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Environmental activists at the first Earth Day in Philadelphia included Penn students and faculty.

Forty-one years after the first Earth Day — now a national holiday on April 22 — was spearheaded by Penn professors and students, its importance has diminished.

Penn faculty and students led a celebration in Philadelphia for the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. An estimated 30,000 people attended a rally at Fairmount Park, according to the University Archives.

“It made a splash on campus,” said Earth and Environmental Science Professor Robert Giegengack, who was a second-year assistant professor at the time.

Environmental issues were becoming increasingly visible at the time after the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught on fire in 1969.

Over 40 years later, the Earth Day celebrations organized by Penn have shrunk.

The importance of Earth Day is “absolutely” declining as sustainability issues become more prevalent every day, Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo said.

“Every day is Earth Day” since sustainability efforts are prevalent on campus, Facilities and Real Estate Services spokeswoman Jen Rizzi said. “[Tomorrow] is a reminder to a lot of people who don’t focus on it necessarily.”

This year’s Earth Day will consist of “smaller events organized for a number of different environmental groups on campus,” Penn Environmental Group Co-Director Ashima Sukhdev said.

PEG will host a picnic open to all students at 3 p.m. in Houston Hall, she said. Student Eco-Reps will take a trip to the Morris Arboretum.

Houston Hall will play BBC’s production of Planet Earth in the Bistro all day as they do annually, Wharton freshman Connie Yuan, a marketing representative for Houston Hall, said. This year, students will also have the opportunity to plant flowers in DIY pots from 12-1 p.m.

The marketing team at Houston Hall decided to expand the event this year because it knew many Penn students are very receptive to green initiatives, Yuan said.

With Passover and upcoming final exams, it is challenging to organize large-scale events for students, Garofalo said. Instead, the Penn Green Campus Partnership has spread events out in an “Earth Month” from the end of March to late April.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day across the country is “Billion Acts of Green,” Communications Associate at Earth Day Network Susan Hunsinger said. The theme is meant to encourage people to make small changes — such as changing light bulbs and using reusable grocery bags — to show that small acts can add up to help the environment.

Earth Day started at a time when people did not recycle and did not know about carbon emissions, she said. However, “Earth Day is still the grassroots movement that it has always been,” relying on everyone to participate to make a difference.

While the first Earth Day was organized with the help of Penn students, the celebration has different meanings to current students.

Sukhdev believes Earth Day is a “fun day where we can appreciate what we’ve been doing” to address environmental concerns.

“Earth Day is a chance to appreciate diversity of animals and living things on earth,” Yuan said.

“There’s so many people doing such great things for sustainability all over campus” on a daily basis, College junior and PEG member Anna Caffry said, adding that it is not necessary to have one day dedicated to that progress.

For example, after a year-long pilot program, Penn has eliminated the use of chemical fertilizers on campus, Garofalo said.

Recently, dining halls restarted composting of kitchen and consumer food waste after city regulations forced Penn to put composting on hold at all campus eateries except Joe’s Cafe, Business Services spokeswoman Barbara Lea-Kruger said.

Wednesday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that Penn — because of its sustainable energy purchases — remained in first place among 69 schools in its College and University Green Power Challenge.

On Thursday, Penn was also recognized as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the United States and Canada in the second edition of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 311 Green Colleges: 2011 Edition, according to a statement from Facilities and Real Estate Services.

“I think [the day] is incorrectly named,” Giegengack said. “The earth is fine, what’s wrong is the people” and the destruction they cause to the environment.

However, he added, “The University has made progress beyond what I imagined could have happened. It’s a gratifying success story.”

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