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Earth Day: From Teach-ins to Twitter

With the 44th anniversary of Earth Day (founded by Wisconsin’s own Gaylord Nelson LLB’42) on the horizon, it’s only fitting to reflect on the many modern environmental sustainability and conservation efforts with roots at the University of Wisconsin.

A Look at Wisconsin’s Environmental Legacy

On April 22, 1970, faculty and students at the University of Wisconsin set aside time in lecture halls and classrooms to talk about clean air and water, pollution and wilderness preservation. Others picked up trash at Picnic Point and along the lakeshore. Another 2,500 students rallied at the Stock Pavilion.

That same year, the Board of Regents approved the creation of the university’s Institute for Environmental Studies, an academic answer to popular concern about the state of the environment that manifested itself in parades, demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns.

Today, that academic center is known as the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. And like that first Earth Day in April 1970, it’s just one of the many modern environmental sustainability and conservation efforts with roots at the University of Wisconsin.

As the 44th anniversary of Earth Day nears, Badger Voice honors the efforts of alumni and students alike who are making the world a greener place today — and tomorrow.

Students Work toward Greener Future

Like their Badger predecessors, today’s UW-Madison students are also giving their time to keep the campus clean and to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.

Badger Volunteers, a program of the Morgridge Center for Public Service, serve community organizations that are focused on sustainability and conservation. Activities range from lakeshore cleanup and water-quality monitoring to teaching elementary school students about gardening.

The UW-Madison Office of Sustainability created a student sustainability council in 2012 to coordinate environmentally focused student organizations, departments and campus initiatives such as WE CONSERVE, Students for Energy-Efficient Living, and REthink Wisconsin, a student organization formed to encourage and facilitate sustainable waste management on campus.

REthink efforts include donation collections during move-out from UW residence halls in partnership with WE CONSERVE, and the Camp Randall “Wear Red, Think Green” recycling campaign in partnership with the Wisconsin Athletic Department. The organization is also working on an initiative to take student volunteers to area farms, where they’ll pitch in to learn about farming practices in exchange for a healthful meal.

Other students are taking the movement to social media. On Twitter, you’ll find @uwreceiptfree and @BagFreeBadgers, whose goals are — you guessed it — to reduce the number of paper receipts and plastic bags used on campus.

Governor, Senator, Distinguished Alumnus

Gaylord Nelson LLB’42 and Earth Day

A child from the northwestern Wisconsin hamlet of Clear Lake, Gaylord Nelson LLB’42 went on to become the state’s governor, a U.S. senator and the founder of Earth Day, launching a wave of environmental activism in 1970 that continues today. Unlike scholars John Muir x1864 and Aldo Leopold, his fieldwork took place in government hallways and meeting rooms, most likely beneath the harsh glare of fluorescent lights rather than in sun-dappled meadows surrounded by pristine wilderness.

Still, Nelson’s environmental contributions are every bit as significant as theirs, and his legacy endures on the UW-Madison campus and around the globe. The Wisconsin Alumni Association was proud to honor Nelson with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004.
—Excerpt from On Wisconsin Magazine, Spring 2010

The Making of the Modern Environmental Movement

Explore this rich historical collection about the life, work and legacy of Gaylord Nelson. Discover more about how the efforts of this distinguished University of Wisconsin alumnus shaped the modern environmental movement, and see how his idea for Earth Day became an astonishingly successful grassroots effort that engages millions of Americans.
—Collection courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Carrying on the Legacy

Two alumni carrying on this Wisconsin legacy received Nelson Institute honors this year for their work to make our world a better and more sustainable place.

Lynn Hobbie ’84, senior vice president at Madison Gas and Electric, has spent nearly three decades in the field, and now oversees services including customer energy efficiency and renewable-energy programs. She’s also active in the Madison community, volunteering her time with such organizations as the Statewide Energy Efficiency and Renewables Administration, the City of Madison Sustainable Transportation Master Plan Committee and 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Matt Dannenberg ’10 is the first recipient of the Nelson Institute Early Career Alumni Award. As the central-Wisconsin organizer with the League of Conservation Voters, he recruits new voters who are concerned about conservation and engages activists. In 2012, he received the Liesl Blockstein Community Leadership Award from Community Shares of Wisconsin for his efforts to empower Wisconsin’s Native communities in the democratic process and to increase voter participation.

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