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Environmental Education (EE) in the US

The fight against climate change is a collective one, but it’s next to impossible for the world to meet their global warming goals if not everyone is properly educated on sustainability. Where does environmental education, or EE, in the U.S. stand?
Ecology News
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Climate change is a challenge facing everyone on Earth at the current moment, but some players in the game will have more of an impact than others when helping to reduce global emissions – and will find sustainability education more pivotal than others. One of those countries happens to be the United States, as they are the second largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

What is Environmental Education, also known as EE for short, and why is it important for all countries in the world fighting against climate change – but especially for the United States?

What is Environmental Education?

Environmental education is the process which allows people to discover more about current environmental issues and take part in the process of becoming the solution. In other words, environmental education can help people to develop the thinking skills necessary to understand why making an attempt to rectify the current negative impacts of climate change is worth the effort to improve. 

Environmental education, also referred to as sustainability education, encourages people to develop their problem solving skills, acquire a more in depth understanding of the environment, and find new ways to reduce their own environmental impact.

Think of environmental education this way. It is difficult to write songs or produce music with absolutely zero knowledge of musical cadence or the structure of poetry or other forms of creative writing and expression. However, once someone is able to familiarize themselves with common chord progressions and writing techniques – they will be inspired to create their own music without the same amount of additional help. Environmental education strives to accomplish the same thing – it inspires others to take action that is meaningful on their own based on the knowledge they have received.


How does environmental education work?

There are five main principles to environmental education. They include remaining aware and sensitive to the environment and how it is prone to the negative impacts of human activity, acquiring basic knowledge of how the environment functions and how it is influenced by environmental challenges, a formative attitude in regards to caring for the environment and wanting to create positive change, motivation to develop the skills necessary to determine environmental issues when they are present and subsequently implement the action plans necessary to improve upon them, and lastly – participation in the various activities that can help create solutions for the current environmental challenges we suffer from today. 

Despite these five primary principles, environmental and sustainability education do not pontificate specific viewpoints. For instance, sustainability education does not belittle people for their poor environmental choices or actions – but instead, provides people with a new set of thinking skills to allow them to methodically choose and understand their choices moving forward. 

Environmental and sustainability education has been supported by both the Nation Environmental Education Act of 1990 and the EPA, or the Environmental Protection Agency – as the EPA opened an entire office dedicated to environmental and sustainability education.

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What are the benefits of environmental or sustainability education?

There are a wide variety of benefits for those who invest their time in environmental or sustainability education. For instance, environmental education can help to raise public awareness on crucial environmental issues, can help those involved to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making skills, and presents information in an unbiased manner that can help to encourage people to make climate-positive changes without making them feel responsible for the current stance of the planet. 

Environmental education can also help to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which can also help to reduce costs in both schools and workplaces. Ultimately, sustainability education and EE help to create a greener future both inside and outside the classroom – such as through the motivation to use science in combination with critical thinking to develop a plan moving forward, encouraging the implementation of sustainable habits that can help to reduce our carbon footprint, and understanding the value in striving to preserve the environment and Earth’s natural resources. 

When environmental education, EE, is executed in a manner that allows students to fully absorb the information presented to them – it should result in an imperative lifelong skill: the methodical thinking necessary to create positive change and improve life for everyone on the planet. Therefore, the overarching benefit of environmental and sustainability education is providing people with the indispensable skills to navigate a modern, more technologically advanced world. There are many resources to be productive and make positive changes in regards to the environment, but deciding on those changes is difficult without awareness of the current state of the environment – and that’s where sustainability education comes in.

What are some examples of sustainability education being employed?

Sustainability education can be demonstrated in a multitude of ways. For instance, any time that new environmental legislation is passed based on the current emission-reduction trajectory – the government is making a calculated decision through the use of critical thinking based on numerical evidence to assign those new laws. This is an example of sustainability education happening in real time, as these decisions would not be made as easily without the awareness provided by sustainability education in the first place. 

In fact, environmental and sustainability education can offer a wide variety of employment opportunities as well. For instance, environmental education qualifies someone to become an environmental education officer – which can help to further spread the ideals of sustainability education and influence future generations to come.

Sustainability education is illustrated in work places, such as those that value implementing a system dedicated to environmental health and safety. As many customers and investors grow more interested in exclusively associating themselves with businesses dedicated to the fight against climate change, demonstrating viable sustainability education is pivotal for the future loyalty and financial success of any enterprise these days.

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The truth is, sustainability education is revealed in everyone trying to make a difference in the fight against climate change – such as people trying to determine which carbon offsetting project to choose from or how to best implement a net-zero approach in a business. However, the most concrete examples of sustainability education being employed is when people use their newfound knowledge on the environment and develop critical thinking skills to move forward with a climate change or environmental predicament of some kind – such as by establishing new legislation or plans to mitigate environmental harm.

How can people find environmental and sustainability education in the U.S.?

The great thing about environmental education, or EE, is that it can be represented and carried out in a variety of ways – such as through funding, awards, providing resources, and actual education programs for people to learn more about the environment. 

The Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA’s website – has an entire webpage dedicated to helping people find the right resources for them in order to expand their knowledge on the environment. Some of the resources provided on this page include programs that strive to raise environmental awareness, programs for professional development alongside the environment, recognition for educators successfully implementing environmental and sustainability education, and grants to help expand environmental education.

Why is environmental education in the U.S. important? 

Environmental education in the U.S. is extremely important, as it is the baseline for future generations to be exposed to the importance of environmental awareness. Unfortunately, children in today’s world are likely to have more climate change issues to rectify. Therefore, it is paramount that they start to understand and think critically about global warming from a young age.

In fact, environmental education not only raises awareness about the predicament of climate change – but can help students to excel in other areas. For example, environmental education can help students to excel in academic areas – as EE has proven to strengthen test scores through the use of real-world examples and learning activities that take place in nature. Especially following the pandemic where many of us work remotely, Americans are becoming more prone to staying inside and avoiding the benefits of spending time outdoors. Environmental education provides an outlet for people to explore nature; such as how elementary schools in the U.S. still place a heavy importance on recess time – where kids can play outside before returning to an indoor classroom. This also helps to maintain the health and physical activity of students – as time outdoors can help with mental health issues and weight management. 

STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – is a program that encourages studies in these subject areas. Environmental education can help to stimulate students to be a part of STEM by providing them a real platform, climate change, where they can apply their STEM knowledge.

young students around laptop

Environmental education also helps to build leadership skills, improves cognitive functioning, and ultimately – helps to create a new generation aware of the skills necessary to build a better world. 

How successful is environmental education in the U.S.?

Environmental education started in the U.S. all the way back in 1970 after Earth day, and is still being implemented in various ways across the United States. However, the problem with environmental and sustainability education – is that it can be hard to concretely measure its success.

The success of environmental education may differ between the states or regions someone is to assess the success of environmental and sustainability education. For instance, students growing up in California are much more likely to participate in field trips that open their eyes to their surrounding ecosystems and environmental issues than students in New York City. 

Despite the criticism of the failure to properly instill environmental education throughout the country – environmental and sustainability education has made great strides in the fifty years since its initial launch. However, that doesn’t mean that environmental and sustainability education couldn’t be improved upon.

How could environmental education be improved in the U.S.?

Although environmental and sustainability education is plenty prevalent throughout the United States, there's always room for improvement. 

For example, workplaces and classrooms can seek to incorporate environmental awareness into their offices and classes – such as something as simple as keeping a recycling bin in the room or putting a microwave in the room to encourage students and co-workers to bring recyclable containers. 

Lessons can more often than not be held outdoors, and can provide a fresh way to present new material to students. For instance, students in creative writing could be inspired by holding class outside of the classroom – and take note of what they see in their general surroundings for their writing assignments. Something as simple as taking more time to notice the liter on a college campus still serves as a form of sustainability education. 

Schools should seek to hire staff determined to make an environmental difference, as this will help to cultivate a student body of environmentally aware students as well. Think of it this way – it’s hard to stay on your diet if you’re constantly surrounded by a friend who eats cake, but when friends with someone who is always putting almond milk in their coffee – these changes may seem easier to those hesitant.

Overall, environmental and sustainability education can not only help to benefit the planet – but schools, workplaces, people, and the development of new skills that can be used in all areas of life.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article on environmental education has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Are you someone in the education industry looking to reduce your carbon footprint? Click here to read more on how Greenly can help you. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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