This (longer than usual) post is by Alan Reid (Monash University), the editor of Environmental Education Research.  Alan’s writing in a personal capacity about the Global Environmental Education Partnership which is meeting at the end of this week at the NAAEE conference in Lexington KY.

1 What do people care about in environmental education?

I invite you to consider this question from at least three sources, asking whether environmental educators want to work and not just play with ‘dynamite’.  Our first source involves revisiting a recent survey of what is considered to be the major work of this field. Our second involves the themes of an international Call for Action for environmental education. And our third, invites you to deepen your contributions to the work of the Global Environmental Education Partnership, through the various activities of its member bodies which include National Association for Environmental Education (UK) and North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). 

2. The major work of ensuring quality and outcomes in connecting environment and education

In 2017, Justin Dillon and I were delighted to see our 4 volume reference collection on environmental education published (Reid & Dillon, 2017). In preparing it, we drew on the advice of a variety of colleagues and critical friends from around the world, most notably through our work with international research journals such as Environmental Education Research, events such as the World Environmental Education Congress, NAEE membership past and present, and networks such as NAAEE’s research symposium and that of the Australian Association for Environmental Education.

Our goal was to test out various propositions as to what constitutes the major work of the field, exploring what this has been, is, and could become in the English-speaking world. In trying to crystallise the wide range of perspectives on this matter, we summarised our thoughts in the title to the introduction to the collection, “Environmental Education: the major work of ensuring quality and outcomes in connecting environment and education”. Then, through commentaries on the approximately 2000 pages of illustrative material that followed, we traced eight major categories of work (see Box 1), quoting from historic to contemporary sources and learned opinions about the key features, evolution and expectations on the field. In other words, we illustrated a range of dimensions to what people care about in environmental education, from the early days of the field through to more recent times.

Box 1 – What does the major work of environmental education span?

Drawing on key papers, reports and book chapters from a variety of sources, the volumes illuminate four main themes:

  • Connecting Environment and Education (vol 1)
  • Changing Patterns in Thoughts and Practice (vol 2)
  • Challenging Principles and Priorities (vol 3)
  • Questions and Inquiries about Traditions and Horizons (vol 4)

In brief, entries explore, illustrate and critique:

  • how environment and education have come to be connected and understood in particular ways, including examples of ‘fashions and fads’ in environmental education, alongside ‘roads not taken’ and various ‘cul-de-sacs’ down the years in the way it has been shaped, and the shapes it has taken;
  • key shifts in patterns of thought and practice, including in relation to: the impact of the IUCN and UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Programme in the 1970s; particular patterns to the crafting of environmental education, such as a compound noun to distinguish it from related areas such as, say, environmental studies and fieldwork; and the emergence and influence of sustainable development as an idea and goal from the 1980s onwards;
  • challenges to some of the key principles and priorities ascribed to the field, primarily from liberal and radical traditions and perspectives on education and environment, as well as their intersection to create currents and correctives in environmental education, as well as to foster particular sorts of experiences from and through environmental education; and,
  • a range of questions and inquiries about horizons for environmental education, through a focus on research and scholarship, assessment and evaluation, and curriculum and pedagogy, such as place-based

For countries such as England, environmental education goes back nearly 50 years (Sterling, 1992), and thus predates the thinking captured at Tbilisi by at least a decade (Box 2). The title for this piece draws on the words of Maurice Ash, as quoted in Ward and Fyson’s Streetwork, a key source for the Bulletin of Environmental Education, and much urban environmental education (a theme I will return to later). Others matters of concern from the early 1970s circulating within or outwith the communities of NAEE and NAAEE illustrated in Box 2 provide a vivid sense of what some people cared about then, aspects of which may resonate today?

Box 2 – What do people care about in environmental education?

““Sooner or later it comes down to education, the one unifying force capable of transforming the outlook of a whole nation.”

