“Sustainability” and “Environmentalism” are trendy buzz-words that we all hear on the regular. They are the ideals that businesses strive for, the indicators of “good” products, and descriptors of the Millennial Generation. But until the 70’s, environmental awareness and activism really weren’t a thing. As we hop into Earth Month, we hope to share the history of the Environmental Movement and the impact it had on our home, San Francisco. Because frankly, we wouldn’t be a thing without the work put in by our grandparents. Enjoy!

Earth Day (in a very small nutshell)

April 22nd marks the anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement. On this day in 1970, hundreds of environmental groups were brought together under one umbrella as they marched alongside 20 million Americans to protest for a healthy, sustainable environment. Channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement, environmental concerns were brought to the front and center.

The movement began by U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson, who was outraged by the devastation of the 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. He proposed a “national teach-in on the environment” to be observed by every university campus in the U.S., gathered a staff of 85 (red and blue), and from there the movement began. The initial march on April 22nd led to the creation of Environmental protection agency and the passage of the clean air, clean water, and endangered species acts.

The “Largest Secular Holiday in the World”

The cool thing about Earth Day is it is inclusive to literally everyone. The initial march enlisted support from both republicans and democrats, rich and poor, city folk and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. Today, it is observed in 175 countries by over half a billion people. Because there really aren’t (or shouldn’t be) any arguments about protecting the place that keeps us alive.

San Francisco: With the hippies came conservation

The environmental and ecological movement in California emerged around the same time the hippies came to town…the focus on natural medicine, natural childbirth, organic food, and sustainable living created a foundation for environmental activism and concern.

 Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood “Clean-In” during Spring 1967 mobilization | Image: courtesy Eric Noble

Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood “Clean-In” during Spring 1967 mobilization | Image: courtesy Eric Noble


A Turning Point in the Bay Area’s Environmental Movement — Save the Bay Campaign

Take a moment to think about the shape of the San Francisco Bay. Now imagine what it would look like with a highway built 2 miles into it and the majority of the water filled in. Pretty weird, right?!

The Save the Bay campaign, led by three women, Esther Gullick, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Kay Kerr, put environmental conservation in the heart of Bay Area politics. It became a platform for like minded people to organize and demonstrated a new way to approach environmental politics.

Without these women’s efforts, the Bay would look unrecognizable…here were the pre-campaign plans…

 Fillable Areas on the Bay | Image: US Army Corps of Engineers

Fillable Areas on the Bay | Image: US Army Corps of Engineers

  • Berkeley would double its physical size by filling 4,000 acres of the Bay.

  • Richmond would expand its industrial base by filling thousands of tidal acres (imagine the chemical runoff!)

  • SF and Oakland airports would expand into the bay

  • Sausalito would expand several hundred yards into the Bay (bye bye Bar Bocce!)

  • San Mateo County and the Peninsula would build a second freeway paralleling today’s Highway 101…which would have been built 2 miles out in the water of the bay. The space in between? It would be developed and built out.

It’s not an easy task to simply expand into a body of water. And where would the materials come from?! Oh, you know, just the top of San Bruno Mountain. Yes, you heard that right. The planners projected that over 1 billion cubic yards of soil and rock would be chopped off the top of the mountain and redistributed over the Bay.

Thanks to the work of Gullick, McLaughlin and Kerr, the Save the Bay campaign led to the passing of the McAteer-Petris Act and the establishment of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission in September 1965.




San Francisco - A Leader in the Environmental Movement

From city-wide composting to mission-based startups to green streets, San Francisco has carved a path as a leader in sustainable U.S. cities. We are proud to be part of a diverse community of environmentally-minded businesses and individuals.



Check-out San Francisco’s Strategic Plan to eliminate waste and amplify community action

SF Environment - http://plan.sfenvironment.org/

How to compost and recycle in SF - https://sfenvironment.org/recycle-compost-how-to

Is your business Green? Here’s how to register! https://sfenvironment.org/green-businesses

Here’s a whole list of SF Environmental organizations! Awesome volunteer opportunities :) https://baynature.org/organizations/

Have extra food at the end of the day (in your office, restaurant, etc.)? Check-out Copia! The app allows you to save money, reduce waste and feed communities in need!

Copia - https://www.gocopia.com/

Read about Save The Bay here

Read about SF's Environmental movement here