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Organizer and Activist Resources: Earth Day Event Ideas

Millions have found ways to express their environ- mental commitments through Earth Day. What can you do for Earth Day? The answer is: anything that is meaningful to you and for the environment!

The most popular and successful public events have been fairs and festivals. Parades are often held in conjunction with the fairs. Clean-ups are usually held the week or month before (or after). More than 100 local Earth Day fairs are held around the United States. The fairs are typically held outdoors in a city or county park and invite exhibitors. Each exhibitor presents some sort of demonstration or educational exhibit. It may help you to have a theme for the celebration. Adding food vendors and entertainment to the event will guarantee you a fun, educational and festive day. The only drawback to this type of event is having to worry about the weather and deciding on whether to have a rain date. To get around this worry, you can hold the event inside (if you can find the right venue).

Idea List for Earth Day

All of the following ideas have been used successfully for Earth Day in different communities and cities. Some require having a larger "fair-type" event; others can be done either by themselves or at a larger event. Your team will be the key to what you can do:

Clean up and/or restore

rivers, lakes, streams, beaches, trails, communities, graffiti.

Pledges

Have people sign an Earth Day pledge. (see sample below). OR Put up a communal "pledge board" where people can write their environmental pledge for the year ("I will turn off the lights when I leave the room", "I will turn off the water while shaving or brushing my teeth", etc.) To display the pledges, you can have people write their promises on cutout "leaves" which are then placed on either a painted tree poster or onto a 3-D treelike structure. Leaves can also be sold as a fund-raiser. See the "Humanitree" project info at the end of this guide. OR use the "choice" pledge below, left.

Proclamations

An inexpensive and effective way to get the ball rolling at the "official" level in any city, county or state, is to invite the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, Governor and any School Districts or other official bodies to issue Earth Day proclamations. Send officials a sample and invite them to create one of their own. You can arrange to receive the proclamation at a public meeting which also provides an opportunity to get the word out both to public officials and also to other community members attending the meeting or watching on cable TV. See the sample on page 18.

Petitions/Letters/Politicians

At any event, have a letter-writing table with sample letters written on several issues. Sell stamps, postcards or pre-stamped envelopes and collect letters or postcards to be mailed - being sure to mail them at the end of the day.

You can also put up petitions in this same area. One city that tried this had people standing in line all day just to sign petitions! Petitions were mounted on poles with a picture illustrating the topic. Pens were tied to the poles and the petitions were on clipboards. A local high school group may be interested in taking responsibility for this "exhibit." (Researching and writing the petitions can be very educational.) Have the League of Women Voters or another related group registering people to vote. Invite elected officials to attend events and be available at specific times to discuss issues with citizens.

Grocery Bags on Earth Day!

Each student in the school decorates a paper grocery bag from a local store with a picture of the earth, the words "Earth Day 1995" or ED25 (or similar), the name of their school, and possibly some catchy Earth Day slogan (ie, Re-duce, Re-use, Re-cycle, Treat the Earth Well, Do Your Part for our Planet etc.). After the bags are decorated, they are returned to the store to be distributed to shoppers on Earth Day and/or during Earth Week - depending on the number of bags. That's all there is to it - past response has been very positive, both from the school and the community.

Here's how it's been done:

  1. Contact the manager of a local grocery store (more meaningful to all involved if it's a store where families in your school shop).
  2. Ask if you can have a "bundle" (that's 500!) of large paper grocery bags to decorate for Earth Day at your school. Explain that you'll return them a day or two before Earth Day (April 22). It might be helpful to bring along an already decorated bag to show. It's also helpful if the bags you get have one blank (or pretty clear) side.
  3. Deciding who will make the bags and what they will look like is up to you. We've tried to make ours look somewhat uniform and still leave some room for individual expression. I made a few templates of the earth from different angles showing the continents out of three pound coffee can lids. The kids could then trace the "earth" and color in (actually, markers are more ecologically correct than crayons) the distributed the bags and templates to classrooms. You can also have them draw leaves on the bags and have them write their Earth Day promises on the bags. Some kids wanted to put their names, classroom number, etc. on, and we said fine, just NO LAST NAMES. I have had small groups of students distribute the bags and do a brief demonstration in each classroom.
  4. When the bags are collected from classrooms, I had some decisions to make regarding spelling accuracy and how that might reflect on our school, but I would say 99% of the bags went out "as is".
  5. Delivering the bags to the store has been really quite fun for the class, and was a good public relations opportunity for our school as well. It was coverd by local tv stations! You might let your school and grocer know that others across the country (so far, from Alaska to Maryland) are also doing the same thing!

