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Environmental Education

Environmental education is vital to healthy, vibrant communities.1 The growing scale and complexity of the environmental issues we face, from climate change to pollution to loss of biological diversity, demands an environmentally literate public that is inspired to act as stewards of the planet and apply practical environmental know-how to support an improved quality of life. The breadth of experiences available through environmental education is not only a powerful tool for creating environmental literacy,2 but also for preparing every generation with the skills and will to work toward a sustainable future.3

What Is Environmental Education?

Simply defined, environmental education is education in, about, and for the environment.4 Its goals are to increase environmental awareness, build skills to address environmental concerns, and promote positive environmental behaviors.Environmental education is a lifelong process that engages a range of audiences, including young people and adults, as well as families and educators. It occurs in formal settings, such as schools, and informal settings, such as museums, aquariums, community centers, nature centers, farms, and parks.6 In whatever setting it occurs, it encourages individuals to build personal connections with the natural world.

1-7976-High-quality environmental education is based on solid educational pedagogy and sound science. High-quality environmental education programs are designed to be fair, accurate, and inclusive of diverse perspectives.7 At its core, environmental education is interdisciplinary, weaving together the study of the natural sciences, the social sciences, mathematics, literature, and art with the analytical skills required to address complex issues affecting our world. Environmental education is hands-on, engaging participants in learning in real-world and relevant contexts, encouraging the development of critical-thinking and civic-participation skills. Environmental education is also human-centered, framed by the context of human interactions with the natural world, encouraging participants to ask questions, communicate, and explore their role in the environment.8

Our Role in Environmental Education

The job of environmental education is to, over time, move participants along the continuum of environmental literacy.9 ChangeScale is comprised of a variety of organizations, each with a unique mission, expertise, network, and suite of programs. By working together, ChangeScale members promote and develop educational opportunities to help young people build environmental know-how over time. As a result, youth across the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area will have opportunities to connect to the natural world and address environmental concerns that are relevant to their lives today, and, at the same time, build a foundation for a healthy and sustainable future.


  1. Krasny, M. E., & Roth, W. M. (2010). Environmental education for social–ecological system resilience: A perspective from activity theory. Environmental Education Research, 16(5–6), 545–558.doi:10.1080/13504622.2010.505431.
  2. Krasny, M. E., Tidball, K. G., & Sriskandarajah, N. (2009). Education and resilience: Social and situated learning among university and secondary students. Ecology and Society, 14(2), 38; Fazey, I. R. A., Fazey, J. A., & Fazey, D. M. A. (2005). Learning more effectively from experience. Ecology and Society, 10(2), 4.
  3. Armitage, D., Marschke, M., & Plummer, R. (2008). Adaptive co-management and the paradox of learning. Global Environmental Change, 18(1), 86–98.
  4. Lucas, A. M. (1972). Environment and environmental education: Conceptual issues curriculum implication. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Ohio State University, Columbus.
  5. These three goals are rooted in the 1978 Tbilisi Declaration and the 1975 Belgrade Charter, which were both created by consensus of environmental educators from around the world at UNESCO conferences. For more on the Tbilisi Declaration and the goals and objectives of environmental education, see www.gdrc.org/uem/ee/tbilisi.html.
  6. For an overview of settings, audiences, and strategies for informal science learning see the National Research Council’s Learning in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (2009). Available at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12190.
  7. The North American Association for Environmental Education’s Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education outlines a set of standards for high-quality environmental education materials and practices. The guidelines were developed with input from environmental educators, curriculum designers, and researchers and reviewed by thousands of professionals. The guidelines are available at eelinked.naaee.net/n/guideline
  8. Ardoin, N., (2009). Environmental education: A strategy for the future. Environmental Grantmakers Association Report. New York, NY, 9.
  9. Ardoin, N., & Merrick, C. (2013). Environmental education: A guide for grantmakers. A report for the Cedar Tree Foundation, 2.