Environmental regulatory organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have historically dealt with pollution problems through control or remediation, as opposed to the pollution prevention (commonly called "P2") approach. However, treating pollution at its source can minimize, and sometimes eliminate, pollution. Environmental education is one effective, proactive strategy to implement P2.
An Educated Public
One goal of environmental education is to educate the public so that it is better informed to handle the issues and problems regarding pollution, whether it comes from industry, agriculture, or from the home. Educational programs, classes, pamphlets, and other informational products provide the public with the necessary skills to make informed decisions and take responsible action. For instance, activities at the community level are often successful with such grassroots projects as school environmental curricula, hazardous waste collection days, and stream and river cleanups. However, environmental education programs are often at the mercy of public funding such as at the federal and state levels and of private donations and contributions.
Reasons to Learn
An important purpose of environmental education is to teach understanding about pollution in order to best protect the environment. Thus, groups involved with environmental education often teach individuals and groups pertinent information about subjects, such as biology, geology, meteorology, and hydrology, in order to better analyze the various sides of an issue through critical thinking. For example, members of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) use a wide variety of materials and methods in order to investigate the environment within the context of economics, politics, popular culture, and social equity (just to name a few) as well as natural systems and processes in order to better educate the public.
Although the EPA is specifically constrained from creating environmental education curriculum, its leadership firmly believes that environmental education can help to:
- Protect human health
- Promote sustainable development (environmental protection and pollution prevention in conjunction with economic development)
- Create interest in a wide variety of jobs in various environmental fields
- Enhance learning in all areas of education
- Reinforce the desire to protect natural resources for future generations
As a response to the growing pollution problem in the United States and other countries, outreach programs have been set up by various government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to promote the awareness and prevention of pollution. This educational strategy is effective at reducing (and even eliminating) pollution so that it requires less regulation, monitoring, and cleaning up.
The EPA has organized cooperative programs with the Peace Corps, the North American Association for Environmental Education, the Institute for Sustainable Communities, and other organizations to provide training, technical help, and information distribution to aid the international development of environmental education programs. These programs have been successfully used in Eastern and Central Europe, and in South and Central America.
On a smaller scale, JT&A, Inc., distributes EnviroScape™, three-dimensional landscapes that illustrate residential, agricultural, industrial, recreational, and transportation areas. All landscapes contain possible sources of water pollution, so that children learn by interacting with drink mix (which simulates chemicals) and cocoa (which simulates loose soil) just how their actions affect the quality of water. Hands-on demonstrations allow complex problems to be simplified. Besides being used in elementary schools, the demonstrations are also used by universities, soil and water conservation districts, municipal governments, utility companies, environmental consultants, and environmental groups.
National Pollution Prevention Roundtable
The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) is one of the largest NGOs in the United States devoted exclusively to P2. It provides a national forum for the dissemination of P2 information with regards to policy developments, practices, and resources in order to diminish or eradicate pollution at the source. The NPPR provides its P2 members—federal agencies, state and local government programs, regional resource centers, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and industry associations—with up-to-date and accurate P2 information. An important aspect of the NPPR is its National Pollution Prevention Week, commonly called "P2 Week," which is held nationally in the third week of September.
When the public is educated about pollution, businesses become more competitive, businesses and governments realize cost savings, individuals play a more informed role, and, in the end, environmental quality of life is enhanced by a reduction of pollution.
Heimlich, Joe E., ed. (2002). Environmental Education: A Resource Handbook. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
JT&A, Inc. "Welcome to EnviroScapes." Chantilly, VA. Available from http://enviroscapes.com .
National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. "Home Page of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable." Available from http://www.p2.org .
Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. (2002). "Federal Government Celebrates National Pollution Prevention Week." Available from http://www.ofee.gov/whats/fgcnpp.htm .
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Communications, Education, and Media Relations. (1999). "Environmental Education Improves Our Everyday Lives." (EPA-171-F-98-015). Available from http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/pdf/15envtraining.pdf .
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Environmental Resources." Available from http://www.epa.gov/epahome/educational.htm .
William Arthur Atkins