environmental educators, the understanding of "What is
Environmental Education?" is grounded in two founding documents: The Belgrade
Charter (UNESCO-UNEP, 1976) and the Tbilisi
Declaration (UNESCO, 1978).
Belgrade Charter, adopted by a United Nations conference, emerged the
following definition of EE:
"Environmental education is a process aimed at developing a world
population that is aware of and concerned about the total environment
and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, attitudes,
motivations, commitments and skills to work individually and
collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of
In 1977, the
world's first Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education
was held in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR for 12 days. This conference included
265 delegates representing 65 nations.
Declaration contains details on the role, objectives, and
characteristics of EE to be used as a guide to developing EE at the
local, national, and global levels.
Three goals of environmental education were outlined by the Tbilisi
Declaration. These goals are:
goals were simplified into five objectives:
foster clear awareness of and concern about economic, social,
political, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas.
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 exhibited by individuals, groups, and society as a whole
Help social groups and individuals acquire an
awareness and sensitivity to the total environment and its allied
Knowledge: Help social groups and individuals gain a variety
of experience in, and acquire a basic understanding of, the environment
and its associated problems.
Attitudes: Help social groups and individuals acquire a set of
values and feelings of concern for the environment and the motivation to
actively participate in environmental improvement and protection.
Skills: Help social groups and individuals acquire the
skills to identify and solve environmental problems.
Participation: Provide social groups and individuals with an opportunity to be actively
involved at all levels in working toward resolution of environmental
Using these five objectives,
EE strives to develop engaged, responsible
citizens. This is the ultimate goal of EE, and is referred to as environmental
literacy (you will learn more about environmental literacy in Unit Two).
This endeavor to produce engaged citizens requires
environmental educators to extend beyond the realm of traditional
education. In other words, environmental educators seek not only
to educate students
about the environment, but to help them develop the desire and skills to
become environmentally involved in their communities as well (Hungerford & Volk, 1990).
The Tbilisi Declaration also highlighted such guiding principles as:
should be provided for all ages.
EE should constitute lifelong education.
EE should provide individuals with an understanding of the major
problems of the world and the skills needed to improve these
should help learners discover the symptoms and the real causes
of environmental problems.
should emphasize the complexity of environmental problems and
thus the need to develop critical
thinking and problem solving skills.
should consider the environment in its totality - natural and
built, technological and social (economic, political, cultural,
historical, moral, aesthetic).
EE should be interdisciplinary,
adopting a holistic and balanced perspective.
EE should be community oriented. Individuals should work actively
within a community to address environmental problems.
EE should pay special attention to the relationships and
interdependence of politics, economics, and the environment.
of the Tbilisi Declaration are available on the World Wide Web if you
wish to read the entire document.)
take a closer look at how one of these principles is embodied in the
practice of EE.
Education is Interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinary instruction is an approach that consciously applies
methodologies and knowledge from more than one discipline to examine a
central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience.
EE can and should be incorporated into all traditional school subjects.
Because EE encourages learners to explore environmental issues
from the perspectives of many disciplines, it is an interdisciplinary pursuit.
The following story illustrates the interdisciplinary nature of
On a school outing, 6th-grade students noticed a strong smell by a
nearby river and then saw a sign: "Warning: Dioxin". A local resident explained to the students how an upstream paper
mill had changed the river and its surroundings. That visit became the
focal point for a 12-week interdisciplinary unit designed by a team of
four teachers who each contributed concepts from their own subject
areas. In science, students heard from a state official and toured a
paper mill. Students studied math through stream sampling efforts, which
required them to calculate stream velocity and flow.
In social studies, they examined the issue of toxic water
and discussed trade-offs between jobs and health and consumer
convenience and the environment.
They also conducted library and Internet research and learned
the importance of separating fact from opinion. In language
teachers organized tours, hosted speakers, and assigned interviews to
provide students with practice in listening and note taking.
They required students to present oral and written reports
based on specific readings; students also had to participate in a
dialogue about toxic waste as part of their final exam.
Throughout this interdisciplinary unit of study, the teachers made a point
of not differentiating between subject areas. However, during the planning phase, each teacher had to make sure
that the unit sufficiently covered his or her subject area's content and skills.
article, "Environmental Education in the United States: Definition and
Direction" written in the 1990s, provides an overview of the ongoing development and defining
characteristics of EE, as well as the breadth of how EE is
Harold R. and Volk, Trudi L. (1990). "Changing learner behavior through
environmental education." The Journal of Environmental
Education. 21(3), 8-22.
H. H. (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum: Design and implementation.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
UNESCO-UNEP. (1976). "Belgrade Charter." Connect: UNESCO-UNEP Environmental Education
Newsletter. 1(1), 1-2.
UNESCO. (1978). Final report: Intergovernmental
conference on environmental education. Organized by UNESCO in
cooperation with UNEP, Tbilisi, USSR, 14-26 October 1977. Paris, France: