On 22 April 2023, the world will observe its 53rd Earth Day. An astonishing 1 billion people in over 193 countries participate in this annual event which aims to raise awareness about the climate crisis and garner support for environmental protection.
The theme for this year’s event is Invest In Our Planet. “Investing in a green economy”, says the Earth Day Organisation (EDO), “is the only path to a healthy, prosperous, and equitable future”. In other words, in order to save the planet we need nothing less than a green economic revolution. They liken this to past economic revolutions except that this time the fate of humanity hangs in the brink. The theme of Invest In Our Planet aims to highlight that companies can now prioritise both long-term growth and environmentally sustainable practices, without having to choose one over the other. On the contrary, businesses with strong Environmental Social Governance (ESG) standards do better than those who fair badly along those metrics. The responsibility to shift to sustainable practices and green innovation rests squarely on the shoulders of the private sector. It is there that the most impactful changes can and should be made.
EDO also emphasises the need for governments to incentivise moves towards greener practices by empowering environmentally conscious companies, rather than environmentally damaging sectors such as the fossil fuel industry. Governments must uphold their climate promises and encourage the private sector to do the same.
This theme, in my opinion, is spot on. For too long, environmental rhetoric has blamed individuals for the state of the planet and called on us to make changes in our day-to-day lives to mitigate this crisis. We are inundated with messages about our responsibility to recycle, to buy reusable shopping bags, to switch to eco-friendly lightbulbs. Of course, all of these things are important and can add up to substantial positive change. But to actually seriously address the environmental catastrophe, what we really need is change in the corporate sector. That is to say, while efforts to increase general environmental consciousness are necessary, placing so much focus on the actions of individuals detracts from the more pressing need to address the main culprits of environmental destruction and degeneration of the climate: namely, large corporations and toxic industries.
For decades, big corporations have used environmental initiatives like recycling or talk of consumers’ “carbon footprint” to shift responsibility onto individuals. By deflecting in this way, companies have been able to get away with their harmful practices for far too long. It was reported that between 1988 and 2017, a mere 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the fossil fuel and cement sector. Of course, this study is limited to just two sectors, but it’s fair to infer that to a large extent, a small number of major corporations are disproportionately responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Once you put things into perspective like this, it seems laughable to focus mainly on the recycling habits of individuals.
While EDO does encourage individuals to partake in initiatives like clean ups or to end plastic pollution, this Earth Day they emphasise the need to “push for sustainable solutions across the board as voters and consumers”. It is vital that we as consumers support businesses that are serious about their environmental responsibility. Showing companies and stakeholders that their clients and consumers care about their green practices is essential to getting those changes to happen. This is the best way for us as individuals to get the ball rolling on the green economy. We must hold the private sector accountable and not be deceived into thinking that the climate crisis is our fault as individuals or our responsibility to solve alone. Mitigating climate change is such a monumental task that we will only be successful if action comes from the corporate sector, governments, and individuals working together to invest in our planet.