Earth Hour and Lessons for Environmental Campaigns

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By Pianpian Wang

Earth Hour is an event organized by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) that aims to heighten people’s awareness of climate change, carbon impact and related issues, by turning off lights for one hour on a specific date in March every year. This year’s Earth Hour will be between 8:30pm – 9:30pm, on Saturday, March 25, 2017.



The first time I joined the Earth Hour Campaign was in China in 2009. I can remember turning off lights at home and opening the balcony window to borrow some light from the street. My family was sitting together on the sofa and talking about random things. The hour passed more quickly than I imagined it would, and we all had a great time just talking to one another.


Several years later, Earth Hour has become more and more influential. In 2016 alone, 178 countries (territories), 1.2 million individuals together with 12,700 landmarks actively participated in the campaign. Compared to Earth Hour’s figures in 2007, which were only 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses as participants the movement has taken a strong hold among the business world. The campaign has been spread broadly and successfully within 9 years. 


As the initiative gains increasing notoriety, comments and critiques have begun to discuss whether or not the Earth Hour is doing any good. I personally don’t think that people’s focus should be on the necessity of the Earth Hour campaign. As WWF said, Earth Hour is a symbolic event that allows people concerned with climate change to connect around the world. If it works well, we should look into why it works well and how Earth Hour has attracted a large amount of participants instead.


Several features of the Earth Hour campaign are summarized as follows:


Firstly, Earth Hour has a very clear request, which is to advocate for people to switch the light off for one hour once a year. Climate change is a complicated problem, but Earth Hour uses an eye-catching way to connect a simple behavior, like using electricity, to climate change, with the purpose of spreading the message as broad as possible that seemingly small or insignificant actions add up.


Secondly, participating in the Earth Hour campaign is easy for anyone. One important reason that many other environment related campaigns have relatively low participation rate is because people are either asked to make a dramatic change in their living habits, or are requested to make a contribution well beyond their capacity. Plus, environmental protection results are generally long-term based and are difficult for the public to track, which makes people back off sometimes. However, if the desired result is achievable without meddling with people’s interests, the majority would like to do it. It’s not rocket science – you feel good mentally when you do good things.


Similar to joining the Earth Hour, people can also purchase carbon credits to mitigate their daily carbon impact with no need for dramatic changes personal habits. The carbon credits are generated from forestry, renewable energy or other environmentally friendly projects that reduce carbon emissions. Purchase the carbon credits equals support these projects.


Finally, Earth Hour allows people to connect and reconnect. No matter whether it is a small family gathering, like my family did as stated above, or a big march, or party organized by local WWF partners, Earth Hour provides an opportunity for people to socialize and share their thoughts, which includes more people in the movement, even though they might not fully understand climate change just yet.


Planting a concept in people’s mind is the prerequisite for taking action, yet it is not easy to achieve. Earth Hour has done a good job to include many stakeholders in this regard, which provides a good lesson for all environmental campaign organizers.



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