Christian, Garth (1966). Tomorrow’s countryside: the road to the seventies. Murray. [p.7]

Environmental education is aimed at producing a citizenry that is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help solve these problems, and motivated to work toward their solution.”

Stapp, William B. et al. (1969) The concept of environmental education. Environmental Education, 1(1), 30-31. [p.30 – emphases in original]

“Since all people are affected by their environment, it seems essential that all people become more aware of their environment and their relation with it. Therefore, environmental education does not lend itself only to a single subject, but may be incorporated into the total curriculum. It is important however that this incorporation into the total curriculum not place the teaching of environmental education in a subordinate position, as has sometimes happened in the past.”

Hill, Wilhelmina, & White, Roy C. (1969) ‘New Horizons for Environmental Education’ Environmental Education, 1(2), 43-46. [p.45]

“Education must present conservation as a realistic, practical, and far-sighted public policy worthy of concern by an informed electorate. The approach must be broad based and relevant to both rural and particularly urban societies. It must truly be environmental education – the study of man [sic] in relation to his [sic] environment.”

Southern, Beverly H., (1969) Vitalizing Natural Resources Education, Environmental Education, 1(1), 30 [p. 30].

“The future depends on the shaping of attitudes, beliefs and actions through education.”

Caldwell, Lynton K. (1970) Environment and the Shaping of Civilization. Environmental Education, 2(2), 6-8.

“Environmental education is a study of the factors influencing ecosystems, mental and physical growth, living and working conditions, decaying cities, and population pressures. Environmental education is intended to promote among citizens the awareness and understanding of the environment, our relationship to it, and the concern and responsible action necessary to assure our survival and to improve the quality of life.”

US National Environmental Education Act of 1970

“Education in environmental matters, for the younger generation as well as adults, giving due consideration to the underprivileged, is essential in order to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in protecting and improving the environment in its full human dimension. It is also essential that mass media of communications avoid contributing to the deterioration of the environment, but, on the contrary, disseminate information of an educational nature, on the need to protect and improve the environment in order to enable man [sic] to develop in every respect.”

Stockholm Conference, 1972, Principle 19 of the Declaration.

“I must content myself by concluding in suitably old-fashioned terms with my view that environmental education is dynamite.”

Maurice Ash, addressing the conference of the International Housing and Town Planning Federation, Liverpool, May 1972

“Education which fails to clarify our central convictions is mere training or indulgence.”

Schumacher, Ernst “Fritz” (1973) ‘The greatest resource – education’. In Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered (Random House)

“If an important “root cause” of our environmental crisis is the life-style of our people, then education should be concerned with the development of values, beliefs, and attitudes that reflect the necessity of our living in harmony with our environment. Furthermore, education must foster development of the skills which will enable citizens of all ages to play an effective role in achieving the goals which derive from such values, beliefs, and attitudes.”

Stapp, William B. & VandeVisse, Ellen (1975) Overview, In: Noel McInnis & Don Albrecht (Eds.), What Makes Education Environmental? Data Courier [p.xv]

“The ultimate outcome of environmental education must be a widespread understanding of the limits to human endeavor, sufficient to overcome the presently prevailing illusion of technological omnipotence. … Humankind is capable of choosing more intelligent measures, once the limits to choice are clearly understood. It is quite possible for us to know enough to take good care of the earth. The question is, do we care enough to know?”

McInnis, Noel (1975) What Makes Education Environmental? In: Noel McInnis & Don Albrecht (Eds.) What Makes Education Environmental? (pp.21-29) Data Courier [pp. 28-29]

“Every teacher can teach environmental education by beginning with the environment with which the children are familiar: the classroom, the school, the home, the city, and hopefully, the natural world around them.”

Clark, Edward (1976) Good education is environmental, The Journal of Environmental Education, 6(4), 1-5. [pp. 2-3

“A basic aim of environmental education is to succeed in making individuals and communities understand the complex nature of the natural and the built environments resulting from the interaction of their biological, physical, social, economic and cultural aspects, and acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, and practical skills to participate in a responsible and effective way in anticipating and solving environmental problems, and the management of the quality of the environment.”

UNESCO’s Declaration (Recommendation 1) from “Tbilisi”, the world’s first intergovernmental conference on environmental education

I believe there’s much to be gained by both revisiting and revisioning what is considered to be the major work of the field through these and more recent ideas, if only to prevent the reinvention of the wheel or wearing them out further. In fact, Justin and I dedicated a section of the reference collection to further examples of what various movers and shakers in the field see as necessary ‘currents and correctives’ to this work (Box 3).

Box 3 – Example of themes to think on, from Part 5: Currents and Correctives in Environmental Education

  • on the folklore of environmental education
  • on myths of environmental education
  • on environmental education and the Third World
  • on schooling and environmental education: contradictions in purpose and practice
  • on applying a feminist critique to environmental education
  • on environmentally educated teachers – the priority of priorities?
  • on what went wrong and what can be done with environmental education
  • on whether environmental education an oxymoron?
  • on unsustainable fictions in environmental education
  • on common values and value conflicts in environmental education
  • on making multicultural environmental education a reality
  • on deschooling environmental education
  • on social change and environmental education
  • on intercultural conversations in environmental education
  • on complexity in environmental education
  • on weak and strong conceptions of environmental literacy and their implications for environmental education
  • on queering environmental education
  • on taking the future seriously and the adequacies of the framework of liberalism for environmental education
  • on learners and learning in environmental education, missing theories, and ignored communities
  • on embodiment, social praxis and environmental education
  • on expanding the field, and revisiting environmental education principles through multidisciplinary frameworks


Expressions of perceived and actual needs for self-correction abound, and are raised to instigate as well as resist certain correctives originating from beyond the field. These include current initiatives such as the GEEP’s Call for Action, to which we now turn

“Act Now for Environmental Education!”

“Act Now for Environmental Education!” is a global campaign focused around a “Call for Action”. The twin aim of the campaign is to align and elevate the work of environmental educators around the world. It was launched at the annual NAAEE conference of the held in Washington DC, October 2017, by the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP), and reports back at the next NAAEE conference in Spokane, Washington, 10-13 October 2018.

The Call, its background and responses to it, can be viewed at, the commentary on which includes contributions from NAEE’s William Scott. A short promotional video about the campaign is available at, and one from the launch event via The latter includes a recording of the livestream panel discussion with representatives from the around the world on what the Call means for them and their organisations and networks, alongside how to move the field forward (Panelists: Arjen Wals, Kartikeya Sarabhai, Margie Simon de Ortiz, Yi-Hsuan (Tim) Hsu, Ginger Potter, and MJ Ketlhoilwe; Moderator: Alan Reid).

A quick sketch of the GEEP and Call for Action now follows, alongside a call for presentations for the 15th NAAEE Annual Conference and Research Symposium, and some concluding reflections.

3. Building a Global Network to Strengthen Environmental Education

For the Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP), “Environmental education is the education we need for the world we want.” But rather than assume that one particular version of environmental education is either suitable for the whole world or should remain a benchmark for all further deliberations and iterations of the construct, the GEEP has used its Call for Action to invite environmental educators to revisit what the Tbilisi Declaration set out 40 years ago, including its relevance for today and the future of the field (cf. Boxes 1-3). In particular, it asks, which parts and how much of the field has been shaped by the context for and drivers of environmental education then, and what should be the major concerns and priorities for environmental education now and into the future?

Launched in 2014 to help solve global problems using environmental and sustainability education on an international scale, the GEEP is comprised of policymakers, education practitioners, and researchers who represent government and non-governmental sectors from more than 20 countries and regions. The GEEP believes that national and international professional networks are essential to ensuring the quality of education in, about, and for the environment in communities, nations, and regions. These networks need support from a wide range of policy makers, environmental and educational organizations, and other stakeholders. As both a network of networks, and a network for networks, GEEP brings together partners who are committed to helping global citizens address environmental and social challenges by developing and strengthening environmental education worldwide.

