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Sustainable Materials Management: Environmental Education

Updated: April 2007

This fact sheet on education summarizes some important actions taken by international organizations to foster the integration of sustainable development concepts and environmental education. This fact sheet describes public and private sector examples of programs and initiatives from around the world that are designed to further the goals of sustainable development through education. It also briefly identifies some U.S. resources on environmental education for schools and provides links to these resources. This fact sheet is not comprehensive; rather, it provides a starting point for readers interested in investigating the topic.

Education and Sustainable Development: Selected Background

Schools in many countries emphasize environmental education and ethics as they prepare students to be environmental stewards. The concept of “sustainable development” has been important in influencing this direction worldwide since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio Janeiro. Sustainable development and environmental protection are integrally related; the “holistic” concept of sustainable development places environmental protection within a larger social context that includes economic growth and human well-being.

The World Commission on Environment and Development, in its landmark 1987 Brundtland Report (Our Common Future) defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Applying this concept, for example, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)in the United Kingdom has emphasized the importance of integrating policies on the environment with other public policies. DEFRA connects environmental protection with three other sustainable environmeExit EPA Disclaimernt goals: housing, social progress, and economic growth.

The 1992 Earth Summit, which was held on the 20th anniversary of the UN Stockholm Conference (the first international conference on the human environment). The Earth Summit brought global attention to the idea that the planet's environmental problems are intimately linked to economic conditions and problems of social justice. The Earth Summit also highlighted the importance of environmental education in furthering sustainable development goals. Principle 21 from the Earth Summit Declaration on Environment and Development (the Rio Declaration) states in part: The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all.

Agenda 21, the Environment and Development Agenda, is a broad-ranging program of actions developed by nations attending the Earth Summit. Chapter 25 of Agenda 21 is devoted to "Children and Youth in Sustainable Development.” Agenda 21:

The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 reaffirmed the importance of integrating sustainable development into education and strengthened the linkages between poverty, the environment, and the use of natural resources. It created the UN Commission on Sustainable Development for effective follow-up.

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Programs And Initiatives

Public and private sector programs and initiatives from around the world designed to further the goals of sustainable development through education include:

International Organizations

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Country Examples

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Non-Governmental Organizations

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Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources

In 1996, the President’s Commission on Sustainable Development (PCSD) issued a report titled Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and Healthy Environment. In this report, the Council adopts the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development and recommends both formal and non-formal educational reforms to strengthen education for sustainability. Examples of U.S. federal and state government initiatives that address environmental education and sustainability themes include:

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