Good luck and please remember to send a note saying how many bags you decorated. In 1994 this effort circulated more than 13,000 Earth Day grocery bags. This project is thanks to Mark Ahlness Arbor Heights Elementary School, Seattle, Washington. Email your "bag tallies" to earthday@earthdayspirit.org and mahlness@quest.arc.nasa.gov OR send via regular post card to Earth Day Network, P.O. Box 9827, San Diego CA 92169. SEE the FLYER at the back of this Guide.

Fair Scavenger Hunt or "Walkaround"

Have exhibitors at your fair or festival submit a question(s) for the hunt, the answer to which can be found in their exhibit. (Examples: What percentage of US greenhouse gas emissions is from cars and light trucks? What living organism is responsible for the problems suffered by shade trees? Tropical forests are being destroyed at the rate of 50 to 100 acres per minute; what are three typical uses of tropical woods imported into the USA? )

Print up a list of questions, and include where the answer can be found. This list of questions becomes the hunt. You might get a local radio station exhibit to be the hunt headquarters at the festival. They would be responsible for passing out the forms, collecting and "grading" them (you supply them with the list of answers), and giving out prizes. This activity increases exposure for your exhibitors, increases the education of the participants, and offers a great publicity vehicle for all involved. You can offer bonus points if participants carpooled, took the shuttle bus, rode their bike, etc. It is usually easy to get prizes donated from participating exhibitors, local businesses and individuals. The prizes don't have to be fancy - packages of seeds, wooden pencils, cloth or string bags, baking soda shakers - it is fun to assemble environmentally friendly prizes that also serve to raise awareness. When the event is over, you may even be able to distribute the scavenger hunt list with answers to local teachers for use in their classrooms. (If your group builds an exhibit, be sure to include questions and answers from your exhibits as well.)

Food Area or Festival

Everyone eats. And the environmental consequences are far-reaching. Food is a fun feature at any event and always draws a bigger crowd than for non-food events. At any all-day or multi-hour festival food is a necessity and where much of the money is made. The ability to offer food varies from venue to venue, so check it out. Invite any area farmers to bring locally-grown, organic produce. Contact the Organic Trade Association of North America P.O. Box 1078 Greenfield MA 01301 (413)774-7511 for contacts in your area.

Food festivals with representatives from the natural and organic foods network entice people into learning about the environmental and health impacts of our food choices. You can involve local-food restaurants, nutrition groups and organic food suppliers in offering vegetarian fare, using the opportunity to raise awareness and educate the community about the global and individual effects of food-related personal habits and the industries connected with those choices. In some areas, successful fund-raising events have been planned around food choice issues (see Chefs Collaborative below for one organizing tool). These are "natural fundraisers" becuase everyone is more willing to pay for food than other things. Contact EarthSave 706 Frederick St. Santa Cruz CA 95062 (408)423-4069 for educational info.

Chefs Collaborative 2000: Advancing Sustainable Food Choices for the Next Century. Gourmet chefs around the world are invited to sign this Charter which consists of the:

PREAMBLE We, the undersigned, acknowledging our leadership in the celebration of the pleasures of food and recognizing the impact of food choices on our collective personal health, on the vitality of culture and on the integrity of the global environment, affirm the following principles:

Chefs Collaborative 2000 STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES

  1. Food is fundamental to life. It nourishes us in body and soul, and the sharing of food immeasurably enriches our sense of community.
  2. Good, safe, wholesome food is a basic human right.
  3. Society has the obligation to make good, pure food affordable and accessible to all.
  4. Good food begins with unpolluted air, land and water, environmentally sustainable farming and fishing, and humane animal husbandry.
  5. Sound food choices emphasize locally grown, seasonally fresh and whole or minimally processed ingredients.
  6. Cultural and biological diversity is essential for the health of the planet and its inhabitants. Preserving and revitalizing sustainable food and agricultural traditions strengthen that diversity.
  7. The healthy, traditional diets of many cultures offer abundant evidence that fruits, vegetables, beans, breads and grains are the foundation of good diets.
  8. As part of their education, our children deserve to be taught basic cooking skills and to learn the impact of their food choices on themselves, on their culture and on their environment.

Contact Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, 45 Milk Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02109 (617)695-2300 for an current list of signatories and status of the initiative. Signatories and committee members include Wolfgang Puck, Paul Prudhomme, Alice Waters and many other food professionals. Invitations can be sent to chefs in your area including those at hotels, resorts, health spas. Enroll one or more of them in hosting a signing event at their facility and providing food at cost or invite each of the chefs to donate food for an appropriate number.

Invite the media and have chefs and other signators sign a large (4' by 6' at least) reproduction of the of the Principles. Voila! photo opportunity. The media loves to come to food events where they can take pictures of something worthwhile. Charge depending on the venue and the locale. This can raise significant funds if you get the right mix going.

