Environmental Literacy

Bridging the Gap: The Crucial Role of Environmental Literacy in a Global Community

Environmental literacy extends to both local and global contexts. It is fundamental to recognizing our interconnectedness within a global community and acknowledging that our choices and actions have repercussions beyond our immediate surroundings. To secure a sustainable future, it is imperative to bridge the growing divide in environmental literacy. In a world where our planet's resources are increasingly strained, it is essential for all of us to become informed and engaged caretakers. Environmental literacy empowers us to comprehend intricate environmental challenges and appreciate the impact of our personal choices on both the local and global environment.


Environmental literacy is a multidimensional concept that transcends mere knowledge and comprehension. It involves experiences, understanding, and, most importantly, action. While knowledge and understanding serve as the foundation of environmental literacy, the true essence lies in the seamless connection between awareness and application.

The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), in its publication "Developing a Framework for the Assessment of Environmental Literacy," defines an environmentally literate person as someone who makes well-informed decisions about the environment. This informed decision-making extends not only to personal choices but also to actions that enhance the well-being of individuals, communities, and the global environment. True environmental literacy incorporates the following elements:

  1. Knowledge and Understanding: An environmentally literate individual possesses comprehensive knowledge of a wide array of environmental concepts, problems, and issues.

  2. Cognitive and Affective Dispositions: Environmental literacy also involves a set of cognitive and affective dispositions, shaping how one perceives and engages with environmental challenges.

  3. Cognitive Skills and Abilities: It encompasses a range of cognitive skills and abilities that empower individuals to navigate complex environmental scenarios.

  4. Behavioral Strategies: Most importantly, environmental literacy equips individuals with the tools needed to apply their knowledge and understanding effectively in various environmental contexts.

A Call to Action

Environmental literacy is not confined to passive comprehension; it demands active demonstration of capabilities. Understanding the principles of photosynthesis or comprehending water quality statistics, while important, does not, in themselves, exemplify environmental literacy. Today's students must delve deeper and grasp the intricate web of connections between ecology, economics, culture, and the environment.

Crucially, they must recognize the profound influence of decisions, both individual and governmental, on our surroundings. Environmental literacy plays a pivotal role in cultivating this awareness. It underscores the fact that humans are not isolated entities but integral members of a global community. Every local decision and action, whether undertaken by an individual or a collective, ripples across far-reaching global landscapes.

Empowering Informed Environmental Stewards

Environmental literacy is more than just knowing; it is about doing. It empowers individuals to transform knowledge into meaningful action, urging them to become informed and responsible stewards of the environment. With an unwavering focus on the interwoven relationships between humans and their surroundings, environmental literacy fosters the understanding that our decisions and actions hold the power to shape not only local environments but the world at large. In a rapidly changing world, environmental literacy stands as a beacon, guiding us towards a sustainable and harmonious future.

In today's world, the future of our nation and the entire planet hinges on a well-informed public capable of actively safeguarding the environment that sustains us all. The expanding global population, coupled with the mounting pressure on Earth's resources and ecosystems, necessitates an increasingly environmentally literate populace. Individuals must comprehend intricate environmental challenges and recognize the far-reaching impacts of their choices on both local and global scales. However, studies consistently highlight a significant environmental literacy gap in the United States, one that is growing rather than shrinking.

We find ourselves in the midst of a historic societal transformation, where the current generation of children is the first to grow up predominantly indoors and connected to electronic devices. Concurrently, a relentless focus on standardized testing has compelled schools to drastically reduce, or even eliminate, environmental education. This shift has severely curtailed instructional time for science and social studies, where environmental concepts are traditionally explored.

The forthcoming challenges related to resource management and environmental sustainability are undeniably intertwined with global economic leadership and security. Nevertheless, we run the risk of graduating a generation of students who are ill-prepared to confront the multifaceted challenges that lie ahead, both on an individual and global scale.

