LEAD: It began as a suggestion in 1969 by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for college teach-ins on environmental problems, but by the time the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, it had erupted into a nationwide patchwork of demonstrations and community activities that attracted 20 million
It began as a suggestion in 1969 by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for college teach-ins on environmental problems, but by the time the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, it had erupted into a nationwide patchwork of demonstrations and community activities that attracted 20 million Americans.
Now, hundreds of environmental groups, most of which did not exist in 1970, are hoping to use the 20th anniversary of Earth Day for an even broader range of events and educational programs aimed at sharply stepping up pressure on businesses and governments worldwide for stricter environmental policies. Unlike the largely student-led groups that put together the first Earth Day, organizers for the anniversary are bringing much more than zeal to their campaign. The drive to exploit the anniversary is being waged with the sophistication and marketing tools of big business, ready access to television and radio coverage and multimillion-dollar budgets.
''You have the same type of public groundswell forming as in 1970, but this time there are engines behind it,'' said Barry Commoner, a Queens College professor and author who is on the advisory boards of both the Earth Day 20 Foundation and Earth Day 1990, two groups formed this year to sponsor Earth Day events and spur local groups to organize their own. Environmental Mandate
Instead of profits, these enterprises are looking for a variety of bottom-line results, starting with bringing hundreds of thousands of new activists into the environmental movement. They also want to steer millions of investors and consumers toward companies judged to be most sensitive to environmental concerns. They want the size and range of Earth Day activities to create a political mandate for tougher environmental laws. And they expect Earth Day programs to encourage farmers, industrialists and service-industry executives to accelerate investments in products and processes that are environmentally ''friendly.''
''The point is not an event, but launching a decade of environmental activism,'' said Christina Dresser, a 35-year-old lawyer who is executive director of Earth Day 1990, based in Palo Alto, Calif.
Earth Day organizers expect virtually everyone in environmentally related businesses, from health food stores to publishers of environmental books, to jump on the bandwagon with publicity, sales and events to stimulate participation. Campuses are expected to be a hotbed of activity. And more than 6,000 letters have been sent to overseas groups seeking their participation.
''It has to be international this time because of the nature of the issues,'' said Denis Hayes, chairman of Earth Day 1990, who recently returned from an organizing trip to Europe.
Earth Day 20 and Earth Day 1990 have overlapping aims and support - indeed, former Senator Nelson, now an adviser to the Wilderness Society, is honorary chairman of both. Both organizations are providing information to local groups planning their own activities, licensing their logos for fund raising and working on a calendar of media and entertainment events at home and overseas.
They have also talked of merging, but insiders say talks in that area have foundered. As is often the case in the corporate world, the groups have been unable to resolve disagreements over who would run the combined organization and over incompatible structures and strategies.
Mr. Hayes, a 45-year-old lawyer who dropped out of Harvard Law School to serve as national coordinator for Earth Day 1970, has assembled an Earth Day 1990 staff that includes many veterans of political campaigns. Edward W. Furia, the 47-year-old lawyer and lobbyist who is president of Earth Day 20, was hired by University of Pennsylvania students to organize a week of Earth Day events in the Philadelphia area in 1970 and later served as a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. Competing Groups
Earth Day 1990 is the larger organization. It has 20 employees - compared with Earth Day 20's three - and is hiring 18 field coordinators. It is backed by the broadest range of environmental groups ever assembled. Its 80-member board of directors is made up largely of environmental activists and politicians, but it also includes business executives and union leaders. John Young, president and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, is a member, along with Ted Turner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting, Owen Bieber, president of the United Automobile Workers and George J. Kourpias, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
''We are building more out of the grass roots while Hayes is building from the Big 10 environmental groups and their mailing lists,'' said John O'Connor, an Earth Day 20 board member who is executive director of the National Toxics Campaign, a Boston-based coalition of 1,000 local groups concerned with industrial pollution. ''The grass roots tend to have a more combative relationship with industry. We don't like it that they have Hewlett Packard on their board since they are the second-biggest emitter of chloroflourocarbons in Silicon Valley and won't switch to alternative solvents. But there's less distinction than the two organizational heads would admit, and I predict you'll see them merge about a month before the big event.''
Earth Day 1990 is pursuing its range of programs with a professionalism - and a $3 million budget - that contrasts sharply with the primitive organizational skills and resources available to environmentalists in 1970, when the national budget for Earth Day amounted to $190,000. It is making heavy use of donated computers and software and is using several marketing techniques that would have been inconceivable to the original Earth Day organizers.
For example, it commissioned Peter Hart and Associates of Washington to run the kind of focus groups used by political candidates to test the potential popularity of various programs. Fund raising via direct mail began last month with a 100,000-piece test run managed by Craver, Mathews, Smith and Company, the Falls Church, Va., firm that has worked with a number of the nation's largest environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society.
''To put this in a business context, there are recognizable markets to go after,'' said Roger Craver, noting that more than three million people regularly give money to two or more environmental groups. The test mailing also included a sampling of prospects who are not known donors, taken from rented lists such as buyers of mail-order outdoor goods. Pro Bono Advertising
Earth Day 1990's advertising design work has been donated by Pacy Markman, former creative director of BBD Needham and the creator of Miller Lite's slogan, ''Everything you always wanted in a beer, and less.'' Publicity is being handled by Josh Baran and Associates, a 15-member Los Angeles firm that works with environmental groups (most recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council in its campaign against spraying apples with alar) and the entertainment industry.
