hob icon

Environmental education & sustainability

Environmental education

two fruit fliesin a jar

Two fruit flies are put into a jar at midnight.
They and their descendants reproduce and double every minute.
At noon the next day the jar is full.

When was the jar half full?

  • When was the jar half-full? ***
  • When did the fruit flies know they were in trouble?
  • If the earth is a jar and we are fruit flies, when will our jar be full?
  • When will we know we are in trouble?


This page explores environmental education and its resources. It includes a historical perspective, reviews the state of environmental education, ICCE findings about the state of environmental education, ICEE recommendations for environmental education, suggestions to help teachers become environmentally savvy, a review of teacher's needs, sample program goals, scoring guide for environmental concerns, suggestions to assess environmental curriculum, review of student environmental knowledge, some related misconceptions, and six frequent questions about environmental education and my answers.

Focus questions:

Not sure? Let's start with some historical perspective.

Historical perspective of environment

Historically Indigenous people are experts on knowing their environment and how to manage it in a sustainable way. Which generally followed seasonal patterns. Recognizing significant changes could effect their survival, they tried not to upset nature, or the gods, and be respectful of how they impacted the environment. As people people developed their technology and relied more on farming and domestication of animals, they moved from a reliance on a harmony with nature, with minor human interventions, like use of fire and selective harvesting; to a belief that we, humans, could control or conquer it. Which led to an increased reliance on human interventions for intensive farming of mono cultures in prepared fields and herding and housing animals to produce more food; without enough regard to the destruction caused to the environment and its sustainability.

A few historical examples of these interventions include:

Source STEM timeline

Environmental science education

State of environmental science education

This brief summary suggests different view of the environment, but what is being presented to school children?

A review of K-12 environmental education teaching materials by the Independent Commission on Environmental Education (ICCE) is analyzed and discussed by Salmon, Jeffrey in his article Are We Building Environmental Literacy? published in the Journal of Environmental Education, 00958964, summer 2000, Vol. 31, Issue 4.

ICEE findings

ICEE recommendations

The ICEE believes the following recommendations must be implemented if environmental education is to gain the stature it deserves.

The ICCE report implies that what needs to be done to have students become environmental savvy is known and that educational materials and teachers can be prepared to achieve the goals of environmental education.

Salmon, Jeffrey in his article Are We Building Environmental Literacy? published in the Journal of Environmental Education, 00958964, summer 2000, Vol. 31, Issue 4.


Assuming this accurate, what can be done to better prepare teachers?

Suggestions to help teachers become environmentally savvy?

Teachers need to

Shepardson, Daniel P, Jon Harbor, Barbara Cooper, and Jim McDonald. The Impact of a Professional Development Program on Teachers' Understanding about Watersheds, Water Quality, and Stream Monitoring. The Journal of Environmental Education, 2002, Vol. 33, No. 3, 34-40.


What do teacher say about this?

Teachers' views of their needs

K-12 Teachers, with a high interest in EE, were surveyed and found their opinion on their needs.


Teachers were asked what they would be willing to be involved in

Yvonne Meichtry and Lorna Harrell, An Environmental Education Needs Assessment of K-12 teachers in Kentucky. The Journal of Environmental Education, 2002, Vol. 33, No. 3, 21-26.


What should be the goals and outcomes of Environmental education programs?

Sample program goals & outcomes

Scoring guide for environmental concern

Least concern for the environment

  • Litter, never recycle, materialistic, 
  • Make individual conservation effort (recycle, use both sides of a paper, conserve water turn off faucets when brushing teeth, take shorter showers, buy recycled materials...) Individual responsibility
  • Encourage others to do above and get publicly involved (liter pick-up, recycle, plant trees, raise money, government action...) Advocacy
  • Get involved with political action by exerting pressure on others to take responsibility for managing the environment (write letters, organize letter writing campaigns, contact government officials, business leaders, buy only green, involve mass mediate to bring pressure on different groups, investigate environmental education in schools...) Political action

Most concern


Suggestions for a tool to assess environmental curriculum

Assessment of environmental curricula should include:

However, I question the present state of society and its schools to provide an atmosphere conducive to nurturing attitudes and values necessary for enough students to develop a sufficient sensitivity needed to achieve any significant change.

Kyung-Ok Kim. An Inventory for Assessing Environmental Education Curricula,
The Journal of Environmental Education. 2003, Vol. 34. no. 2, 12-18.


What do students know about the environment?

Student environmental knowledge

Environmental education is important in achieving environmental improvement. However, for students to construct accurate information, instruction must be based on the children's understandings rather than on assumptions of what we think they know and believe.

When students were asked. What do you think the term/word environment means.

their answer fell into two categories:

  1. Environment as an object.
  2. Environment as a relation.

Their specific answers included statements such as:

Object focus

Relational focus

Loughland, Tony, Reid, Anna, & Peter Petocz. Young People's Conceptions of Environment: a phenomenographic analysis. Environmental Education research, Vol. 8, no. 2, 2002.(U.S.)


