Next Saturday millions of people in over 7000 cities from more than 150 countries will switch off their lights for one hour from 8:30 pm (local time) as part of Earth Hour. But is it more than a media stunt? Does it really achieve anything?
It’s been interesting watching the evolution of Earth Hour since 2004 when it was started in Australia by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) with the help of the advertising agency Leo Burnett Sydney. According to the ad agency (in a short video promoting their role in developing Earth Hour),
For most, global warming is seen as an insurmountable problem… too big for them to solve. So how do you convince individuals that, collectively they can make a difference?
Leo Burnett Sydney created a symbolic event that could become a movement. A simple act that would create a positive tipping point.
Particularly in the early days it was criticised as a shallow, feel-good event that allowed people to feel they were doing something when they really achieved nothing. In response, Earth Hour has been attempting to link the hour to longer term action as a central part of the campaign. This year a key theme is “Use your power” for climate change action and they have launched Earth Hour Blue, a crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform for environmental and social projects.
Earth Hour is very successful as a marketing and community engagement project. It certainly generates a great deal of media (in both mainstream media and social media) and inspires discussion about how we can reduce our environmental impact. Many environment groups are able to use Earth Hour to gain some media attention.
Kellie Caught from the WWF argued that Earth Hour is like Red Nose Day, Movember and Shave for a Cure: awareness raising campaigns that promote symbolic action. The challenge is to encourage people to move beyond the symbolic – a challenge I think Earth Hour is addressing.
Being such a large media campaign, it does have some strange bedfellows proudly supporting Earth Hour. Companies like McDonald’s, Coca Cola, banks (that invest heavily in coal) and even electricity companies that are attempting to undermine renewable energy, use Earth Hour to support their green credentials. At the same time, I don’t think their involvement means we should abandon Earth Hour.
While we need to be quite sceptical about some of the businesses who claim to support Earth Hour and ongoing climate action, overall I’m happy to support Earth Hour and its contribution to raising awareness about the need for us to live more sustainably.
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