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April 22, 2021 marks 51 years of celebrating Earth Day. Earth Day has had an undeniable impact on how our society views and values our environment, but what you might not realize is the profound influence it has had on the field of environmental health and safety (EHS).

Hear me out…

The History of Earth Day

The 1960s witnessed a string of environmental disasters that were a wake-up call to Americans about the impact of society on our environment. One of the most notable of these disasters was the January 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill which still ranks third in terms of worst US oil spills behind only the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and 1989 Exxon Valdez spills. Just six months later in June 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio burst into flames after a spark from train tracks over the river ignited pollutants and other industrial waste in the water, creating flames that onlookers estimated to be over five stories high.

These environmental disasters and many others only intensified rising public opposition to continued environmental degradation and industrial pollution, prompting then Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) and Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-CA) to propose a series of college ‘teach-ins’ at campuses across the US. They recruited Denis Hayes, a young environmental activist, to organize the campus teach-ins. They choose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation.

Hayes went on to assemble a coalition of smaller environmental organizations, faith groups and others to promote these events nationwide, and soon changed the name of their coordinated events to “Earth Day”.

The rest…is history.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 was a landmark event that saw more than 20 million Americans (nearly 10% of the US population) take to the streets in active demonstration against industrial pollution and its increasingly clear, increasingly harmful impacts to human health and the environment.

The Legacy of Earth Day

By the end of 1970, the Earth Day movement had ushered in the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of other first-of-their-kind environmental and workplace health and safety laws including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act which established the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA). Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA). A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

By 1990, Earth Day organizers had grown the celebration to a global scale, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where the concept of a globally harmonized system for classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS) was first conceived. GHS is now recognized as the global benchmark for national hazardous chemical safety requirements, and is the foundation for OSHA’s current Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom).

In many ways, Earth Day was the spark that ultimately gave rise to the development of environmental and occupational safety standards that EHS professionals are so familiar with today.

The Future of the Earth Day Movement

Every year, the Earth Day movement continues to gain greater and greater momentum in the eyes of the world, particularly with corporations who must inevitably respond to ever-increasing consumer and investor demand for corporate environmental sustainability.

In recent years, the push for corporate sustainability has grown beyond environmental protection and has come to include social and economic sustainability in areas including fair trade practices, human & labor rights, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This is forcing corporations to view sustainability through a wider lens and broaden their corporate sustainability programs to consider the impacts of their business to both people and the planet.

Corporations who actively pursue sustainability and document their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) efforts via sustainability disclosure frameworks like CDP, GRI and DJSI will surely have a lasting competitive advantage in the global marketplace as corporate sustainability becomes the benchmark.

VelocityEHS Environmental & Sustainability Management Solutions

At VelocityEHS, our stated mission is “making companies safer and more sustainable.” We’re committed to giving our customers the software solutions and services that empower them to pursue greater levels of EHS and sustainability, and help make the world a better place.

Our Environmental Management Solutions offer advanced capabilities for Air Emissions, Water Quality and Waste Compliance that simplify compliance with complex environmental regulations, and help you benchmark your environmental performance for corporate sustainability reporting.

We also offer a comprehensive EHS software suite with easy-to-use tools for everything from Industrial Hygiene, Chemical Management and Safety Management to Risk Management, Ergonomics, Management of Change (MOC) and much more.

Request a Demo or Contact Us today to learn how we can help your business become safer and more sustainable.

Until then, Happy Earth Day!