Thankfully, substantial efforts have been undertaken to address these issues and create opportunities for cultivating environmentally literate students and citizens. Numerous states have formulated Environmental Literacy Plans, serving as blueprints for educational institutions to enhance and broaden their environmental education programs. Simultaneously, regional and local initiatives are crafting detailed strategies to support schools, teachers, and administrators in promoting student environmental literacy and encouraging sustainable practices within school environments.

Access a comprehensive report on the status of state environmental literacy plans. View PDF [Button]

Environmental Literacy Goal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed The Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding tributaries are at the heart of environmental conservation and education efforts in the Mid-Atlantic region. With a current population of over 17 million people within the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is projected to grow to 20 million by 2030. The Chesapeake Bay serves as an economic powerhouse, driving billions of dollars in commerce through shipping, tourism, recreation, fishing, and more. It is imperative that both students and citizens fully grasp the ecological, economic, and cultural connections between humans and this watershed, as well as comprehend the profound impact of actions and decisions made by individuals and governments.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement In response to the alarming rates of wildlife loss and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, the original Chesapeake Bay Agreement was established in 1983. Recognizing the need for a collaborative approach to tackle the Bay's pollution problems, it strengthened the role of the Chesapeake Bay Program as the organizing agency for restoration efforts. Subsequently, over the following decades, this initial agreement was complemented by more detailed agreements and an increasing number of stakeholders.

In 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, acknowledging the Chesapeake Bay's status as a National Treasure. The order called upon the federal government to lead a renewed effort to safeguard the nation's largest estuary and its watershed. To support this directive, the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Strategy (MAELS) was developed and released in 2012.

It became evident that a new agreement was essential to expedite restoration efforts and align federal directives with state and local objectives for a healthier Bay. Bay Program partners, in collaboration with citizens, stakeholders, academic institutions, local governments, and more, sought to draft an all-encompassing, goal-driven document capable of addressing contemporary and emerging environmental concerns.

On June 16, 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was officially signed. Signatories represented the entire watershed, marking the first time the Bay's headwater states committed to full partnership in the Bay Program. This collaborative framework outlines objectives and results for the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries, and the surrounding lands. Under the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, the Environmental Literacy Goal was established with a mission to ensure that students in the region graduate with the knowledge and skills needed to responsibly protect and restore their local watershed.

A collaborative effort developed by education experts, the Environmental Literacy Goal encourages federal, state, and non-governmental partners to work in unison, guaranteeing that schools across the region are equipped with the resources, encouragement, and support necessary to furnish students with the knowledge and skills required to make informed environmental decisions upon graduation. This endeavor encompasses providing continuous professional development, tools, and resources to all educators responsible for environmental instruction. It aims to ensure that all schools have access to the requisite tools and training to modify and maintain their buildings, grounds, and operations in a manner that fosters positive environmental and human health outcomes.

Discover More To explore further details regarding the Environmental Literacy Goal and other policies pertaining to Chesapeake Bay environmental education and restoration, please visit:

  • Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement
  • Executive Order on Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration
  • Fostering Chesapeake Stewardship Goal Implementation Team (GIT 5)
  • Environmental Literacy Goal
  • Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE)

In recent years, initiatives to promote environmental literacy have become widespread. Yet, for some, the term 'environmental literacy' remains a novel concept. This includes individuals whose active involvement is crucial for the success of environmental literacy initiatives.

Effectively conveying the requirements, resources, and expectations is paramount when implementing environmental literacy plans successfully. This toolkit is curated to offer a foundational understanding of the concept and implications of environmental literacy. It serves as a gateway for those unacquainted with the subject, a refresher for those who need it, and a training resource to swiftly familiarize others with environmental literacy initiatives, resources, and implementation support.

E-Lit 101 Toolkit Contents

  1. Environmental Literacy 101 Training Presentation PowerPoint

  2. Environmental Literacy Overviews: Downloadable One-Pagers

  3. Video

  4. Bibliography