How to celebrate Earth Day in Metro Detroit—without the greenwashing

An estimated one billion people have participated in Earth Day events every year on April 22 since the day was launched in 1970.

But in the five decades since that first Earth Day, the day has, in many ways, been “greenwashed,” defined by the Oxford dictionary as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”

To wit: Coca Cola, one of the world’s worst plastic polluters, tweeted out to remind its followers to “Love your mother <3” on last year’s Earth Day. 

Earth Day’s beginnings decades ago were genuine. The first event was led by Senator of Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, in an effort to get people to care about the environment, issues like air pollution from industry and transportation, and a large oil spill in Santa Barbara, California that happened just the year prior. 

The first event was successful. It drew 13,000 people for demonstrations around the world demanding change. Some say Earth Day even created a movement, evidenced by new environmental protection legislation that was passed in 1970 and in the following years, the creation of environmental studies programs at colleges and universities, and more environmental coverage in media and literature, following that first event. 

Detroit was especially involved in the early Earth Days through the United Auto Workers. Walter Reuther, the leader of the UAW at that time, had a strong connection with Gaylord Nelson, before Nelson became senator, and before the first Earth Day.  

It was labor activists, and the UAW that were the early supporters of Earth Day, Jamon Jordan, the City of Detroit’s official historian, told Planet Detroit. The UAW led teach-ins and programming, he said. 

“It was Walter Reuther and other neighbor activists who were coming to the teach-ins to discuss issues surrounding environmental justice, dumping, and water pollution,” Jordan said. 

“That’s the non-corporate non-government wing of those early Earth Days, where they would really kind of protest against the status quo,” he said. 

And Detroit is still a leader in Earth Day and the overall fight for environmental protection. A group that is “still holding that early fire” Jordan said is Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.  

“Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is one of the major organizations in the city of Detroit that has this long history of treating Earth Day as a time to highlight and bring focus to environmental injustice, environmental racism, environmental pollution, and dangers to the climate.” 

A number of other Detroit organizations are also continuing this fight to protect the planet and its people. Check out this list of Earth Day events in Detroit to get involved. 

Watch a 1970s Sci-Fi classic 

April 16 

Watch Soylent Green, a 1973 classic that takes viewers to the year 2022, when ecological disaster has taken hold. The event will be co-hosted by Greening of Detroit, an organization working to prevent the predictions of Soylent Green from coming true. Get tickets here

Senate Theater 

6424 Michigan Ave. Detroit, MI 48210

Ride free with MoGo 

April 21

Celebrate Earth Day by exploring Detroit by bike. Rent a bike for free from any one of MoGo’s 75 stations across Metro Detroit. Find a bike here

Take home a free tree

April 22

The Greening of Detroit, The Arbor Day Foundation, and TD Bank will be giving away trees on a first-come, first-serve basis. The trees come in 3-gallon pots, with instructions for planting. Tree experts will also be on hand to help you figure out the best place to plant your tree. 

13000 W. Mc.Nichols Detroit, MI 48235


April 22, 2022 4:30 PM EDT

Underground Music Academy & Solar Party Detroit present Waajeed and Ladymonix for a back-to-back set 100% powered by the sun.

Online; register here.

Earth Day Exhibition

April 22-April 24

View select artwork at the intersection of environment and climate justice. 

Belle Isle Aquarium

Plant a tree with the Greening of Detroit 

April 23

Help The Greening of Detroit plant trees at Corrigan Playground. Don’t forget to dress to get dirty, and bring water! Sign up here

5151 Alter Road Detroit, MI 48224 

City of Detroit events

Lunch & learns, nature hikes, cleanups, and an update on Detroit’s Sustainability Agenda.

Multiple dates and locations, check here.

Rally to fight climate change

April 23 

Join Oakland County communities to rally for a sustainable world. In addition to a march, there will be art, live music, speeches from political leaders. Sign up here

Centennial Commons Park 

203 S Troy St., Royal Oak, MI 48067

Clean up the Detroit riverfront

April 23

Celebrate Earth Day by joining the Detroit River Coalition as they clean up several sites along the Detroit River. Cleanup sites include Dequindre Cut Greenway, Rouge Park, and Trenton Rotary Park. 

To see a list of locations click here.

Celebrate at a Zero Waste Store

April 23

Walking Lightly, a zero-waste store is hosting a free party for Earth Day and the anniversary of the shop. The celebration will include DIY seed bombs, a smoothie truck, and a DIY rain barrel workshop. 

1031 Hilton Rd. Ferndale, MI 48220 

Clean up Palmer Park

April 23

Pick up trash, weed, sweep, and rake for a cleaner Palmer Park. The volunteer group that registers the most people will win a prize. 

Palmer Park Community Building

1121 Merrill Plaisance St. Detroit, MI 48203Do you know of an Earth Day event to add to this list? Send an email to and let us know!


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