Community Report Card

Earth Day can provide an annual opportunity to review a prior year's progress in a variety of areas. Public officials and citizens can be invited to rate the city on its air, water, transportation, green spaces, handling of hazardous waste and toxins, recycling, etc. You may want to arrange to present reports and comments to your City Council or suggest Earth Day as a chance to make an annual address regarding the environment. Both Presidents Bush and Clinton have made Earth Day addresses.

All-Species Parade, Earth Parade, Children's Earth Parade

Have a parade! Use alternative vehicles, mask-wearing marchers representing other species, non-motorized floats... See sample Parade Entry form later in this Guide.

Concerts

Use local talent or contact the Earth Day Network (619)272-7370 for ideas or help.

Contests

For an effective and creative Earth Day, hold a contest: poster, essay, slogans & themes, poetry, photographs, plays, songs, art {eARTh}, public service announcements, etc. You will need a central location and contact person for collecting entries. Poster and essay contests are very straightforward to run by sending notices to all schools and youth groups. For a play contest send queries to colleges, high schools, drama clubs, professional theatres and church groups. Your notices should announce, the themes, prizes, contest rules, prizes, eligibility and deadlines. You can have the awards ceremony at a culminating event and invite local businesses or individuals to donate prizes for different age groups. Just remember, if you get several hundred essays, someone has to read and judge them.

Construct an environmental maze

Put choices at each intersection and dead ends at choices that would lead to unsustainability. Shopping malls with large grassy areas are a great place to erect an Earth Day Maze. You might want to charge admission as a fund raiser. The maze can be constructed with stakes and surveyor's tape (very inexpensive). For instructions on how to assemble an Earth Day Maze with sample script and maze. Friends of the Future RR3 Box 250 Burnsville NC 28714-9312 $12. (704)682-7331

Plant Trees or other Appropriate Vegetation

Be sure the species are indigenous to your area. Work with local tree-planting group(s). Remove Exotic Invasive Species Work with local botanists, biologists, and land owners to determine the scope and needs of each ecosystem. Check with local parks and reserves for problem areas.

Build a Life-sized Sculpture

Use recycled materials. Have the community save their newspapers, plastic jugs and aluminum cans for two months prior to Earth Day. Then, on a designated day (or days), have everyone drop off their recyclables at a chosen site. Using surveyor stakes, chalk lines and other marking devices, "draw" your picture on the ground. Then fill in the picture with the jugs, papers and glass, using the different colors of the recyclables to help create the picture.

On the final day have participants add their bodies to the picture in order to complete the scene and then take a picture of the entire field from a firetruck with a long ladder, rooftop or from an airplane or helicopter. Use the picture in posters, on postcards and in other media to advertise your work, and to raise money.

When the event is over, have volunteers form lines to pass the recyclables, brigade-style, to waiting trucks. This is not a small undertaking but is extremely effective, educational and lots of fun. It is definitely an attention grabber.

Household Hazardous Waste Collection

Collect paint, used auto products like motor oil and batteries, solvents, etc. This will require city or county coordination and participation. This is expensive, but a worthy goal. You may be surprised at the receptivity you will find among local governments.

Conduct an Ecothon

At this educational fund-raiser, participants collect pledges just as in a walk-a-thon. They proceed to a series of educational stations where they get their card punched, or get a sticker or some other token to prove they were at the station. Money is collected based on how many stations are visited.

You can involve several corporations, clubs and groups in putting together the stations. You may want to include the city dump, incinerator, source of drinking water, sewage treatment plant and other significant sites as stations.

For a booklet on how to produce your own Ecothon, contact the Metro DC Environmental Network (METNET), 645 Morris Place NE, Washington, DC 20002 (202)726-0230. $10.

Give "Environmental Hero" Awards

Give out certificates and plant trees for winners. You can also hold a banquet and fund-raiser. Solicit nominations from the community for heroes. Examples of winners from one city (these are the press release blurbs):

First Union National Bank printed their annual report on paper they collected at work. They returned the collected paper to the paper mill where it was made into new paper for the report. This unique, full-circle project sets an outstanding example to the business community and shows how a business can create a new product from their own office waste. In 1992, First Union recycled more than 1,338 tons of paper. This effort by First Union helps save valuable landfill space and sets an excellent example for all concerned and responsible corporations and citizens.

Charles Saunders, president of Saunders Thread Company, prepared a sizable portion of his company's potential parking space for a community-wide recycling center. Further, he volunteered as a member of the Board of Directors of the Clean City Committee and has become the sustaining force within the organization. His influence has prompted many others within the business community to realize the importance of how much one person can mean in the struggle with environmental despoliation. Mr. Saunders' selfless commitment has enabled serious recycling and a growing awareness of environmental responsibility in his community.

