Sustainable Materials Management: Environmental Education
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
- Programs And Initiatives
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 environment 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:
- recognizes the important participatory role of youth in decision making and states, "the specific interests of children need to be taken fully into account in the participatory process on environment and development in order to safeguard the future sustainability of any actions taken to improve the environment."
- states that governments should "ensure that education ... incorporates the concepts of environmental awareness and sustainable development throughout the curricula."
- States that governments should "establish procedures to incorporate children's concerns into all relevant policies and strategies for environment and development at the local, regional and national levels...."
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.
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:
- The UN Dept of Economic and Social Affairs - Division for Sustainable Development is tasked with implementing Agenda 21 goals for sustainable development in the 21st century, as defined by the UN Council for Sustainable Development.
- The UN Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) supports Agenda 21 goals by administering a project titled Education for Sustainable Development to promote values and ethics, e.g., through innovative demonstrations, curriculum modules, and training. In 2002, the UN proclaimed a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development from 2005 to 2015.
- The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has been very active in furthering the concept of sustainable development in environmental education and has developed a Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development.
- The World Bank Development Education Program offers a website of classroom-ready sustainable development tools, including learning modules and interactive material for students.
- Australia. The National Sustainable Schools Program, an initiative of Australia’s cross-governmental National Environmental Education Network, implements efficiencies in school resource management for energy, waste, water, and bio-diversity. Also see information on the government’s integrated approach to environmental education in Australia.
- Canada. Earthcare Canada is an activity-based, curriculum-aligned environmental education program for all grade levels designed to achieve environmental stewardship and sustainability through youth engagement. It focuses on energy conservation, waste reduction, and water conservation.
- New Zealand. The Enviroschools Programme uses a “whole school” approach, including an award incentive scheme, to promote environmental education. Students develop skills, understanding, knowledge, and confidence through planning, designing, and creating a sustainable school – including the use of sustainable conservation practices in school operations.
- The International Eco-Schools Programme , developed in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), involves young people in finding solutions to Agenda 21 environmental and sustainable development challenges. Member organizations in countries worldwide implement the Programme, using a holistic, participatory approach to extend learning beyond the classroom. The Eco-Schools Green Flag, is awarded to schools with high achievement. Nearly 15,000 Eco-Schools are registered in over 35 countries in Europe, Africa, and South America.
- The Earth Charter Initiative is used by educators internationally to raise awareness regarding ethics, environment, social justice, sustainable development, globalization, and international relations. The document was developed by non-governmental organizations, community groups, professional societies, and international experts in many fields.
- Peace Child Charitable Trust is an international sustainable development network of 500 high-school student eco-groups groups in 120 countries. Run by young people in equal partnership with adult professionals, it promotes sustainable development through a number of projects by going into schools and training young people to be “change ambassadors.”
- The Gould Group, a leading Australian environmental education organization, has pioneered the development of outcomes-based environmental education, in cooperation with both the national and regional governments. An example of this work is the Waste Wise Schools Program, which includes teacher professional development, integrated student activities, and opportunities for community involvement.
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:
- environmental education. EPA develops and supports collaborative programs to improve understanding of the environment. The site provides extensive resources on environmental education, including grants and fellowships
- kids, students, high school and teachers. The page provides age-appropriate educational resources for children, as well as traditional and non-traditional materials for teachers
- educational resources on waste. The page makes available materials for teachers, kids, students, and researchers to develop an increased knowledge of solid waste issues
- superfund for kids. The page introduces children ages three and older to basic concepts of the Superfund program
- sustainability research. EPA’s 2006 draft Sustainability Research Strategy affirms the emerging importance of achieving sustainability outcomes and establishes priorities to address sustainability research questions
- international environmental programs. Through a number of international organizations, EPA provides technical assistance, training, and information dissemination to support the development of environmental education programs
- green communities. This page is designed for teachers who wish to introduce the concepts of sustainability into their classrooms and for students who need assistance and guidance in their sustainable research projects
- green engineering. Green engineering is the design, commercialization and use of processes and products that are feasible, economical, reduce generation of pollution, and minimize risks to human health and the environment
- healthy school environments. This EPA "gateway" to on-line resources on environmental health issues in schools serves the needs of facility managers, school administrators, design professionals, teachers, and parents
- Region X - sustainability. The page highlights links to EPA Regional and Headquarters actions that promote sustainable approaches to environmental protection.
- US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development (USPDESD). USPDESD partnership of individuals, organizations, and institutions is dedicated to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
- California – environmental education. The page provides information links to current environmental education resources and the state plan for environment-based education
- University of Michigan - Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS). CSS advances concepts of sustainability through interdisciplinary research and education.