Knowledge Area BEPs: Environmental Education Principles


The goal of environmental education is to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environmental and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and commitment to work individually and collectively towards solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones (The Belgrade Charter, UNESCO, 1976).


. . . the world’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education adopted the Tbilisi Declaration in 1978. This declaration built on the Belgrade Charter and established three broad goals for environmental education. These goals provide the foundation for much of what has been done in the field:

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.

As the field of environmental education has evolved, these principles have been researched, critiqued, revisited, and expanded. They still stand as a strong foundation for a shared view of the core concepts and skills that environmentally literate citizens need. Since 1978, bodies such as the Brundtland Commission (Brundtland, 1987), the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio (UNCED, 1992), the Thessaloniki Declaration (UNESCO, 1997) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (United Nations, 2002) have influenced the work of many educators, highlighting the importance of viewing the environment within the context of human influences. This perspective has expanded the emphasis of environmental education, focusing more attention on social equity, economics, culture, and political structure.

Environmental education is rooted in the belief that humans can live compatibly with nature and act equitably toward each other. Another fundamental belief is that people can make informed decisions that consider future generations. Environmental education aims for a democratic society in which effective, environmentally literate citizens participate with creativity and responsibility.” (NAAEE, 2000)


1. Incorporate training for skills and understandings significant for environmental literacy.

  •  Questioning and analysis skills
  •  Knowledge of environmental processes and systems
  •  Skills for understanding and addressing environmental issues
  •  Personal and civic responsibility

2. Apply a basic understanding of the goals, theory, practice, and history of the field of environmental education.

  • Fundamental characteristics and goals of environmental education
  • How environmental education is implemented
  •  The evolution of the field of environmental education

3. Apply professional responsibilities.

  • Exemplary environmental education practice
  • Emphasis on education, not advocacy
  • Ongoing professional development

4. Combine the unique features of environmental education with the fundamentals of high-quality education to design and implement effective instruction.

  • Knowledge of learners
  • Knowledge of instructional methodologies [link to Tools for Teaching]
  • Planning for instruction [link to Plan]
  • Knowledge of environmental education materials and resources
  • Technologies that assist learning
  •  Settings for instruction
  •  Curriculum planning

5. Foster learning. Enable learners to engage in open inquiry and investigation, especially when considering environmental issues that are controversial and require students to seriously reflect on their own and others’ perspectives. Provide:

  •  A climate for learning about and exploring the environment
  • An inclusive and collaborative learning environment
  •  Flexible and responsive instruction

6. Make assessment and evaluation integral to instruction and programs.


North American Association for Environmental Education. 2000. Excellence in environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning K-12. The North American Association for Environmental Education, Washington, D.C. The introduction was adapted from work by Dr. Bora Simmons.

North American Association for Environmental Education. 2000. Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators Washington, D.C. Explanations and examples for environmental education principles.

The history of environmental education with an explanation of the evolution of its definition is available through work published as part of the National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, a program of the North American Association for Environmental Education,

Further discussion of youth environmental stewardship and related topics is available through the Cooperative Extension Youth Environmental Stewardship resources. For example,

Earth Connections: Engaging Youth in Community Environmental Activities