Environmental education as a participation tool for local sustainability

Environmental education as a participation tool for local sustainability

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By Adela Vélez Rolón

Environmental education has been conceived as a strategy to provide new ways of generating in people and human societies significant changes in behavior and resignification of cultural, social, political, economic and nature-related values, at the same time it seeks to promote and facilitate mechanisms for the acquisition of intellectual and physical abilities, promoting the active and decisive participation of individuals on a permanent basis; reflecting in a better human intervention in the environment and as a consequence an adequate quality of life. It is from this conception that in recent decades, trust has been placed in the educational process to contribute to the response to environmental problems.

The growing concern about environmental degradation has its roots in the 1970s. Innumerable efforts have been proposed to draw the attention of populations to this deterioration. Among these efforts arise various approaches such as sustainable development using environmental education as tools and locally local sustainability.

This essay seeks to establish the relationship between environmental education and local sustainability, highlighting the need to develop management processes that involve these two components.

It is necessary to address in the first instance the theoretical references that support environmental education, to later frame it within the term of local sustainability from a broader concept of sustainable development, which will finally lead us to relate these concepts and the importance of their relationship.

We should start by asking ourselves, why environmental education? This new discipline that has been having relevance in recent decades contains two terms that would answer our initial question, the first is the educational component, which gives us the tools of communication with the communities , allows us to transform scientific languages ​​into simple languages ​​that can be appropriate and understood by different social groups, second, the environmental component tries to reconstruct these relationships formed by man with nature but mediated by cultural patterns.

So we can say that environmental education has been conceived as a strategy to provide new ways to generate in people and human societies significant changes in behavior and resignification of cultural, social, political, economic and nature-related values, at the same time. time seeks to promote and facilitate mechanisms for the acquisition of intellectual and physical abilities, promoting the active and determined participation of individuals on a permanent basis; reflecting in a better human intervention in the environment and as a consequence an adequate quality of life. From this conception it is that in recent decades, trust has been placed in the educational process to contribute to the response to environmental problems (1)

This conception of environmental education has been changing over time, linked to the historical moments and relationship that man has established with the environment, however always keeping the same concern: environmental deterioration.

The term of environmental education is historically located at the end of the 20th century. The contributions of the educational sciences and the so-called environmental sciences are its conceptual foundation. Possibly the philosophy and ideas of J. J. Rousseau (1712-1778), contained in his discourse on pedagogical naturalism, can be considered as the clearest historical reference of environmental education. Rousseau states that nature is the only true teacher for students. Nature was understood as a source of wisdom from which the subjects had to learn (2)

In 1948 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), carried out in France, refers for the first time to environmental education as "Environmental education is an educational approach to the synthesis between the natural sciences and the social sciences" (3 )

With the creation of the Man and the Biosphere program, UNESCO in 1971 gave importance to teaching and information on environmental issues:

“Carry out an interdisciplinary research program that attributes special importance to the ecological method in the study of the relationships between man and the environment and it is considered that the project is focused, among others, on teaching and information activities on these problems .(4)

In 1972 the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, in this conference the importance of education on environmental issues focused on the different social actors who are contributing to environmental deterioration is recognized:

Principle 19: Education on environmental issues is essential, aimed at both young and adult generations and paying due attention to the less privileged sector of the population, to broaden the foundations of a well-informed public opinion and conduct of individuals, companies and collectivities inspired by the sense of their responsibility regarding the protection and improvement of the environment in all its human dimension. It is also essential that the mass media avoid contributing to the deterioration of the human environment and, on the contrary, disseminate information of an educational nature on the need to protect and improve it, so that man can develop in all aspects (5 ).

One of the most significant results of the agreements made at the Stockholm conference were the creation of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Interdisciplinary Program for Environmental Education (PIEA), a task entrusted to the United Nations Organization. United for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

UNEP is the United Nations program that is in charge of coordinating work related to the implementation of strategies and policies that seek to care for the environment, seeking environmental development,

In 1975 the international environmental education seminar was held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to evaluate the progress made in environmental education by PIEA, there the referential framework for environmental education called "The Belgrade Charter" was given. .

One of the results obtained was the definition of the goals of the work in environmental education:

1. For each nation, according to its own culture, to clarify for itself the meaning of basic concepts, such as "quality of life" and "human happiness", in the context of the global environment, also striving to specify and understand these notions as they are understood by other cultures beyond their own national borders.

2. Identify the actions that guarantee the preservation and improvement of human potentialities and that favor social and individual well-being, in harmony with the biophysical environment and the environment created by man. (6)

Two years after the declaration of the Belgrade charter, one of the most important conferences on Environmental Education was held in Tbilisi, Georgia, in which the principles, aims and objectives of Environmental Education were defined, this conference also contributed the necessary tools to integrate natural, social and cultural aspects to the environment.

In 1984 the concept of "sustainable development" was born. Based on the Brundtland commission, a body established by the United Nations, the purpose of which was to carry out studies and workshops on the environment and development, for the year 1987 the results of said investigations were published under the name “Nuestro Futuro Común”, where the role of human beings in conserving resources in a sustainable way is clarified:

PRINCIPLE 27. It is in the hands of humanity to make development sustainable, that is, to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. The concept of sustainable development implies limits - not absolute limits, but limitations that impose on environmental resources the current state of technology or social organization and the capacity of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human activities - but both technology and social organization can be ordered and improved in ways that open the way to a new era of economic growth. The Commission believes that general poverty is no longer inevitable. Poverty is not only an evil in itself. Sustainable development requires that the basic needs of all be met and that the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations for a better life be extended to all. A world where poverty is endemic will always be prone to ecological or other catastrophe. (7)

In 1992, the Rio de Janeiro - Brazil Conference was held, also called "The Earth Summit". It emphasized the importance of environmental education as a strategy for achieving sustainable development, this was proclaimed in "Agenda 21"

Article 36: Reorientation of education towards sustainable development

Basis for action: It must be recognized that education - including academic teaching - public awareness and training, configure a process that allows human beings and societies to fully develop their latent capacity. Education is critically important to promote sustainable development and increase the capacity of populations to address environmental and development issues. While basic education serves as the foundation for environmental and development education, the latter must be incorporated as a fundamental part of learning. …. To be effective, environment and development education must address the dynamics of the physical / biological environment and the socio-economic environment and human development (which could include spiritual development), be integrated into all disciplines and use academic and non-academic and effective means of communication. (8)

Agenda 21 was established as the navigation chart for environmental education, since it leaves the working principles for each State.

Ten years after the Earth Summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development was held on August 26, 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this meeting, the participants, mostly heads of state, evaluated the scope and achievements of Agenda 21 and commit to continue working on the principles proclaimed therein.

For this essay, the concept of environmental education given by Maritza Torres will be taken as a basis, who considers environmental education "as the process that allows the individual to understand the relationships of interdependence with their environment, based on the reflective and critical knowledge of his biophysical, social, political, economic and cultural reality, so that from the appropriation of concrete reality, attitudes of appreciation and respect for his environment can be generated in him and in his community. "(9)

After this brief outline of the context that gave rise to environmental education, we will return to a very important event and that is the presentation of the Brundland Report, prepared by the commission on environment and development, in this report the concept of Sustainable Development is formally given , since to speak of local sustainability it is first necessary to frame it within the historical context of sustainable development.

According to the Brundland report, the term Sustainable Development refers to "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, and is based on the natural environment's ability to sustain itself" ( 10)

The possibilities offered by sustainable development have led to a renewed interest in the issue of community sustainability and local sustainability. Faced with global sustainability, whose conditions have been exposed by systemic ecologists and macroeconomists, the sustainability of specific sites on the planet arises whose conditions are the object of study of landscape ecology, ecological economics, cultural anthropology, environmental sociology and, naturally, integralist environmentalism. (11)

This is how the issue of local sustainability must be worked on from the community; a community that must be trained and organized to deal with and directly affect local environmental problems. This work in local sustainability has two main axes: resource management and community participation.

These two aspects come together in the conception of environmental education, where projects that give a favorable response to the resolution of environmental problems, in an interdisciplinary way, can be shaped.

Local sustainability processes require the development of a series of indicators, which help to visualize the results both in resource management and community participation, for the resolution of an environmental problem in a given space and time, from education environmental, these indicators should have as a reference the following reflections, (Torres, et al. 2002):

to. The environment understood as a result of the interactions between nature and society, mediated by the cultural framework.

b. The environmental situation seen as the state of the particular environment, which is dynamized in spaces not only physical, but also geographical, ecological and environmental through time.

c. The environmental situation understood as an elaboration of reality that allows individuals and groups of a particular community to relate to their environment.

d. The environmental problem visualized as the disharmonies produced in the environmental system, through the impacts of the interactions: society-nature-culture.

and. Resources (R), populations (P) and societies (S), analyzed through the relationships established between them, taking into account the particular spaces and times in which they develop their own dynamics (12).

Through an environmental problem, then, readings can be made about the quality of the relationships of human groups, with the natural systems of which they are part and through which they develop their own social and cultural dynamics. Likewise, to understand the origin of a particular environmental problem and its consequences, it is necessary to take as a reference the environmental situation in which it is framed. Understanding that the environmental problem is the result of the impacts produced by transformations or modifications of human activity for the satisfaction of its needs and that as an expression of its evolution, it participates directly in the deterioration of the components of the environment and therefore of the quality of life of the populations that develop in it. (13)

In conclusion, we can say that local sustainability generates participatory processes, which generate a new management of natural resources, where environmental education is the working tool that enables new visions of the future and the design of action strategies on environmental problems felt by the community.

The task now is to generate not only the local sustainability indicators, which are already being developed in countless countries, but also the community implementation strategies, so that these are a real sustainable and environmentally friendly management tool. There is also another concern between local urban and rural sustainability, a debate that must be held between communities and networks that are established between the two sectors and not only from government offices.

Adela Velez Rolón - Biology. Universidad de los Andes Colombia - Specialist in environmental management and education. Doctoral student in Environmental Education. autonomous University of Barcelona


(1) Bedoy V., V., "Considerations on environmental interpretation in protected natural areas", paper presented at the Meeting of Environmental Educators of Western Mexico, Aguascalientes, April, 1997.

(2) VELÁSQUEZ Victor. History of environmental education: pedagogical reflections. At (accessed June 20, 2009)


(4) GONZÁLEZ Carmen. Main trends and models of Environmental Education in the school system. Number 11. Environmental Education: Theory and Practice. At





(9) TORRES, Maritza. Op. Cit., 56

(10) GONZÁLES, Edgar. Another Reading to the History of Environmental Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. At

(11) CARRIZOSA Julio. Local sustainability. In

(12) TOWERS. Maritza. et al. Reflection and action: the fundamental dialogue for environmental education Theory and practice. Ministry of National Education Ministry of the Environment. Bogota Colombia 2002.

(13) TOWERS. Maritza. Op Cit .. Page 74

Video: Environment Education Part-I Dr A M Late (July 2022).


  1. Pelleas

    I guess it's yes

  2. Kamarre

    looked ... VERY COOL! I advise everyone ..

  3. Aviram

    a very good idea

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