The GEEP’s Call for Action asks the international environmental and sustainability education communities to take stock of where we are as a field and think ahead to the future. Its ten recommended actions were crafted with input from GEEP members from around the world, and seeks a wide range of inputs from educators working in this field about our key priorities for the next decade. By Earth Day, 2018 (Sunday, 22 April), the first round of responses to and polling on the proposed actions will conclude, and a revised list of actions developed and circulated in light of that.

4. Call for Action

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.” You can help shape a future-focused agenda for environmental educators near and far by responding to the draft Call for Action, by considering, for example, Which actions are your top three priorities? What’s most important? What’s missing?

Your input will help create a global action plan for various environmental education (EE) networks and organisations for the next 10 years. You can find out more at, and add to the conversation via #actnowforee. Please share this information with other colleagues, and look out for an updated call for action, to be launched at Spokane in October 2018.

The 10 Actions are:

1 Champion Environmental Education
Become a vocal advocate for EE, and make environmental education’s contributions to society more explicit to encourage higher levels of public support.

2 Build a Bigger and More Inclusive Field
Ensure that people of all races, ethnicities, sexual preferences, genders, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds have access to high-quality environmental education and are leading the movement to create a more sustainable future. Embrace new ideas, partnerships, and innovations from a diversity of sectors and fields to help achieve the sustainable development goals.

3 Create and Empower Global Citizens
Promote environmental education’s role in advancing civic engagement, enhancing deliberation, critical thinking skills, and active participation and motivating individuals, organizations, and communities to take an active role in creating positive change.

4 Grow Global EE Leadership
Develop a leadership pipeline to create a cadre of global leaders who have the 21st Century skills to address current and future sustainability issues. Promote ongoing professional development to sustain leadership.

5 Invest in Research and Evaluation to Improve Practice
Continue to invest in research in the field, to drive innovation and new thinking about what can help create a more environmentally literate and civically engaged global society. Deliver clearer actions, outcomes, and impact.

6 Connect and Collaborate for Change
Collaborate with other organizations and agencies to create a multiplier effect that can impact the larger environment, sustainability, and education communities. Use the power of technology to leverage meaningful opportunities to learn, network, and share.

7 Expand Environmental Education’s Role in Achieving Conservation Success
Enhance collaboration between environmental education professionals and conservation leaders to more effectively achieve conservation goals—from protecting species and wild spaces to engaging people in conservation planning.

8 Provide Universal Access to Environmental Education and Nature
Through innovative policies and practices—such as citizen science, project-based learning, and service learning—demonstrate how connecting people of all ages to nature, coupled with effective educational approaches, can help build a lifelong stewardship ethic.

9 Strengthen Environmental Education’s Role in Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Actively develop partnerships and collaborations that address how environmental education can help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and targets, leading to a more just, equitable society.

10 Develop a Global Fund for Environmental Education
Identify and cultivate long-term funding sources to advance and sustain environmental education at the local, regional, national, and global levels and continue to support innovative partnerships to expand the reach and impact of the field.

5. Environmental Education: A Force for the Future

Members of GEEP recognise that although there is an abundance of innovative environmental education happening around the world, there is no easy, centralised way to know what is happening and to easily share success and learn from each other. By showcasing and sharing tools, resources, and effective practices, and by building a vibrant learning network, the GEEP aims to better support environmental education leaders—ultimately, elevating the impact of education as a strategy to address environmental and social issues. A good starting point for this are the case studies, national profiles and research, development and evaluation projects listed at, or you can join others interested in this work at:

As a member of the GEEP’s advisory board, and the chair of the 15th NAAEE Annual Research Symposium being held in Spokane (9-10 October 2018), I encourage you to:

  • respond to the Call, and
  • contribute to the international movement and network facilitated by the Call for Action, through a focus on action item 5, evaluating and researching environmental education and sharing your findings at international research events for environmental education and its research (such as the NAAEE research symposium).

