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What is Environmental Education (EE)?

Environmental education is a process that helps people learn more about the natural systems we all depend on, and understand what we must do to interact responsibly with our environment and safeguard natural resources for future generations.  Watch the NAAEE video below to learn mor

Good Education

Environmental education is good education; EE uses learner-centered instruction, emphasizes critical thinking skills, and is interdisciplinary. Experts at Stanford University systematically analyzed 119 peer-reviewed studies published over a 20-year period that measured the impacts of environmental education for K-12 students. Studies in the review demonstrated that environmental education has led to a number of positive impacts, from improving academic performance, to enhancing critical thinking skills, to developing personal growth and life-building skills including confidence, autonomy, and leadership. In addition, a number of the studies showed that environmental education increased civic engagement and positive environmental behaviors.  

The Roots of EE

The Belgrade Charter, (UNESCO, 1976) was developed by a United Nations working group in 1975 and provides a widely accepted goal statement for environmental education. Two years later, in 1977, the world’s rst intergovernmental conference on environmental education adopted the Tbilisi Declaration (UNESCO, 1978). Built on the Belgrade Charter, the declaration established three broad objectives for environmental education. These objectives provide the foundation for much of what has been done in the eld since that time:

  • To foster clear awareness of and concern about economic, social, political, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas

  • To provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment, and skills needed to protect and improve the environment

  • To create new patterns of behavior of individuals, groups, and society as a whole toward the environment

    As the eld has evolved, these objectives have been researched, critiqued, revisited, and expanded. They still stand as a strong foundation for an internationally shared view of the core conceptsand skills that environmentally literate global citizens need to develop a sustainable, equitable, and positive society. Since the late 1980s, bodies such as the Brundtland Commission (United Nations, 1987), the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (UNCED, 1992), the International Conference on Environment and Society in Thessaloniki (UNESCO, 1997), the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (United Nations, 2002), the International Environmental Education Conference in Ahmedabad (2007), and the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (United Nations, 2012) have emphasized the importance of viewing the environment within the context of human influences. This has guided the work of many environmental educators, focusing increasing attention on social equity, economics, culture, and political structures. 

The Key Pillars of Environmental 

As outlined by the North American Association for Environmental Education, environmental education focuses on the importance of experiential, interdisciplinary education. These key pillars help to ensure that all EE learners develop problem solving and decision-making skills, understand how to be a civically engaged citizen as well as how to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society.

  • Focus on systems thinking
  • Lifelong learning: cradle to grave
  • Focus on sound science
  • Built on a sustainability platform
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Informed decision making
  • Sense of place
  • Reflects best practice in education (learner-centered, experiential, and project-based learning)

NAAEE Sustainability Diagram

What EE Is

  • Increases public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues
  • Teaches critical-thinking
  • Enhances  an individuals problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Does not advocate a particular viewpoint
Quality environmental education concentrates on the educational process. It is non-biased and science-based. Environmental educators may consider themselves environmental advocates in their personal lives. However, in their role as environmental educator they must remain neutral; there is no room for personal beliefs to take center stage. It is important for environmental educators to remember which role they are in when working with an audience.

What EE is Not

EE Is not environmental information or advocacy:

Environmental information:

  •  provides facts or opinions about environmental issues
  • does not always teach critical thinking skills
  • does not alway enhance problem solving and decision making skills
  • may advocate a particular view point


Virginia Association for Environmental Education

10221 Krause Road

P.O. Box #2193

Chesterfield, VA 23832

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