On April 22, 1970, 22 million American’s engaged in rallies, marches, and educational programs to advocate for clean air, land, and water. This marked the first official Earth Day and was instrumental in bringing environmental concerns to the forefront of society. The idea came from Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, who wanted a “national teach-in on the environment” after witnessing the devastating environmental effects caused by a large oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Other key factors that led up to the awareness necessary to start the movement included the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which addressed the dangers of pesticide use, as well as the Cuyahoga River fire (1969) that resulted from improper chemical waste disposal. Nelson hoped that this campaign would prove to other politicians that there was widespread support for environmental protection efforts. Colleges and universities were among the first to get involved and spread the word about this campaign. As a result, Earth Day is held on April 22 to intentionally maximize the number of students able to participate (half way between spring break and summer).
Students Participate in Youth Climate Summit at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, November 2019
The success of this national movement was monumental, leading to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, polls indicated that a permanent change in public opinion followed Earth Day 1970. According to the EPA, “when polled in May 1971, 25% of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.”
In 1976, just 6 years after the first Earth Day, the Center of EcoTechnology (originally called the Center for Ecological Technology) was founded in Pittsfield with a main focus on energy conservation and energy education for adults and youths. During the early stages of the organization’s inception, CET became a leader in renewable energy and performed the first energy audits in homes, assisted in the planning and production of the first passive solar greenhouse, and began Project SUEDE, a solar demonstration program.
In 1990, Earth Day shifted from a national movement to a global one and gained participation from over 200 million people in 141 countries. The 20th anniversary of this environmental campaign specifically emphasized the urgency for increased recycling efforts and led to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. At this time, the Center for EcoTechnology expanded efforts by working with towns to pass mandatory recycling bylaws, began organizing household hazardous waste collection, and assisted in diverting food waste from restaurants and supermarkets to farms.
According to the Earth Day Network, Earth Day has become “the greatest secular civic event in the world”. The focus has transitioned to global warming and emphasizes clean energy and the push for energy conservation. With over a billion participants in 174 countries, and the collaboration of more than 17,000 partners and organizations, Earth Day has become a time of action that provokes policy change and social change.
As an organization, we have shifted our focus to helping people and businesses save energy and reduce waste. In 2020, we’ve update our goals to:
- Reduce carbon emissions equal to removing 100,000 cars off the road for a year
- Keep 120,000 tons of waste out of landfills
- Save energy equal to powering 35,000 homes for a year
- Create $75,000,000 in lifetime savings
Watch our mission impact video to see what we accomplished in 2018!