In Community

Small Steps, Big Impact:

How One Person Can Make a Difference
on Earth Day and Beyond

The first Earth Day took place on April 22nd, in 1970 and was started by a junior senator in Wisconsin by the name of Gaylord Nelson. There were a few key events in 1969 that grabbed Nelson’s attention and inspired him to create Earth Day. Such events included the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California and the fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in that same year. Both events showed Nelson and the public the dangers of pollution and chemicals in the environment.

Following the style of Vietnam war teach-ins that were taking place on college campuses, Nelson recruited Dennis Hayes, the student body president of Stanford University and young activist, to serve as Earth Day’s national coordinator. Earth Day was established as April 22nd because the date was in between most college spring breaks and final exams, meaning that a large number of college students could be reached. And that’s exactly what happened. Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans – 10% of the entire U.S. population at the time – to rally together from coast to coast on college campuses, in parks, and on streets in major cities like LA, NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, and more.

Gaylord Nelson Quote

Denis Hayes at his first Earth Day. April 22nd, 1970.

The impact was felt and seen in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December of 1970. And in the years that followed, several important pieces of environmental legislation were also passed such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

What Can I Do to Help?

There are endless opportunities to help the Earth every single day, so let’s look at a dozen ways you can get started now.

  1. Plant flowers around your home or on your balcony that support your lovely local bees who are an irreplaceable part of our ecosystem. Click here to find the perfect flower to attract a local pollinator.
  2. Plant a vegetable garden. Start by simply planting some fresh herbs or container plants like tomatoes on your balcony, patio, or community garden.
  3. Shop for clothes sustainably by going to thrift shops, repairing and taking care of your current quality clothing, and donating clothes that no longer fit.
  4. Try carpooling or using public transportation instead of your personal vehicle.
  5. Recycle as much as you can and be sure to check this document for specifics. 
  6. Bring a metal straw and reusable coffee cup to your favorite coffee shop.
  7. Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of buying single use plastic ones.
  8. When you grocery shop, consider using more local sources such as a farmer’s market or nearby farm. Most of Beacon Hill’s purveyors are local!
  9. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car so that you do not end up using plastic grocery bags. You can even make a fun activity out of this if you buy a few plain canvas totes and decorate them with fabric paint!
  10. Turn off appliances and devices that you are not immediately using.  It’s not just about saving money on your electric bill, although that’s a nice perk, too. Remember to recommit with your family to turn off lights and electric appliances when not in use.
  11. Have a No TV or Phone Day. Encourage more time in the fresh air by planning a picnic, going for a walk, or playing some fun outdoor games. This just might turn into a weekly tradition!
  12. Share these tips with your family and friends! We can all be advocates for a healthier planet.

2023 Earth Day Activities

This week, in celebration of Earth Day, Beacon Hill showed several environmentally-focused documentaries such as: the TED Talk: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle; A Plastic Ocean; Brave Blue World; I am the Earth; The Territory; and streamed the 26th Annual Wege Speaker Series featuring The Honorable Shalanda H. Baker: Energy, Equity & Justice: Meeting the Moment

Residents also participated in environmentally-focused activities such as an Upcycled Garden Craft and a Recycled Can Craft.

If you want to go one step further, check out these six fun volunteer opportunities and Earth Day events happening in Grand Rapids!

1. Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

  • See some beautiful butterflies in the Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming annual exhibition that runs until April 30th.
  • Craft garden flags with your grandkids from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on April 22nd.
  • Visit the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden to sow seeds, listen to music, and weave recycled fabrics from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on April 22nd.

For further details as well as pricing information, please click here.

2. 2023 Earth Day 1M, 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2 – Benefiting Wild Earth Allies

Run the distance of your choice any time in April 2023 and celebrate planet earth with your $20 purchase because 15% of registration goes to Wild Earth Allies. You’ll also receive a very special Earth Day medal and race bib.

To register and view more detailed information, please click here.

3. ArborFest 2023 and the Mayor’s Greening Initiative

Volunteer to help plant over 200 trees in the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood on April 28th or 29th.

To register and read more, click here.

4. Blandford Nature Center

If you are 16 years or older, volunteer to help with crafts, scavenger hunts, face-paintings, and yard games from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on April 22nd at the Blandford Nature Center.

To sign up, please click here.

5. John Ball Zoo’s Party for the Planet

Take the grandkids to the John Ball Zoo on April 22nd from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and learn how to take conservation action to help improve native habitats for wildlife. Plus, meet some of your favorite superheroes who help make the world a better place such as Spiderman, Black Widow, Captain America, and Black Panther.

To grab your ticket and view details, please visit here.

6. Earth Day Dance Jam with Laura Armenta

Visit the Armentality Movement Arts Center on April 22nd from 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to dance the day away with dance forms from around the world, especially West African and South American styles.

This event is meant to raise awareness for nations that experience a lack of running water and to assist with this issue, all participant tuition fees will be donated to

To purchase tickets and learn more, please visit here.

Whether you decide to use less electricity at home, plant a tree or some veggies, or volunteer at an Earth Day event, commit to not only helping the Earth on April 22nd, but on every day of the year. Let’s make every day an Earth Day.

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