At an on-campus eatery yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania, I was surprised to find options for lunch that are rarely offered at a dining hall. A pizza, stacked with vegetables and a pesto sauce on whole wheat crust being one. I asked the dining hall employee why the pizza had no cheese, a necessary evil in any slice I would order, and he replied, “It’s Earth Day.” I nodded, puzzled. “I’m sorry…what?” I probed. “It’s pasteurized.”
Forty years since the advent of Earth Day, it seems that everyone is cashing in on the holiday. Yesterday, Earth Day consumers could buy Greenzys, a stuffed animal collection introduced by FAO Schwarz made from soy fibers, or take a Gray Line Sightseeing tour to “green” destinations in New York City. Earth Day, simply put, has become a marketing and revenue gold mine. Activist Denis Hayes organized the first Earth Day, and in a recent interview with The New York Times said, “This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green.” So what is an eco-activist to do? Accept the nature – no pun intended – of this newly commoditized holiday, steeped in consumerism, because for the first time, people are actually paying attention? Or return to the Earth Day of 40 years ago, when no one seemed to care, but at least factories weren’t pumping more carbon into the atmosphere to make Greenzys?
It is a difficult choice, but it seems green enthusiasts have begrudgingly chosen to accept commoditization in return for social visibility. And as a result, companies with “green” marketing initiatives seem to be raking in the green. All except for dairy producers, I guess, because it’s pasteurized – which I’m still not sure I really get.