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Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970 as a way to raise awareness around the need to protect the planet’s natural resources for future generations, continues to inspire new commitments to environmental sustainability each year on April 22.

Influenced by Vietnam-era protests, Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson chose that specific day to maximize the number of students who could be reached on university campuses in a “national teach-in on the environment.” It worked. More than 20 million people across the United States participated, providing a broad base to support legislation such as the Clean Air Act (updated in 1970) and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

Denis Hayes, a Harvard grad student, helped coordinate the first Earth Day. For its 20th anniversary he expanded its reach to the globe, organizing 200 million people in 140 countries to take a stand.

Over the years Earth Day has expanded into Earth Week, and then into Earth Month. Each April thousands of organizations encourage more than a billion people to consider how their personal actions, amid larger policy decisions, make a difference in the world around them.

Earth Day’s emphasis on educating individuals about tangible actions they can take provides a short-term “boost” for environmental protection. By sharing knowledge, developing skills, changing attitudes, and supporting the intention to act, Earth Day can encourage behavior change such as shifting lifestyle habits, participating in restoration activities or advocating for environmental policy changes.

The commitment to changing a behavior, even for a day or a week, can have lasting effects. It’s somewhat like opening Pandora’s box; after discovering how even small decisions and actions affect the larger world, it’s difficult to “unknow” and ignore those impacts. For these reasons, participating in a JouleBug challenge for even a short time has the potential to encourage long-term behavior change.

Initially focused on water and air pollution, a National Geographic post explains that current Earth Day events and actions around the world can now be broadly categorized into 10 core issues:

– Advocacy
– Climate Change
– Conservation & Biology
– Education
– Energy
– Food & Agriculture
– Green Economy
– Green Schools
– Recycling & Waste Reduction
– Sustainable Development

JouleBug is a valuable – and fun! – tool to understand and act on many of these issues, blended in with a competitive element to encourage even greater participation. It’s also an excellent platform for sustainable storytelling. Through comments and sharing photos of “sustainability in action” Joulebug participants can help shape behavior norms in an ever-increasing spiral upwards toward protecting the one and only planet we have.

Check out JouleBug’s special Earth Week pins to participate!

Image © NASA