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April 22, 2011

How Are Local Governments Leveraging Earth Day?

This article originally appeared on ICLEI's Local Action blog.

Rainbow People Joining to Surround Globe

Celebrated a thousand different ways, Earth Day always boils down to optimism and opportunity. It's a day when people collectively say, "we can fix this" — whether the problem is as global as climate change or as local as a trash-strewn parking lot. It's a day to tout environmental accomplishments, and an opportunity to educate people and engage them in solutions.

For years, local governments have leveraged the optimism and opportunity of Earth Day. For example, in 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously released the city's groundbreaking sustainability plan, PlaNYC, on Earth Day, and on each successive Earth Day the Mayor releases a PlaNYC progress report, using the green spotlight to draw attention to the city's sustainability progress and success stories. In 2009, ICLEI organized the National Conversation on Climate Action, a chance for dozens of local governments around the country to engage community members in meaningful dialogues about climate change.

What about this year? In 2011, Earth Day events are as diverse as ever among local governments: service projects, festivals, educational seminars, and promotions to save energy and money, to name a few. In many cases, cities and counties structure Earth Day events to further progress on community sustainability goals—or at least to increase awareness of those goals. Browse a sampling of events below—they might inspire ideas for your 2012 Earth Day plans.

  • Tallahassee, FL: The City of Tallahassee's staff are deeply involved in a range of "Earth Month 2011" events. During the Florida Earth Day Jam and the Earth Day at the Capitol event, City staff will man informational booths, educate the public on energy-saving tips, and promote local public transportation options. Solid Waste Services will be holding a special "Cash for Trash" event to collect bulky items, e-waste, paint, batteries and hazardous substances.

    The city's premier Earth Day event, Tallahassee's Idle Free and Alternative Transportation Day, will bring into focus the impacts of unnecessary idling and to highlight alternative transportation options. The event will feature a lunchtime concert, along with sustainability-related booths and free refreshments. Various organizations will be announcing their pledges. Attendees are encouraged to walk, bike, take the bus, or carpool to work and to the event.

  • San Francisco Bay Area cities: Twelve California communities—including San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Menlo Park — have joined together for the Drive Less Challenge, which aims to promote health, quality of life, and environmentally sustainable transportation behavior by reducing solo car trips. The Challenge kicks off on Earth Day and runs till May 5, during which time contestants are encouraged to walk, bike, and carpool. Participants can track their progress online and are eligible for prizes from local businesses. Reducing car trips helps these communities meet their greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

  • Iowa City, IA: Iowa City will host nearly a week of diverse Earth Day events, including an environmental fair that offers an overview of the community's environmental efforts, a seminar on incorporating sustainable practices into everyday business, and a tour of the City’s recycling center and wastewater treatment facility.

  • Saint Paul, MN: Mayor Chris Coleman is taking the opportunity during the week of Earth Day to honor 12 businesses, individuals, and organizations that have demonstrated environmental leadership and received a 2011 Sustainable Saint Paul award.

  • Norfolk, VA: Norfolk's "Light the Way for Earth Day" is a celebration for municipal staff, designed to raise awareness about energy savings available with CFL light bulbs. City staff are also collecting food for local food pantries to help celebrate caring for the Earth and for one another. Partners include the Friends of Norfolk's Environment, the Norfolk city employees Green Team, GE, Grainger, and Keep Norfolk Beautiful.

  • Des Moines, IA: The city sponsors a "Stash the Trash" event that has become increasingly popular. Teams compete for prizes to pick up the most trash. And since sustainable transportation is a passion of Mayor Frank Cownie (also an ICLEI board member), he completes an annual 30-mile ride along with community members, to raise money for recreational trails.

  • Miami-Dade County, FL: Miami-Dade County is "going mobile" in celebration of Earth Day. The county participating in a leading-edge initiative to help residents switch to energy-efficient lighting and reduce household utility bills, by giving community members access to a free, innovative smart phone application called Light Bulb Finder. Based on a few simple inputs about fixtures and incandescent bulb styles, the app provides instant recommendations for energy-saving light bulbs with the right style, light quality and performance. Users can order CFLs and LEDs directly through the app or at local stores.  While the app empowers households to save energy on the go, it also displays banners linking to information about the County's $750 Savings Challenge with additional energy-saving tips.

  • Commerce City, CO: The city is teaming with Major League Soccer team the Colorado Rapids, hosting a free electronics and aluminum-recycling event outside the stadium prior to a game.  The City will also educate spectators on its Greener Goals to become a more sustainable city, and how they can do their part with simple low-cost steps.

  • West Palm Beach, FL: West Palm Beach's e4 Sustainability Summit (environment, economics, equity, energy) is a family-friendly festival with short programs and presentations for businesses, kids and adults — some of them given by city staff. A "Green Revolution" exhibit engages children and families in environmental topics, with a focus on climate change.

  • Dover, NH: Sustainable Dover, the initiative coordinated by the city of Dover, Department of Planning and Community Development, in conjunction with the Dover Energy Advisory Committee, has been selected to offer a special Earth Day advanced screening of the film YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip.  The film chronicles an "eco-journey across America revealing ingenuity and sometimes mind-blowing fixes for the country's environmental issues."

  • Visalia, CA: The city of Visalia will host beautification projects along its downtown Mill Creek area. The project involves trash removal, recyclables, and invasive species as well as planting water efficient plants and spreading mulch. The City views Earth Day as "a time to celebrate gains we have made and create new visions to accelerate environmental progress."

-- Don Knapp & George Knowles, ICLEI USA

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