As a sustainable design company, we take the health of our employees and our environment into consideration every day. And though not all businesses have the same focus, it is interesting to look back on how much has changed and become the norm—both in workplaces and homes around the world. Forty-plus years ago, the idea of recycling had not yet begun to take hold in the American household. The public did not know about things like the dangers of CFCs, the importance of the ozone layer, and endangered rainforests; we had not yet faced what we now know was to come: an oil embargo, the meltdown at Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. But, awareness was emerging and the birth of that awareness can be almost directly traced to April 22, 1970—the first Earth Day and the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
In 1970, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was a senator from Wisconsin when he was shaken by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and by seeing Ohio’s polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flames. At that time, all across America, students were organizing protests as part of the anti-Vietnam War movement—a tactic Nelson decided to adapt, hoping to promote environmental issues in the public consciousness and on the political agenda. At a conference in Seattle in 1969, he announced to the national media that he was organizing a national “teach-in” on the environment, which he was calling Earth Day.
Nelson, a Democrat, partnered with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and activist Dennis Hayes to promote the event, which was strategically scheduled for April 22, in order to fall between college spring breaks and final exams. On that day, 20 million Americans across the nation rallied in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In New York, a portion of 5th Avenue was cordoned off for a rally with the mayor and actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw. In Washington, D.C., Congress went into recess and large groups gathered to hear political leaders speak alongside musician and activist Pete Seeger. Organizations that were fighting against various environmental ills like oil spills, polluting power plants, toxic dumps, harmful pesticides, and wildlife extinction united under one larger, common cause.
According to Nelson, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day—it organized itself.” That first Earth Day transformed the way the public viewed environmental issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, (created in December 1970, in an almost direct response to Earth Day initiatives) public opinion polls reflected a permanent change in national priorities immediately following those events. The event also united disparate political parties, ultimately influencing the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air, Toxic Substances Control, and Endangered Species Acts—among others.
There is much that still needs to be changed and improved with regard to environmental protection and human welfare (particularly in our own industry). But we should appreciate the number of things that—largely thanks to Earth Day and the environmental movement—are now fairly common: recycling and purchasing recycled products; solar and wind energy technology; low-emission, hybrid, and battery-powered vehicles; home goods like compact fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries, and low flush toilets; electronics take-back programs, even reusable shopping bags.
This Earth Day, find ways that you can take action to reduce your environmental footprint. Find an Earth Day event in your area and take part!
As part of our commitment to responsible production, your goods will always be delivered to you via carbon neutral shipping.
Photos by Robert Rausch