Dale Trembly lives on the fringe of the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. Over the course of several years, Dale has spent countless hours and his own dollars to plant trees and flowers in the median area of Hamorton Place. This area, once an eyesore to the neighborhood, has begun to blossom under Dale's tending. In addition to planting trees and flowers and making sure they are properly tended, Dale also keeps the area trash-free, frequently calling the city to come collect the discarded chairs, mattresses, and other assorted trash he pulls out of the creek and collects from the side of the road. Dale's neighbors banded together to nominate him for an Environmental Hero award because he has made such a difference in their daily lives. Dale has set a great example to all of us in proving, once again, that one person can indeed make a difference by recognizing a need and taking positive action without waiting for someone else to do it.

Walk-A-Thon or Running Event

Try to design a course around a relevant environmental feature, park or issue.

Hold a Recycling or Energy Fair

Conduct an energy conservation or "Off the Grid" day. This would be a targetted fair where all the exhibits and activities are about recycling or energy education.

Stencil Storm Drains

Raise public awareness to the fate of their storm water (someone else's drinking or swimming water). Storm Drain Patrols can be set up to watch for illegal dumping which can then be reported and stopped.

Hold a Council of All Beings

Have participants choose something in nature that speaks to them. Have them make a mask to represent their creature, tree, rock, or other "being." Then, with everyone wearing their masks and representing their chosen "being," gather together in a circle and one by one have each stand and speak for their "being."

In speaking, include the contributions you make (as your being) to life on Earth, and how it makes you feel for people to respond to you the way they do. For instance, if you had chosen a worm, you might stand and say: how much you contribute to the planet by breaking down decaying matter and enriching the soil so that new life can grow; how it hurts your feelings when people call you slimy or creepy; how you think your work is not given the respect it deserves.

Reference Thinking Like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings, New Society Publishers, PO Box 582, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.

Hold a Dirty Sock Contest

This contest demonstrates how auto emissions affect air quality. The event is held in a parking lot. Each contestant places a clean white sock over his or her car's exhaust and runs the engine for 30 seconds. The contestant with the dirtiest sock wins a free car tune-up, while the one with the cleanest sock wins a free round-trip train trip to Washington, DC. (You can determine what the prizes are for your area and then seek donations for the prizes. In the above instance, Precision Tune donated the tune-up, AMTRAK donated the trip and WAL-MART donated the socks.)

Organize a Hike

through a nearby forest, canyon or other endangered habitat Set Up a Letter Writing or Petition Table on endangered species, buying recycled, reducing pollution....or whatever the hot environmental topic is in your area. Earth Day kits in support of Ancient Forests are available from: Siskiyou Project, P.O. Box 220 Cave Junction, OR 97523 (541)592-4459.

Write an Earth Day article

for your school, business or group newsletter, and send to your local newspaper.

Host a Speaker or Video

in your home as a public event on an important environmental issue.

Unwanted Seedling Giveaway

Encourage people to dig up unwanted tree seedlings which sprout in their gardens and lawns and bring them to a common site such as a Farmer's Market. Give away the collected trees on a designated Saturday. The best time to do this is in the fall (around Thanksgiving) or very early spring. You may find a corporate sponsor willing to pay for the printing of an educational leaflet which would inform your community about common indigenous trees and their care and planting. This is a very popular program and costs practically nothing to implement. You will be surprised by the community response. People like the idea of saving those unwanted seedlings. If you don't give them all away, donate them to Habitat for Humanity if there is a program in your area.

NOTE: Consider limiting people to five trees, as there are always opportunists who will walk off with all your trees leaving others with none.

Build or re-build an environmentally friendly house/kitchen/bathroom

Contact Earthways, 3617 Grandel Square, St. Louis, MO 63108 (314-531-1995) for information on how to do this. They reclaimed an entire house .

Produce a TV or Radio Show

Many cities now have public television and radio stations where you can produce your own show. Consider producing an environmental show for Earth Day and involve local students in its production.

Hold a Celebration of Trees

This is a banquet based on the Jewish Holiday (in January) which involves food from trees, song, dance, and environmental readings. It is a celebration that involves all your senses and is very moving. Contact your local Jewish leaders to learn more about the ceremony and to invite participation.

Create a community garden

Gardening allows people to connect directly with the earth as the source of food and life upon which we are dependent. You can reclaim unused or mis-used plots of land for the benefit of the community by combining a clean-up with a garden planting.

Paint an educational Earth Day mural

on a visible town building (enroll the building owner to sponsor!). You can hold a contest in local school or ask a local artist to paint it.

Start a computer email list

for local conservation and environmental alerts, notices of public hearings and event announcements. For more info on this send email to earthday@earthdayspirit.org.

Back to Earth Day Home | Back to Tips for Organizers.

This information was supplied courtesy of the Earth Day Network.




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