This is because the GEEP is only as strong as the network it attracts, maintains and stimulates. So the more people who join and share, the more we can build a truly global network of ideas to help elevate our field. You can meet members and discuss the work of the GEEP, alongside priorities for the field’s research, evaluation and development, at NAAEE’s 47th Annual conference and the research symposium, in 2018. These events include face-to-face and virtual sessions, as described at

In more detail, the goals of the NAAEE Annual Research Symposium are to:

  1. Facilitate discussion of EE research in progress
  2. Advance the field of EE research
  3. Promote and foster EE researcher–practitioner partnerships
  4. Provide professional development opportunities for graduate students and researchers at all career stages
  5. Foster the development of an international EE research learning organization.

NAAEE welcomes new and established researchers from the international community to share their work on one or more of the following overarching themes for the program in 2018:

  1. New Horizons in EE Research: Which ideas or challenges of the age should inspire and drive the next generation of EE research? For example, by 2027, what should the EE research field be best known for? Is it quality research of particular kinds on certain topics (established or emerging)? Activities and partnerships that make a difference to pressing concerns highlighted by the Sustainable Development Goals? A research community that is characterized by research questions, processes, relationships, and outcomes of a certain order or form? Particular kinds of impacts of research on policy and practice? Share your scholarly thoughts and arguments on new horizons for the research field through proposals to this theme.
  2. Intergenerational Conversations: This theme addresses new opportunities and challenges for researchers, research, and the Research Symposium, using an intergenerational conversation format. Sessions exploring this theme should intentionally include multiple generations, chronologically or in terms of career stage; and could include emerging scholars in conversation with established scholars on theoretical innovations or the ongoing work of the field, on how to address challenges associated with mentoring relationships and leadership on a particular aspect of the research enterprise, or on other topics.
  3. Stories from Research: In keeping with the aims and scope of the annual NAAEE Research Symposium, we invite presentations that discuss works in progress, the stories behind research, and how what we have learned might guide or prepare us for future research. Participants are encouraged to submit proposals that discuss research opportunities or challenges, theoretical models, ethical dilemmas, new (and overlooked) research designs or datasets, and questions of capacity and capability related to undertaking and developing EE research.

Further details about the call for presentations and these events are available at; the deadline for submissions for the research symposium is 2 April

6. Fishing with dynamite?

Martha Monroe (2012) is one of many scholars who have regularly reflected on the history and future of the field, and what might ensure it has impact. In bringing this piece to a close, as well as contributing to organisations such as NAAEE since the 1970s, Monroe highlights certain continuities that might be reasonably expected from the early days of the field, but also the ongoing need for particular shifts and reworkings to keep the field relevant and ready for the challenges of today and tomorrow. One is bringing urban environmental education more firmly back into view (see Ardoin et al. 2017), a problem that Chuck Hopkins also acknowledged at the opening of the World Environmental Education Congress, September 2017, in Vancouver.

From the podium, Hopkins briefly reflected on his time at UNESCO meetings in the mid 1970s and since then during a plenary session considering the theme of ‘Tbilisi+40’. Urban environmental education, he noted had been sidelined in much of the thinking at the time, despite its championing by, for example, Colin Ward and Anthony Fyson (1973) in underscoring the value of streetwork and not just fieldwork. Hopkins saw this as having major consequences for what the ‘currents’ and the ‘correctives’ required in this field, including how, for example, environmental and other educators might work together (see also Krall, 1979; Maher, 1986; Weston, 1996; Saul, 2000; Russell et al., 2002; Kahn, 2008; Moroye, 2009; Schinkel, 2009; Kopnina, 2012).

