The first International Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. It was a momentous occasion that affirmed the efforts of many environmental leaders, scientists, academics and everyday citizens of the time.

In 1970, millions of people took to the streets to advocate for our planet and launched an unprecedented focus on environmental protections for Earth and our natural resources.

In the ten years that followed, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Clean Air Act, the Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments, the Resource Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, and many more laws protecting our land and environment, and our safety and health, were enacted.

Today, the need for continued protection of Earth and its resources is still evident. The Earth’s population has more than doubled since 1970, and is projected to reach 7.6 billion by 2020. This growth creates an ever-increasing strain on space and natural resources. Extraction methods, including strip- and mountain-top removal coal mining, fracking and tar sands mining, have become increasingly destructive and resource intense. Proper management of waste, including industrial, municipal, wastewater and radioactive waste is also critical to maintaining environmental health.

In the face of these continued challenges and demands on our resources and the environment, how do we ensure that sustainable development — development that does not negatively impact the ability of future generations to meet their needs, including the need for clean air and water — is a priority for ourselves, our leaders and policy makers?

Examining individual practices is an important first step. In the US, most of us enjoy a high quality of life with access to good food, clean water and air, good sanitation, education, housing, energy and transportation.

Awareness of issues that negatively affect the health of the planet is, for many, enough to make changes in personal practices to lessen individuals’ burden on the planet. Some easy examples include reducing resource consumption by combining errands, carpooling and reducing energy and water use in our homes (through efficiency or behavioral changes); being conscientious about waste generated and recycling, donating good used items for re-use or repurpose, repairing items, using reusable items instead of single-use items; and making diligent purchasing decisions. Working toward these practices within our own sphere of influence is also an important way to affect change.

Involvement in community efforts that work to build awareness and promote practices that not only protect our planet and safeguard our high standard of living, but also work to ensure equitable access to that standard, is a natural next step for engagement toward sustainability for the Earth.

A range of activities abounds in our community! From pulling nails and staples to reclaim lumber; teaching about composting, gardening, cooking, upcycling, health, financial strategies, ESL, literacy, etc; preparing food for distribution or cooking or serving food for the homeless or under-housed; leading or participating in a neighborhood or community clean-up event; doing forest service trail maintenance; and the list goes on.

When participating in community events, individuals become part of a bigger whole and usually gain a greater understanding of what the community needs to function, how, as the saying goes, ‘many hands make light work’ and how a relatively small effort can make a big impact. By becoming engaged in community, we also learn to value the greater community, the diversity that exists and the benefit of a collective focus toward the well-being of our place and that of our planet.

Finally, for involvement beyond our individual and community spheres, options exist to assist with action and advocacy for earth-friendly legislation and for involving others. From city council chambers to the Capitol Building in Olympia, our elected officials welcome feedback from a wide spectrum of constituents.

Political parties and grass roots organizations assist with education and help with directing the efforts of like-minded individuals to influence our leaders and bring about change via the political system. This is an important aspect of bringing about lasting change for the protection of our planet just as it was in the 1970’s, now almost fifty years ago.

Earth is a magnificent and awe-inspiring creation, unlike any other known phenomenon. That we can breathe fresh air, bask in the sunshine and hug our loved ones is very special indeed.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children and all future generations, to support the Earth’s health by embracing sustainability and ensuring, through individual, collective and national/international actions, that the message is reinforced, and actions implemented, worldwide.

Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.