''I want Earth Day to be as well known on April 22 as 'Batman' was the day it opened,'' said Mr. Baran, ''Environmental groups haven't used public relations and advertising in a very professional way until very recently.''
A major chunk of Earth Day 1990's budget is expected to come from earnings from licensing its logo to producers of various souvenirs. Such licensing is typically managed through agents who take up to 50 percent of royalties, which in turn run between 5 percent and 15 percent of wholesale prices.
Overseeing this operation for Earth Day 1990 is Rand Marlis, president of the Creative Licensing Corporation, a Los Angeles company that has handled licensing for movies like ''Platoon'' and ''Robocop.''
Earth Day 20 is relying largely on locally based groups like the National Toxics Campaign and student organizations to spread word of its activities; working to shape existing programs - like a proposed American-Soviet-Chinese climb of Mount Everest - into Earth Day events, and seeking corporate sponsorship for a number of magazines and media programs. A National Magazine
Budgets for these projects range from $1.1 million for the Mount Everest expedition (L.L. Bean Inc. has signed on as a sponsor for about half the amount) to as much as $4.4 million for a nationally distributed magazine. The magazine will include up to eight pages of advertising and a variety of features on recycling and other conservation programs, calendars of events and contacts.
''It's hard to see what the upper limit of this is,'' said L. Jeffrey Jensen, director of sales and marketing for Prestige Publications Inc., a New York subsidiary of McFadden Holdings that is handling development of the Earth Day 20 magazine portfolio and other marketing tasks. ''There are 47 products we see as licensing opportunities at this point. We have a captive audience - no one can leave the Earth.''
The latest addition to Earth Day 20, one that led the group to start carrying out some operations under the name Earth Week 20, is a week-long environmental exposition in a natural amphitheater overlooking the Columbia River Gorge outside George, Wash., a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. The plan is to combine short appearances by jazz, country and rock entertainers with speeches and environmental exhibitions. But the organizers expect the audience to extend far beyond the site, thanks to the ability to send satellite broadcasts to off-site locations like school campuses and shopping malls.
Such programs will provide the broadest range of environmentally linked sponsorship opportunities ever offered to business. Earth Day 1990, for example, is working with equipment donated by the Hewlett-Packard Company and Apple Computer, software donated by several Silicon Valley neighbors and paper provided at cost by the Conservatree Paper Company, which specializes in recycled products. Earth Day 20 is seeking major corporate sponsors for its magazines and the outdoor program.
But organizers are leery about appearing beholden to any company, and not all businesses will be welcome. Ms. Dresser said Earth Day 1990 will not accept money from oil companies and had named a committee of environmentally minded investment executives to advise it on which companies should be allowed to sponsor activities.
So far, Earth Day organizers say, the question of turning away business contributions has not come up because few businesses have thought much about the anniversary. But some executives say April may be a difficult month for any company with hazardous products or processes. ''I realize that the groups organizing Earth Day have a range of constituents and some of them are not going to be amenable to having anything to do with us,'' said Jon Holtzman, vice president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based trade group.
The association was one of the first business organizations to take note of the coming anniversary. It is developing a list of more than 100 ways its members can participate in local activities, like tree planting, and is encouraging them to do so.
Mr. Holtzman declines to predict what reception such efforts will receive. ''If the Earth Day groups are well organized, there will be opportunities for cooperation,'' he said. ''But some people may be seeking headlines rather than long-term solutions. If it comes together at the last minute like a sandlot ballgame, it could end up with more confrontive situations.'' TWO PATHS TO EARTH DAY
The two organizations encouraging Earth Day events next spring and some of their programs to stimulate interest. EARTH DAY 1990 Denis Hayes, Chairman Palo Alto, Calif.
* Lobbying business to adopt and observe the Valdez Principles, a 10-point guide to sound environment practices developed this summer by a coalition of investment professionals and environmental groups and named after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
* Nationwide acceptance of an environmental audit for institutions that was developed at the University of California at Los Angeles.
* Development of home environmental audits that can be taught and distributed through grade schools.
* A drive to get consumers to adopt a broad range of environmentally beneficial practices.
* A ''global cities'' campaign urging cities to adopt environmentally sound practices. EARTH DAY 20 Edward W. Furia, President Bellevue, Wash.
* Public meetings outside the presmises of chlorofluorocarbon manufacturers in Houston, New York, San Jose, Calif. and Wichita, Kan.
* Publicizing the findings on deforestation and endangered species of an international conference scheduled for early April in Costa Rica.
* Distribution of magazines through Sunday newspapers and campus newspapers.
* Support for a planned ascent of Mt. Everest by an American-Soviet-Chinese team that plans to broadcast a message from the summit on Earth Day.
* A week-long environment exposition in a natural ampitheater in Washington State, to be broadcast by satellite.
Edward W. Furia is president of Earth Day 20, one group organizing the anniversary (NYT/Chyris Bennion); in 1970, Denis Hayes helped plan the first Earth Day (NYT/Chyris Bennion); now he is chairman of Earth Day 1990. (Tony Russo)