To return to Monroe (2012, pp.44-6):

“Consider, for example, the first of three goals of EE: ‘To foster clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political, and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas’ (UNESCO 1978). …

“Perhaps it does not matter what we call it; we need quality education that prepares people to understand multiple views; to listen and communicate with others; to vision and evaluate options; to collect, synthesize and understand data; to learn how others have balanced contentious elements of an issue; and to be able to adopt actions.”

While as Judy Braus, Executive Director of NAAEE, mentioned at the launch of the Call for Action in 2017, “One of the core values of NAAEE is to be disruptive, and we need to be more disruptive”.

In closing, I trust NAEE has its own take on what it cares about in environmental education, but also whether it is, or needs to be disruptive, or something else? As with the Call for Action, the Call for Presentations, and the opening question to this piece, we need to have open and continuing conversations about, what we care about in environmental education? What will make the field to be a force for the future? And how best can we ensure new horizons in the field, intergenerational conversations, and stories worth responding to?

And please see a) the GEEP and its Call for Action, b) NAEE and the pages of this journal, and c) NAAEE’s eePRO groups, research symposium and annual conference, as some of the most welcoming of places to engage these questions, and I’d hope, take the action that is most appropriate to showing you care about what environmental education stands for, and invites us to fight for into the future.


Alan Reid works in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. He edits the international research journal, Environmental Education Research, and welcoming the fact that NAEE members, Justin Dillon and William Scott, are associate editors, with Bill also being the founding editor. Find out more about his work via social media and the pages or tags for eerjournal., +61 3 9904 4170,


Ardoin, Nicole M., Reid, Alan, Lotz-Sisitka, Heila, & J. González Gaudiano, Édgar (2017). Afterword. In: Alex Russ & Marianne E. Krasny (Eds.) Urban Environmental Education Review (pp.297-298). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Kahn, Richard (2008). Towards ecopedagogy: Weaving a broad-based pedagogy of liberation for animals, nature and the oppressed peoples of the 19 Earth. In, A. Darder, R. Torres and M. Baltodano (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed.). Routledge. [pp.522-540].

Kopnina, Helen (2012). Education for sustainable development (ESD): the turn away from ‘environment’ in environmental education? Environmental Education Research, 18(5), 699-717.

Krall, Florence R. (1979). Living metaphors: the real curriculum in environmental education. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 1(1), 180-185.

Maher, Mary (1986). Environmental education: What are we fighting for? Geographical Education, 5(2), 21-25.

Monroe, Martha C. (2012). The Co-Evolution of ESD and EE. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 6(1), 43-47.

Moroye, Christy M. (2009) Complementary curriculum: the work of ecologically minded teachers, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 41(6), 789-811.

Reid, Alan, & Dillon, Justin (Eds.) (2017). Environmental Education (Critical Concepts in the Environment). London: Routledge.

Russell, Constance L., Sarick, Tema & Kennelly, Jacqueline (2002). Queering environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 7, 54-66.

Saul, Darin (2000). Expanding environmental education: Thinking critically, thinking culturally. The Journal of Environmental Education, 31(2), 5-8.

Schinkel, Anders (2009). Justifying compulsory environmental education in liberal democracies. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 43(4), 507-526.

Sterling, Stephen R. (1992). Coming of age: a short history of environmental education (to 1989). Walsall: NAEE.

UNESCO. (1978). Final Report: Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education. UNESCO with UNEP in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR, 14–16 October 1977. Paris: UNESCOED/ MD/49.

Ward, Colin, & Fyson, Anthony (1973). Streetwork: the Exploding School. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Weston, Anthony (1996). Instead of Environmental Education. In, Bob Jickling (ed.), Proceedings of the Yukon College Symposium on Ethics, Environment, and Education. Whitehorse, Y.T.: Yukon College.

1 Comment

  1. Help state and local government make informed decisions that may reduce the potential for serious unintended
    environmental impacts.

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