world we can all live in

Now Is The Time To Level-Up Responsibility - Can we be the humans the next generation wants and needs us to be? If we only look to make small changes, we stay small. Talking is not the same as taking responsibility. Don’t just add to the noise. To really take responsibility and not just talk, a key step is to understand more. Are you just saying something for the sake of it? Is what you’re saying backed up by evidence? Are you really being transparent about your initiatives and goals? Read our guide on greenwashing updates and what is needed from leaders to really take action to understand more. Email for more info on which of our Planet services will support you in driving real impact. 


  • This week, THINKHOUSE’s piece (shown above) in response to the GoodLife2030 brief from 'Client 2030' was featured in the Good Life 2030 exhibition at the Tate Modern this week as part of Purpose Disruptors Earth Day Advertising Summit. Strategy director Laura Costello spoke at a ChangeMakers Masterclass. 
  • Listen to the second episode of our podcast Thinking Out Loud, with Ben & Jerry’s Kerry Thorpe, on how the brand, through creativity, collaboration and ice cream, became a force for good and Jane McDaid, founder and head of creative innovation at THINKHOUSE, about how the two brands' met!
  • and Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ) invited us to be a part of a new monthly feature that will help the marketing industry accelerate its transformation, exploring the actions marketing and business leaders can take to be on the forefront of change that is on the right side of history. Read the first edition of CHANGE IN PROGRESS on
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THINKHOUSE, Fri, 28 Apr 2023 13:23:01 GMT