Definition of Environmental Education

Environmental education has been considered an additional or elective subject in much of traditional K-12 curriculum. At the elementary school level, environmental education can take the form of science enrichment curriculum, natural history field trips, community service projects, and participation in outdoor science schools. EE policies assist schools and organizations in developing and improving environmental education programs that provide citizens with an in-depth understanding of the environment. School related EE policies focus on three main components: curricula, green facilities, and training.

Schools can integrate environmental education into their curricula with sufficient funding from EE policies. This approach – known as using the “environment as an integrating context” for learning – uses the local environment as a framework for teaching state and district education standards. In addition to funding environmental curricula in the classroom, environmental education policies allot the financial resources for hands-on, outdoor learning. These activities and lessons help address and mitigate "nature deficit disorder", as well as encourage healthier lifestyles.

Green schools, or green facility promotion, are another main component of environmental education policies. Greening school facilities cost, on average, a little less than 2 percent more than creating a traditional school, but payback from these energy efficient buildings occur within only a few years. Environmental education policies help reduce the relatively small burden of the initial start-up costs for green schools. Green school policies also provide grants for modernization, renovation, or repair of older school facilities. Additionally, healthy food options are also a central aspect of green schools. These policies specifically focus on bringing freshly prepared food, made from high-quality, locally grown ingredients into schools.

In secondary school, environmental curriculum can be a focused subject within the sciences or is a part of student interest groups or clubs. At the undergraduate and graduate level, it can be considered its own field within education, environmental studies, environmental science and policy, ecology, or human/cultural ecology programs.

Environmental education is not restricted to in-class lesson plans. There are numerous ways children can learn about the environment in which they live. From experiential lessons in the school yard and field trips to national parks to after-school green clubs and school wide sustainability projects, the environment is a topic which is readily and easily accessible. Furthermore, celebration of Earth Day or participation in EE week (run through the National Environmental Education Foundation) is a great way to dedicate your lessons to environmental education. To be most effective, promote a holistic approach and lead by example, using sustainable practices in the classroom and school grounds and encouraging students and parents to bring environmental education into their home.

The final aspect of environmental education policies, but certainly not least important, is training individuals to thrive in a sustainable society. In addition to building a strong relationship with nature, American citizens must have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a 21st century workforce. Thus, environmental education policies fund both teacher training and worker training initiatives. Teachers must be trained to effectively teach and incorporate environmental studies in their curricula. On the other hand, the current workforce must be trained or re-trained so that they can adapt to the new green economy. Environmental education policies that fund training programs are critical in educating citizens to prosper in a sustainable society.