Earth Day 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of this worldwide celebration. Founded by peace activist John McConnell in 1970, Earth Day is a day dedicated to raising awareness and appreciation for the earth and our environment. Statistics show that Earth Day is celebrated by more than 1 billion people — that’s one sixth of the earth’s population — each year, “making it the largest secular civic event in the world.” This year’s special anniversary has spurred a number of special movements and events to not only make the day memorable but also reach the greatest number of people possible. Organizers and brands are utilizing digital tools to make real world and sustainable impact.

Disney’s Oceans

Disney’s commitment to Earth Day 2010 is one of the largest and most recognizable efforts this year. Its newest movie, Oceans, is set to premiere on Earth Day, with opening week proceeds going toward efforts to save our coral reefs. Last year’s Earth Day release, aptly titled Earth, received positive reviews and pulled in more than $32 million from the box office in its short run; this year, Disney hopes Oceans will do the same.

The media giant has also enlisted the help of many of its young teen and tween stars, who are promoting Disney’s efforts to the Gen Z set through Friends for Change: Project Green. Disney the like Jonas Brothers, Demi Levato, Selena Gomez, and many more recorded the song “Make a Wave,” with proceeds from downloads donated to the company’s Worldwide Conservation Fund. The Project Green Web site engages and encourages young viewers to get involved and make a pledge to make a difference for the environment. Pledges so far include a promise to save water, plant trees, and be more conscious of recycling. Disney’s branding and involvement in Earth Day encompasses audiences of all ages, but its focus on the younger set instills behaviors and awareness that these young people will most likely carry throughout their lives.

Earth Day Network

For the older crowd, the Earth Day Network started the Earth Day 2010 Action Center, an online community where people can learn more about Earth Day’s core issues such as sustainable development, climate change, and energy; network with people in their communities to start events, and find out about projects and events happening worldwide that will raise awareness for Earth Day. To date, the EDN has brought in more than 21 million “Acts of Green,” and reached more than 758,000 people online. EDN’s 2010 celebration will commence with a climate rally in Washington, D.C., on April 25th, with attendees Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oscar-winning director James Cameron.

Proctor & Gamble’s Future Friendly

Proctor & Gamble’s environment initiative, Future Friendly, teamed with the Earth Day Network this year to launch their Billion Acts of Green social media applications, available for iPhone/iPod touch and through EDN’s Facebook page. Both companies are harnessing the power of social media and large online communities to reach more people than ever before, and make it easier for the public to get information and become involved. Using these applications, users can locate Earth Day and pledge events in their cities, upload photos of their pledge projects, and access a handy list of ways to get involved and help the environment.

Though Earth Day is only here for 24 hours, movements for “Earth Week” and even “Earth Month” have sprung up over the past few years. TOMS shoes’ “Day Without Shoes” event on April 8 was an unofficial kickoff for Earth Day 2010 , and Discovery’s “Life” series in March and April has helped raise awareness and get people ready for this year’s celebration. No matter if we ditch your shoes, opt for paper over plastic, or ride our bikes instead of taking the car, we can all find a small and simple way to make a difference this year.

How You Can Make A Difference

Visit any of these sites to make your own pledge, view Earth Day events, and get ideas of how to make a better planet this Earth Day, and every day.

JetBlue’s Jetting to Green
Make a pledge, view “green” tips, and see what JetBlue is doing to help the environment.

10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore
A step-by-step guide for transitioning to a more local and sustainable diet.

Plant with Purpose
PWP believes the impact on the environment has a direct impact on poverty. Join their cause to help small villages become sustainable and reversing deforestation.

Declaration of Energy Independence
Sign a petition urging congress to move forward with climate change and renewable energy legislation.

Support Eco-friendly Companies
Many Earth-friendly companies are offering to donate proceeds toward environment-saving efforts for purchases made on Earth Day.

Image by Henry Hingst from Stock.Xchng