Campaign Spotlight: World Environment Day vs Earth Day

Written by Strategic Agenda’s Communications and Writing team

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations as a focal point for efforts to manage the impact of human activity on the natural environment. Every year since 1973, on 5 June, millions of people across the world partake in activities that shed a light on the most pressing environmental issues. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), this campaign has become the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is a key moment in the calendar for stakeholders, and their communications teams, from every sector and market. 

If the rhetoric on World Environment Day gives you déjà vu, you’re probably familiar with the famous Earth Day. Celebrated on 22 April every year since its inception in 1970 (just a few years prior to World Environment Day), Earth Day is organised by non-profit EARTHDAY.ORG and is described as “the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement.” The aim is to empower individual actions and community voices to unite and enact larger positive change. 

A different theme from within the broad spectrum of environmental issues is highlighted each year and for each ‘Day’. The chosen theme shapes the messaging, visual identity and communications campaign of the Day. Both Days have recently received criticism for greenwashing, placing an inequitable burden on individual action, and failing to hold the most culpable to account. 

In this article, we explore the 2024 communications campaigns for World Environment Day and Earth Day to better understand the different approaches to ‘World Days’, from the messages they promote to the tactics they use.

Ultimately, we are asking the question: Do we need both?

World Environment Day 2024

UNEP pulled out all the stops and went big with their campaign this year. Broad spectrum social media campaigning and traditional advertising tactics such as billboards (in New York City’s Times Square, no less) were complemented by quirkier tactics such as the world’s largest street artworks and a Spotify playlist. It worked – almost 4,000 events were officially registered to mark World Environment Day, a record high.

What makes this campaign different?

1) Timely themes

The annual theme helps shape each World Environment Day into a specific and targeted movement within the broader scope of environmental issues.

  • This year, #GenerationRestoration was about bridging generational gaps and coming together to work towards “land restoration, tackling desertification, and drought resilience”. The symmetry of rhyming four-syllable words makes for a catchy and memorable hashtag, without muddying the message.
  • When a particular issue is urgent and unsolved, it recurs as a theme with subtle variations. For example, the 2018 theme was “beat plastic pollution”, while 2023 featured “solutions to plastic pollution”. As this is an ongoing concern, 2025 is aiming higher with “ending plastic pollution”.

2) Effective efforts

Many calls to action are vague. Come join us… do what? To achieve an end goal, tangible and actionable efforts are needed.

  • UNEP created a comprehensive practical guide aimed at a wide range of stakeholders to complement coordinated events around the world.
  • They made it easy for everyone to get involved by having an event registration page and an interactive events map, validating people’s interest and effort.
  • To further highlight people’s efforts and inspire others, UNEP produced short documentaries with cinematic visuals and a consistent tone.

3) Continuous coverage

In the lead-up to 5 June, there’s always a marked increase in posts on World Environment Day’s landing page and the accompanying updates page (featuring news and stories), as well as on all social media platforms.

  • A huge hit this year was a video featuring a diverse cast of people from different generations, ranging from celebrities and influencers (UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors) to the upper echelon of the United Nations (UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen), inviting people to join the movement to restore the planet. Another notable video was an inspiring message from NASA.
  • UNEP engaged graphic and digital designers to develop informative visual assets and photo cards for posting on social media platforms. The simple yet effective designs were intended to resonate with a wide range of audiences and be utilised by a variety of partners. These assets were easily shared, personalised and reposted by a network of internal and external advocates. This approach increased the campaign’s digital footprint and created satellite influencers within relevant communities.

Earth Day 2024

Earth Day’s theme this year was “Planet vs. Plastics” and demanded an ambitious 60% reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040. Earth Day 2024’s interactive map of events, which includes the surrounding Earth Month events, shows 8,907 events registered globally. The programme of activities and events was diverse but unified by their grassroots focus and core message. 

What makes this campaign different?

1) Communal changemaking

Earth Day focuses on sparking individual action and creating public momentum that inspires policy change, rather than concentrating on corporate or institutional stakeholders directly. Trying to cater to such a broad audience means that digital spaces are often the first meeting point for changemaking communities. Earth Day 2024 offered the opportunity to engage with the campaign in different ways. People could:

2) Confrontation = conversation

This year’s slogan “Planet vs. Plastics” was a call-to-arms that clearly identified plastic manufacturing, usage, management and disposal as the enemy of the environmental movement.

  • Benefits: This confrontational message and the creation of a demonised ‘other’ were intended to start the conversation, establish the opposing sides of the debate and galvanise public support. It was hoped this would mobilise and unify individuals and communities globally, through their shared opposition, and create a much larger and louder lobby for regulatory reform, stricter sanctions on polluters, and a change in practices or behaviours from the private sector plastic industry.
  • Drawbacks: The creation of an ‘other’ for people to blame could end up being counterproductive, sowing the seeds of division rather than unifying people to work towards solutions. In some ways, it abdicates people from personal responsibility over their own use of plastic, which directly contradicts the core organisational vision of Earth Day. Additionally, the demonisation of plastic usage fails to acknowledge use cases in a variety of sectors, from healthcare to construction, that are currently essential to saving or improving people’s lives.

3) Missing the mark?

  • Although EARTHDAY.ORG has a Press Room with semi-frequent posts before and after the actual Earth Day, it was strangely silent on 22 April. It seems an odd choice to have no digital presence on the day itself.
  • In their quest for youth outreach, Earth Day formed a partnership with Rovio’s Angry Birds 2, gamifying the experience of learning about birds’ anger at plastic trash. It was an innovative idea… 15 years ago. Corporate partnerships and gamification can be highly effective, but the choice of partner this year, like the rest of the campaign, feels a bit dated.
  • Speaking of dated, the campaign visuals were attractive but lacklustre. EARTHDAY.ORG ran a public poster competition, which garnered community engagement. For some reason, they chose not to officially feature the winning entries, sadly losing points for authenticity.


It’s natural to compare World Environment Day and Earth Day, or even confuse one with the other. They share the same mission: increasing awareness and education around environmental protection. UNEP is extravagant with its World Environment Day campaign tactics (in terms of scope and budget) but softer in its messaging, while Earth Day’s activity is more grassroots-focused but aims to ignite a larger, confrontational debate. 

World Environment Day is a high-level World Day with institutional involvement by world governments in partnership with the United Nations, NGOs, the private sector and finally, communities and individuals. But when UNEP goes big, do they then lose small? Is community engagement given too low a priority compared with putting pressure on institutions to effect change?

The classic Earth Day that most people grew up with cannot rest on its laurels. The campaign is overdue for a modern revamp. It’s great that it’s so ingrained in individuals, but it can focus too much on people who have less power to make a real difference.

The key is to balance activism and action with fighting for follow-through and accountability by the relevant authorities and corporations.

Coming back to the question “Do we really need both?”, the answer is “Yes” with a caveat…

Both campaigns fulfil different roles within the environmental issues and protection landscape. If they learn from each other, particularly in terms of creative communications, they should be able to effect real change and influence impact, advocacy and debate at every level.



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