Earth Hour – does it really make a difference?

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.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. The paradox of inconsequence
  2. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  3. Being more environmentally friendly in 2015
  4. Our addiction to growth
  5. Climate change: we need to clean up after ourselves
  6. Is our love affair with fossil fuels an abusive relationship?

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Working with communities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Earth Hour – does it really make a difference?

  1. thirionfourie says:

    If “millions of people in over 7000 cities from more than 150 countries will switch off their lights for one hour” it will definitely make a difference. But do they? Here in South Africa with a under performing electricity supply commission, we are forced to save electricity and we frequently have load shedding, which means no electricity for stretches of 2 and a half hours per day at times when the demand is too big for the supply. There are other ways in which I like to participate, such as recycling. I still fold up my plastic shopping bags in little triangles and put it in my handbag for when I go grocery shopping.


    • Switching off our lights for one hour want make any difference in itself, and so many other long term actions are much more important. But as a awareness raising activity I think it makes a difference. Like many other awareness raising events, only a small minority are directly involved, but it reaches more people. You certainly highlight that Earth Hour is most relevant in rich nations where most people have reliable electricity!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Earth hour is something I heard about the day after it happened. I didn’t even know it was on and definitely didn’t notice any less lights on Saturday night. I still remember when it started but I think, over the years less and less people are taking any notice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been switching my lights off for Earth Hour for about the past 5yrs when its media influence got really picked up over here in the UK. Im not sure I as an individual make a huge difference but to me this hour is more about reflection, opening my mind up to the ideas behind it and just being part of a solid movement that I believe in.

    Liked by 1 person

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