Environmental Literacy

Environmental literacy is having the knowledge, understandings and skills necessary to sustainably use, enjoy and protect the natural environment.

Environmentally literate people:

  • Can question, analyze and interpret situations, data and information.
  • Understand environmental processes and systems.
  • Understand environmental issues and know how to address them.
  • Act upon their understanding individually and in their communities to work for environmental health.

(Note: environmentally literate people will not resolve environmental issues in the same way).

Environmental literacy is important for long term economic, social and ecological sustainability as humans are inextricably connected to the natural world.  Understanding our connection to the natural world and acting upon those understandings are at the heart of environmental literacy.

Schools have an important role to play in developing the environmental literacy of children and students in partnership with families, communities and government.  Legislation known as No Child Left Inside is pending in Congress that would support the integration of environmental education into PreK – Grade 12 classrooms.

This legislation requires states to have an environmental literacy plan in place before receiving funding for this initiative.

An environmental literacy plan is the blueprint to show how a state will develop environmental literacy in students.  Environmental literacy plans will help ensure that schools are effective and efficient in supporting environmental literacy.

An environmental literacy plan may include the following:

  • Specific content standards, content areas, and courses or subjects where instruction will take place.
  • A description of how state high school graduation requirements will ensure that graduates are environmentally literate.
  • A description of programs for professional development of teachers to improve their environmental content knowledge, skill in teaching about environmental issues, and field-based pedagogical skills.
  • A description of how the state education agency will measure the environmental literacy of students.
  • A description of how the state education agency will implement the plan, including securing funding and other necessary support.

While the above is one model for an environmental literacy plan, it is not the only model.  Environmental literacy plans may also address plans for “greening” school grounds, reaching adult/family/community audiences, and identifying resources and assets of that state.

The North American Association for Environmental Education has developed a framework to assess environmental literacy.