The relational focus is preferable with the most inclusive being environment and people in a relationship of mutual care and found:

    • Young children are six times more likely to report a relational view with the idea that the environment contributes to their well being as they contribute to the environment's well being, than students in secondary schools.
    • The next most significant difference is with girls being 1.5 times more likely than boys to have a relational view.
    • A mixture of social and environmental concerns were most likely to show a relational view with the least likely being those that picked all environmental and no social concerns.
    • A positive relationship of 1.25 existed between students that had a relational view and being more optimistic on an optimism/neutral/pessimist scale.


Understanding of environmental knowledge, was not a significant factor, for those in high school, but was for those in primary school.


The instruction in the primary grades may be more integrated while the instruction in the secondary is more directed toward biology topics such as polluted streams.

Suggested recommendations?

Must view that social global concerns are related to the environment and work to reduce the following:

Loughland, Tony et. Al. Factors Influencing Young People's Conceptions of Environment Environmental Education Research, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003.(Australia) go on to suggest.


What do students believe about different environmental solutions?

Environmental Solutions

Student goals and outcomes need to include:

What does research suggest about how to teach about the environment?

Educational Research and its Implications

Stephen Pui-Ming Yeung found:

Pui-Ming Yeung, Teaching Approaches and the Development of Responsible Environmental Behavior:
the Case of Hong Kong Ethics, Place, and Environment
, Vol. 5, No. 3, 239-269, 2002.


What misconceptions do students have related to environmental education?


Greenhouse effect


CO2 is an abundant greenhouse gas. The green house effect is completely the result of human activity. If the greenhouse effect increases, the average temperature in the USA will rise, warm air holds more water, weather patterns will shift, but not sure how. If the ice caps melt there will be more available liquid water.


Ozone depletion


Stratospheric ozone is vital for life on Earth. One cause of stratospheric ozone destruction is CFCs. Some household items cause destruction of ozone.


Acid rain


Acid rain can be produced in nature. Burning some types of coal produces acid rain. Acid rain damages some stone buildings more than others.)



What are possible concerns?

Where do we go from here?

What would a school look like that would educate children to become environmentally responsible citizens?

Orr claims that all education is environmental education.

If this is true, then the village that it takes to educate a child needs to refocus its philosophical base from an individualistic materialistic consumer economy... to a collaborative...

See curriculum planning for an integrated school...

Orr D. W. (1992) Ecological Literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world.
New York: state University of New York Press.


Teaching resources

What do I believe is the state of environmental education in the U. S.?

Six Questions & Answers about environmental education

1. What do you think the State of Environmental Education in the United States K - 12 schools is?

Most environmental education is at the lowest level of the program goals. With a few individual teachers reaching to the higher levels along with some individual learners, who are driven by a personal caring ethical disposition.

2. What does environmental education mean to you, i.e. definition?

I view environmental education as primarily needing to provide learners, who are citizens, with an emotional and ethical relationship of responsibility to all living organisms and the planet Earth. Education of environmental processes and the interaction of humans and the environment is important, but in my view secondary. Without appropriate caring values, education becomes just school activities, unconnected to each individual's real life and personal responsibilities.

My hope is that environmental education helps develop caring and responsible citizens that seek to live in harmony with the Earth and in doing such understand the need to be scientifically literate and in constant pursuit of better understanding of the interrelated nature of life on Earth, Earth itself and how to maintain a sustainable Earth. 

3. Who should deliver environmental education?

Environmental education is essential to the continual survival of the human species. All citizens must accept a role of responsible environmental stewardship of the planet. Without a significant number of citizens taking this responsibility, in a manner similar to the responsibility most people take for their personal health, no single organization can provide a delivery system of environmental education that will be successful. Groups of educators, politicians, business people, and many other groups must be involved in educating all of us in this important endeavor.

4. Who should be the audience for environmental education?

Absolutely everybody.

5. What are the barriers to delivering environmental education?

6. What resources are needed to do environmental education?

Monetary, intellectual, cultural, social, and ethical: Environmental education must permeate all threads of our culture.

We must study everything we do on Earth from a multidisciplinary and ethically responsible perspective. We must understand the consequences of what we choose to do or not do and learn to err on the side of caution instead of waiting for significant proof that certain actions cause catastrophes.

Until we have a significant plurality of citizens that understand and actively recycle, conserve, monitor environments, continually seek to understand interrelationships in our world and how changes impact all, demand that governments accept more responsibility in the care of our world and accepting responsibility for the affects their decisions can have on the Earth, more civic engagement, are better educated, and accept the need for life-long learning, we will not have environmental education that will make any bigger difference than what we have today.

Some activities require little more than money to purchase media and supplies or to travel. Mostly environmental education requires people with enough resources to develop self-efficacy and a desire to learn how best to care for other people, living organisms, and the environment they depend on for a quality life.


* One minute before noon or 11:59 AM.