Why Environmental Education?

Kids dissecting a pitcher plant

Environmental Education...more than just learning to be stewards of our natural resources.

As Oregon's population grows and becomes more urbanized, its leaders and residents face the challenge of how to balance the economies within which we thrive, the communities where we reside, and the natural resources we depend on.

Solving this challenge requires the ability to understand different points of view, analyze problems, balance competing needs and take informed action. Educating Oregonians is the key to finding solutions to complex environmental issues.

Environmental education fosters learning for change essential to the transformation in our thinking, decision making, and daily living. The future depends on our collective ability to apply an integral approach to our teaching such that students understand the interrelated elements of systems; from ecological, economical, and community and social perspectives.

Our future depends on the knowledge of every citizen to understand how our communities, economy and the environment are connected.

What is Environmenal Education?

Environmental education is a learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about their environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges, and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action. (adapted from UNESCO, Tbilisi Declaration, 1978)


The goal of environmental education is to develop a citizenry in Oregon that is aware of, and concerned about, natural systems and the associated effects of human activity. Oregonians need the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations, and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones.


  • 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 towards the environment.

We also recognize that the practice of environmental education may look different from community to community. We acknowledge environmental education is a segment of environmental justice and supports solutions that affirm the diverse strengths and needs of communities of color, low-income, and other marginalizations, ultimately strengthening our state as a whole. We understand that there are many ways to practice and define environmental education beyond the Tbilisi Declaration.


What Are The Benefits of Environmental Education?

kid using clinometer with teacher

Evidence gathered from [a] study of 40 schools indicates that students learn more effectively within an environment-based context than within a traditional educational framework. The observed benefits include:

  • Better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
  • Reduced discipline and classroom management problems.
  • Increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning.
  • Greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.

Compared with their peers in traditional programs, students who participated in programs that use the environment as an integrating context had:

  • Greater proficiency in solving problems and thinking strategically.
  • Better application of systems thinking and increased ability to think creatively.
  • Better ability to work in group settings.
  • Stronger communication skills and greater civility toward others.
  • Greater enthusiasm for language arts, math, science, and social studies.
  • Increased knowledge and understanding of science content, concepts, processes, and principles.
  • Better ability to apply science to real-world situations.
  • Improved understanding of mathematical concepts and content.
  • Better mastery of math skills.
  • Improved development of language arts skills.
  • More success in communicating with others and with public and private agencies.
  • Greater comprehension of social studies content.
  • More advanced skills in applying civic processes to real-life situations.

*Source: 1998 & 2002. Lieberman, G.A. & Hoody, L.L. Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning. State Education and Environment Roundtable. www.seer.org.

What is Culturally Relevant Environmental Education?

  • Environmental Education that is multi-cultural, relatable to diverse audiences, and reflective of the experiences and lives of diverse students.
  • Environmental Education that challenges dominant culture ways of viewing the environment and the natural world.
  • Environmental Education that critiques euro-centric school knowledge and that actively brings in and honors the perspective, history, and experiences of black and brown people.
  • Environmental Education that is rooted in social and environmental justice.
  • Environmental Education that values and embraces Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 

What Makes for Effective Environmental Education?

Uses a sound curriculum:

  • Includes principles of sustainability and social justice.
  • Is science-based.
  • Reflects current research and associated literature.
  • Includes breadth from local to global communities and is culturally relevant.
  • Is multidisciplinary integrating ecology, sociology, geography, biology, civics, history, economics, etc.
  • Incorporates real world situations in which to apply academics.

Uses effective methods:

  • Includes experiential activities.
  • Occurs out in the environment, engages learners directly with environments being studied.
  • Uses formal and non-formal educational resources for learners of all ages.

Connects people with nature:

  • Teaches about both the natural and built environment and how they interrelate.
  • Helps students understand their relationships within systems and their role in them.
  • Includes study of positive human activity, particularly for students sixth grade and younger.

Promotes action:

  • Seeks to ameliorate positive human influences on systems.
  • Explores how human behavior and actions affect systems.
  • Encourages responsibility.

Is inclusive:

  • Is balanced, presenting multiple sides of issues.
  • Occurs throughout life (life-long learning).
  • Is age-appropriate.
  • Recognizes cultural context and is culturally relevant.


PO Box 72386
Springfield, OR 97475
Call 503-919-7287