By LESLIE KAUFMAN
Published: April 21, 2010
So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money fromcorporations and held teach-ins “to challenge corporate and government leaders.”
Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, likeoffice products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.
For this year’s celebration, Bahama Umbrella is advertising a specially designed umbrella, with a drain so that water “can be stored, reused andrecycled.” Gray Line, a New York City sightseeing company, will keep running its buses on fossil fuels, but it is promoting an “Earth Week” package of day trips to green spots like the botanical gardens andflower shopping at Chelsea Market.
F. A. O. Schwarz is taking advantage of Earth Day to showcase Peat the Penguin, an emerald-tinted plush toy that, as part of the Greenzys line, is made of soyfibers and teaches green lessons to children. The penguin, Greenzys promotional material notes, “is an ardent supporter of recycling, reusing and reducing waste.”
To many pioneers of theenvironmental movement, eco-consumerism, creeping for decades, is intensely frustrating and detracts from Earth Day’s original purpose.
“This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what isreally green,” said Denis Hayes, who was national coordinator of the first Earth Day and is returning to organize this year’s activities in Washington. “It is tragic.”
Yet the eagerness ofcorporations to sign up for Earth Day also reflects the environmental movement’s increased tolerance toward corporate America: Many “big greens,” as leading environmental advocacy organizations are known,now accept that they must take money from corporations or at the least become partners with them if they are to make real inroads in changing social behavior.
This year, in an updated version of a...