There are two Earth Days. One, the United Nations Earth Day, is on the Spring Equinox, March 21. The first celebration was in 1970. The second is the one most of us know about created by the Earth Day Network also in 1970, which celebrates Earth Day on April 22. The event is considered the birth of the modern day environmental movement.
The annual April 22 celebration has grown to include millions of people around the world. To realize that Earth Day began 38 years ago is astonishing to those of us who remember it. I was a sophomore in high school and conservation was a big part of the focus in my home, my town, and my world in general. We thought a lot about nature and wildlife, and while Rachel Carson’s visionary thinking in her seminal book, Silent Spring, had had an effect, the focus of most people was still about the natural world around us and pesticides harming birds and wildlife. Indoor air pollution was not an issue I ever heard spoken about at that time.
While Earth Day was born in 1970, I believe the birth of the organic food movement came on Earth Day 1989. I witnessed it and was so inspired by the event that I still remember it vividly. I was sitting on the couch watching the Today Show and breastfeeding my daughter Lily, who was five months old at the time. On came Meryl Streep and Wendy Gordon, talking about a chemical found on apples called alar that caused health problems in humans. As a result of their concern for their children they started Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). They went on to produce a number of publications that advocated organic food, especially baby food. That day in history did more to launch the organic food movement than any other!
The green cleaning industry had a bolt of change right around the same time when Jeffrey Hollender launched Seventh Generation. He published a catalog that offered the first green home products for the mainstream public. The Burlington, Vermont-based company has been at the forefront of a cultural change in consumer behavior and business ethics ever since. Jeffrey’s children had asthma, so he established a cleaning line that was safe for them.
Another pioneer of the time was Sally Fox, a cotton breeder who designed colored cotton, eliminating the use of dyes. She launched FoxFiber in 1989 and was one of the first business people to sprout up using sustainable methods out of concern for the Earth. Another was Gary Hirshberg, CEO (he calls himself CE-YO) of Stonyfield Farm, maker of Organic Yogurt, who also pioneered the launching of profitable companies based on implementing sustainable principles. The company is now 25 years old.
Others are changing the world, sometimes one plant at a time and have been for years. Amy Goldman, Executive Director of Seed Savers and author of three books on growing heirloom plants (melons, squash, and her latest on tomatoes) is leaving a legacy of seeds saved from oblivion and at risk due to the industrialized food practices. A small Vermont company, Heart of Vermont, has been stuffing organic wool into bedding since the mid-eighties. Alice Gravitz, Executive Director of Co-op America and The Green Festivals, launched the nonprofit organization in 1982. Their mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
And of course there is the late dynamo, founder of The Body Shop, Dame Anita Roddick, who launched the first ethical beauty shop in the late 70s.
Each one of these pioneers has paved the way for where we are today. Twenty-five years ago you couldn’t find many green products, and now there is an array of great green products for just about any lifestyle. Each one shows us that one person can make a difference and a powerful one at that.
Annie B. Bond is the executive editor of Care2’s Healthy & Green Living content and the author of a number of books, most recently Home Enlightenment (Rodale, paperback 2008).