Today, on the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration, I would like to remember where it began and also look toward the future—how will we, the people, take the lead in promoting sustainable practices and protecting our world?
When Earth Day was originally proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, I was in grade school, and our small, Midwestern town participated in the celebration. As one of the 20 million Americans who took part in the first Earth Day celebration, I don’t remember a lot besides a couple of speeches, a giant earth balloon being rolled around, and having the afternoon off from school. But I do remember seeing a t-shirt on someone with the saying “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” At the time, to a second grader, that saying didn’t make sense.
Turns out, it does make sense—particularly when it comes to the global sustainability movement. To give them their due, the "leaders" did a fair amount of legislating when it came to the environment, particularly in those first years after the original Earth Day. The Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, EPA—all of that legislation was passed by 1975, only five years after that first Earth Day. But for much of the next 20 years, the "leaders" did not continue their pace of environmental leadership.
Meanwhile, Earth Day continued to roll on, like that giant earth balloon, from 20 million participants in 1970 to 200 million participants in 1990. The 2007 Earth Day saw one billion people participate around the world. And increasingly, particularly in the last 10 years, those one billion people and many others were leading the leaders. That t-shirt was right. People can lead through their behavior. At first it was around recycling and energy reduction. Increasingly, these days, people are leading the leaders through their purchases. As demand for more sustainable products increases around the world and in every category, supply is increasing, too.
So today, on the 40th anniversary, hopefully we’ll have a global groundswell of folks who’ll stop for the day and take time to be nice to the earth. And then, on April 23rd, I hope they’ll go back to leading with their behavior and their wallets—showing the leaders, both business and governmental, where the earth is headed regarding sustainability. Landor.com: Blog