Chalk One Up For Social Networking: Earth Day Drops ChemLawn

New Glaucester, Maine–(ENEWSPF)–March 24, 2010.  Risa Edelstein didn’t let a moment pass. As soon as she heard in our SafeLawns Weekly Update last Monday, March 15, that TruGreen/ChemLawn had sponsored Earth Day, she posted a Facebook page titled, simply enough “STOP TruGreen from Sponsoring Earth Day.”

Hundreds of other SafeLawns members didn’t hesitate, either. The fan page was soon bustling with comments admonishing Earth Day administrators for accepting money from the the lawn care company with the worst environmental track record in North America history. At last count, the page had 757 “fans,” more than 600 of whom are also SafeLawns members or followers.

“Greenwashing is dangerous to our children’s health and environment,” posted Kristen Hayes-Yearick. “If TruGreen went truly green, I’d be the first to send them a letter of appreciation. TruGreen is using deceptive marketing to sell their product. Pesticides don’t stay just where they are sprayed and effect more than just their targeted pests.”

When the official joint announcement came out Tuesday — and all references to TruGreen were stripped from the Earth Day site — the stated reasons for the change of heart were predictably vague: “Due to unanticipated events, Earth Day Network and TruGreen regrettably announce their relationship for the 40th anniversary event has been suspended.”

The most obvious “event” was the half-million dollar fine handed down last week by the state of New York, which found TruGreen guilt of applying pesticides in the rain and wind and with unlicensed workers. Chances are Earth Day didn’t see that one coming. My guess, too, is that Earth Day would have let that slide had Earth Day president Kathleen Rogers not heard from hundreds of supporters of SafeLawns and other environmental and health organizations.

Joe Speeney, our colleague from New Jersey, shared his letter to Rogers with us: “Hello, I am the father of a 3-yr old boy. Please accept my candid commentary on your decision to allow Chemlawn to sponsor Earth Day. Could any amount of money justify taking sponsorship funds from such a nefarious firm…one which promotes putting toxic, carcinogenic chemicals into our lawns and then encourages children and pets to play on such chemically treated lawns? There is a much safer process today in “organic lawn care.” There are many organic lawn care firms and materials suppliers — albeit perhaps not with the pocket depths of Chemlawn — which could more appropriately partner with Earth Day. Please use your important position to lead by example, and teach people about the organic lawn care process rather than propagating the falsehoods of Chemlawn. They are using you and the Earth Day brand to poison children, quite frankly, and you are letting it happen.”

In the end, Earth Day had absolutely no choice but to send TruGreen packing. With the 40th anniversary barely a month away, the sponsorship would have grown to a major distraction, if not a total national outcry that would have left lasting scars.

And as much as Earth Day leadership is probably seething at the actions of of several hundred “activists” who made so much Internet noise in the past 10 days, the organization really owes you all a debt of gratitude for cutting this off at the pass — before Katie, Larry and Oprah started pointing their microphones in Earth Day’s direction. Now the organization can just get back to its mission of celebrating planetary stewardship. Lord knows we need all of that we can get.

Before this moment passes into a footnote of environmental history, however, let me say this: THANK YOU to Risa and so many others who proved, once again, that our voices still matter. Corporate largesse doesn’t always rule the day.

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Paul Tukey is the Chairman of the Board of SafeLawns.org. The mission of SafeLawns.org is to create a broad-based coalition of non- and for-profit organizations committed to educating society about the benefits of environmentally responsible lawn care and gardening, and effect a quantum change in consumer and industry behavior. For more information, please visit: http://www.safelawns.org/about.cfm