The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines Environmental Education (EE) as
[A] process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions.
The components of EE are:
- Awareness and sensitivity to the environment and environmental challenges
- Knowledge and understanding of the environment and environmental challenges
- Attitudes of concern for the environment and motivation to improve or maintain environmental quality
- Skills to identify and help resolve environmental challenges
- Participation in activities that lead to the resolution of environmental challenges
EE does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action. Rather, EE teaches individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking and it enhances their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.
The North Carolina Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs distinguishes EE from other activities:
Environmental information and outreach may be important elements of EE projects, but these activities by themselves are not environmental education. By itself, environmental information only addresses awareness and knowledge, usually about a particular environmental issue. Outreach involves information dissemination and requests or suggestions for action on a particular issue (often without the critical thinking, problem solving and decision making steps in between). EE covers the range of steps and activities from awareness to action with an ultimate goal of environmental stewardship.
Providing our citizens with good EE creates better environmental stewards, serving the City’s mission and core values.
Environmentally literate citizens understand that reducing waste conserves natural resources and are more likely to take steps to do so in their daily lives. By understanding basic aquatic ecology, they see why it is important to avoid blowing grass clippings into the street and changing their oil over a storm drain. Because they understand where their water comes from and the natural systems by which it arrives, it is easier for them to understand and practice water conservation.