Earth Day at MIT

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Earth Day is the biggest annual environmental event held at MIT. It’s basically a festival organized by the environmental groups (student, administration, and staff) for all of the MIT community to participate in. It started as a couple of tables on the student center steps in 2002 and has gotten bigger each year. By 2005, there were to large, simultaneous celebrations: one on Kresge Oval (mostly groups and activities of interest to students, run by SfGS and SAVE) and one on the lawn by the Stata Center (aimed more at staff and faculty, organized by the Working Group Recycling Committee… the EPO had a hand in both). It took place on Thursday, April 28. Here’s my advice for organizing Earth Day (from four years of experience).

1. START EARLY.

  • Choose a date and RESERVE YOUR SPACE as soon as possible—space is the most important and hardest to get. Contact the other people interested and come up with a game plan: Steve Lanou of EPO and Anne Wasserman of WGR were the most important in 2005. The festival need not be on Earth Day itself; in fact, it traditionally never was. You’ll have to work around Spring Weekend and the I-Fair, among other things. A Friday is best but hardest to get. In West Campus, try to reserve both Kresge Oval and the Student Center steps, to give yourself lots of options. Have a plan in case of rain: in 2005 at Stata, the plan was to move inside the Stata Center; at Kresge we had a tent large enough to fit everyone underneath. While you’re reserving the tent, arrange for tables and chairs too.

Plan for an entire week of activities before and after the actual day-long festival.

2. Have a large meeting

and brainstorm all the activities that you might want to have. Determine which are feasible and how you could pull them off. DIVIDE UP TASKS AND MAKE SURE EVERY PROJECT HAS SOMEONE IN CHARGE OF IT. The things that don’t get done are the things that don’t have a personal sponsor. See below for an entire list of the activities that we had. Some of the greatest difficulties in 2005 arose from the fact that (for the first time) we really had two festivals—WGR-Stata and SfGS-Kresge-- being planned in parallel, with not enough communication. Each group liked its own ideas and its own image, and it was hard to work together without one side seeming like it was trying to take over. Especially with publicity-- for instance, we had two websites. I’m not sure how best to deal with this, except be super-aware of others’ desires and super-conscientious not to step on other peoples’ feet.

  • SAVE’s classic plant cuttings giveaway
  • Compost giveaway (free compost from MIT’s compost company; it complements the plants)
  • LFEE’s tree giveaway or plant-your-own-seeds giveaway
  • Clothing swap: people bring their old clothes and take whatever they want (a mini stuff-fest). for this you need a coat rack, hangers, and a table. and you need to make sure to advertise well and early. have volunteers bring their clothes.
  • Bike repair workshop: the biggest and most popular event of Earth Day. get a local bike shop (traditionally, Broadway Bicycle) to donate some patch kits, tubes, lubricant, etc. borrow equipment from a person or from Sidney-Pacific (they’ve got a great bike system). recruit volunteers (friends; contact the cycling club? Sid-Pac?) to show people how to adjust brakes, change tubes, lubricate, etc. during the day, always have a couple volunteers there, as well as the one person in charge. try to get people involved—try not to let people just leave their bikes to be fixed so they can pick them up later.
  • Portrait-drawing on recycled paper: Xiaomin did this last year. people love it.
  • sale of SAVE & SfGS travel mugs; SAVE notebooks
  • Recycled Solar Design Contest: a contest to create a machine that uses solar energy, constucted of recycled materials. This was designed George Mokray and described at http://solarray.blogspot.com/ and http://hubevents.blogspot.com/
  • Ecological footprint activity—have people calculate their ecological footprint, and submit the questionnaire to enter a drawing (traditionally for a free bike)
  • information exchange/ message board: on which people can write resources and ideas for sustainable living

Other earth week events

  • documentary film series (straightforward)
  • tour of solar panels, algae reactors, biofiltration swale, cogeneration plant (this was a great success last year, organized by Steve Lanou and Justin Adams)
  • tree walk of MIT Campus
  • Charles River Cleanup: put on every year by the Charles River Conservancy. it’s nice to organize a group from MIT to volunteer.
  • EarthFest on the Esplanade: not MIT-specific, but something you can advertise

===3. Publicize, publicize, publicize=== First thing: reserve timeslots and spaces. Second: design a logo that can go on all forms of publicity (it’s nice if you can have one person willing to do all the design work). Third: get up a website. Fourth: deploy. emails and posters can start going out 2, maybe 3 weeks early, but most methods are most useful in the week preceding the festival. See below for a list of routes for publicity; check out the CAC's suggestions.

  • panel in Infinite corridor (must be reserved early) [free]
  • projector in Infinite (must be reserved early) [expensive]
  • drop posters in Student Center and Lobby 7 (must be reserved early) [free]
  • newspaper ads:
    • multiple ads in the Tech (ASA groups get an annual allocation of free space)
    • GSC newsletter (need a graduate student to do that?)
    • Tech Talk (not free)
    • have people write environmentally-themed articles for publication in addition to the ads
  • LSC pre-film advertising slide [not cheap]
  • MIT spotlight: really important and really cool. but there’s no way to guarantee it. (apply for this early)
  • message on Bosworth’s LCD display (easy to get?) [free]
  • MIT Events Calendar [free]
  • fliers at related events: every Earth Week activity is a chance to advertise for other activities! And keep an eye out for any environmental events hosted by other groups during the month beforehand. Ask permission to come and bring fliers.
  • emails, emails, emails! send out one “save the date” email maybe 3 weeks ahead of time, then another reminder 1 ½ - 2 weeks ahead of time, then regular reminders during the week right before the festival. but be courteous, not annoying. contact the administrators of all lists you think might be interested ), and ask them to forward the email. have volunteers spam their own living groups or labs. (do not spam others randomly.) this is one of the most important methods. see here for some sample emails.
  • posters, posters, posters! start 2 weeks ahead of time. an easy way to get it out is recruit volunteers, each one responsible for a sector of campus. put the poster online and have the volunteers print it out and post it on their own time. check the ASA website to learn when campus posters are taken down (twice a week)—prime posting time is right after the boards are cleared. you can get a lot of bang for your buck by using mostly black-and-white posters printed on colored paper, but putting full color posters in the most apparent locations.
  • web page: probably THE most important method; get it up early and keep it updated. here’s the SfGs site from last year, and the WGR site from last year.

===4. Contact other groups=== who may want to participate. Traditionally, MIT student, staff, and administration organizations, and also some non-MIT groups, host information tables at the fair. Groups to contact include:

  • SfGS
  • SAVE
  • LFEE
  • EPO/EHS
  • Facilities/recycling
  • ESI (Earth Systems Initiative), Terrascope
  • Solar Power Initiative
  • MIT Greens
  • MIT Vegetarians
  • Used Computer Factory (ucf-staff@mit.edu) http://web.mit.edu/mitpsc/programs/comtech/
  • Community-based agriculture (try Red Fire Farm)
  • MITOC
  • Bon Appetit (and SeafoodWatch)
  • Sierra Club Boston
  • (bicycle initiative? Cambridge transportation? sanitation?)
  • Western Hemisphere Project
  • Design That Matters
  • Students for Labor Justice
  • AID
  • Techbikes
  • Computer take-back campaign

It is true that informational tables are not the most exciting thing at the festival and often get passed up, and the lonely representative sitting at a table with some brochures can sometimes look sad and bored. Encourage groups to bring creative giveaways and to host interesting activities, or at the least, exciting displays. If all they have is brochures and pictures, they probably don’t need to have a representative there all the time, either.


===5. Arrange food=== everyone expects food.

  • lunch: We’ve always hesitated to give away food (even though it undoubtedly attracts people); in 2004 and 2005 at Kresge we sold lunch food for a very low (below cost) price.

We try to provide all-natural, vegetarian food, with a minimum of packaging. Usually vegetable wraps or sandwiches, fresh fruit, and maybe brownies or cookies, and a drink. In 2005, we asked Bon Appetit to cater. They were wonderful; they offered us vegan roasted vegetable sandwiches at a very low price, and they delivered right to our tent. And, in the end, they decided not to charge us anything! I don’t know whether they’d do the same next year, but they were exceedingly nice and I think they deserve a lot of gratitude and good publicity. We supplemented with store-bought organic apples, dessert donated from Harvest, and store-bought drinks. Other catering options include Whole Foods, Harvest Coop, O’Naturals! You should be able to get some donations or at least a discount if you explain our purpose and ask far enough in advance. In 2004 we borrowed real dishes from a dorm and had people use them and return them. In 2005 we gave no dishes, but served only finger food with unbleached paper napkins. We had SfGS and SAVE travel mugs, which we sold for $1 each with a drink in them, so people could drink the drink and keep the mug.

  • snacks: try getting some vendors who want to come and give free samples. In 2005 (Dome) Café donated lots of gift certificates for free oatmeal or brown rice…


6. Arrange music and/or other performance

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