What is an Environmental Educator?

Environmental education aims to educate the public about nature and environmental issues. While it's usually geared toward primary school or high school students, some environmental educators work with members of the public.

An environmental educator works with schools, nature reserves, nonprofits and other groups to raise awareness of environmental issues, and let people know what they can do to live sustainability.

What Does an Environmental Educator Do?

Environmental educators give talks to schools and other groups about nature and environmental issues. Some are employed by nature reserves, where they lead outdoor walks and answer questions. Some also teach through "immersion" during outdoor field trips. Some of these immersion programs are designed for inner city or underprivileged children.

Environmental educators plan such events, activities, and programs to educate the next generation about environmental issues and how they can help. Program planning involves developing the curricula, schedule, and other logistics. It also involves promoting and publicizing programs. For example, environmental educators may create Web pages, newsletters, and fliers promoting programs and resources. They may also need to participate in fundraising activities and budgeting. Some need to collect and analyze data to assess program success. They report results to managers and funding organizations. Those in managerial positions may be involved in organizational strategy and planning. Some environmental educators supervise volunteers. They may also need to drive to various locations to give talks or attend events.

Where Does an Environmental Educator Work?

Many environmental educators are employed by nonprofit organizations such as the National Audubon Society. Some work for zoos, aquariums, and arboretums. Some are employed by national and state parks as park rangers. While there are many jobs for environmental educators at summer camps, these are seasonal positions available only during the summer months.

A few environmental educators work for local government in recreation and leisure or education. There are also some jobs with private employers, such as arboretums. Environmental educators may also be employed by oil companies, utility companies, and companies in other industries that have a large impact on the environment, where corporations are interested in social responsibility.

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What Is the Average Environmental Educator Salary?

Environmental educators, who fall under the broader BLS category of health education specialists and community workers, earned a median salary of $42,000 as of May 2020.*

Environmental Education Jobs & Job Description

An environmental educator understands highly technical, often multi-disciplinary scientific material like such as raw data and scientific literature. He or she uses pictures, presentations and created materials to teach the information to interested but non-technical individuals. The goal is not only to advance environmental knowledge in the general public and amongst stakeholders, but to help stakeholders assess and inquire from an environmental perspective. Educators have a set of responsibilities which vary significantly from job to job, but the list here includes typical job duties are expected:

  • Analyze and interpret data obtained from literature reviews, research, and sample findings, imagery, and computer model predictive data
  • Research, interview, and teach about leading scientists and theories
  • Explain and illustrate how the environmental event or trend in question may impact the earth, and human or animal populations
  • Communicate lessons to stakeholders on environmental situations or environmental trends according to the scope of the course. Examples may include climate change, watershed protection, or recycling and composting
  • Engage members of the public and stakeholders in the material; develop environmental awareness
  • Develop curriculum-based resources and provide support for other educators.
  • Write resource material for personal use, other educators, or take-home materials for students and stakeholders, that includes paper, online, oral lecture and multimedia
  • Facilitate discussions between differing interests in order to enrich course offerings with cross-disciplinary perspectives and understanding
  • Develop feedback plans and programs

Senior Environmental Educators often have enhanced job responsibilities that include managing, budgeting and team collaboration. Such responsibilities often include:

  • Extract learning objectives from stakeholders and material
  • Create curriculum in order to teach the topic at hand in a compressive fashion, along a proscribed timeline if required
  • Develop themes and activities to reinforce learning
  • Create teaching materials
  • Coordinate environmental professional development for teacher-colleagues and the public.
  • Manage budgets and prepare grant proposals.
  • Create assessment materials if required
  • Use clear perspective to steer the scope of the course
  • Provide consultation and advice to agencies, professionals, or researchers
  • Ensure that course curriculum and assessment are accurate
  • Plan, organize and participate outreach campaigns to engage and challenge the public
  • Establish efficient and effective work group protocols for a positive and challenging work environment
  • Mentor junior team members and educators

What Is the Job Demand for Environmental Educators?

According to the BLS, the job demand for health education specialists and community workers is projected to increase by 17 percent between 2020 and 2030. Due to the amount of interest in this career and limited opportunities, competition has traditionally been strong. Most jobs are with nonprofit organizations that have limited budgets. Jobs with summer camps are seasonal. Candidates who have gotten an early start with volunteering generally have an edge when paid positions become available.*

How Do I Get an Environmental Educator Degree?

Aspiring environmental educators typically earn a bachelor's degree in environmental science, environmental studies, geography, ecology, or a related area. Some jobs involving local travel may require an in-state driver's license. You can start gaining experience by volunteering for conservation organizations, parks, or summer camps.

Other Degrees Related to Environmental Education

Educator Certification

Some states are now certifying environmental educators, and more are planning their own certification programs.

Additionally, students interested in environmental education in public school settings may want to pursue teacher certification, which is required for public school teachers in all states. Certification requirements vary by state, but always require at least a bachelor's degree, completion of a teacher preparation program, and supervised teaching experience. Many require passing scores on a general teaching test, passing a background check, and continuing professional development.

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What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Environmental Educators Have?

  • The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) publishes core competencies for environmental educators, accredits certification programs, and is developing its own nationwide professional certification program. NAAEE offers guidance on environmental literacy plans and environmental literacy assessment. It also holds an annual conference and issues awards.
  • The National Environmental Education Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1990 to help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advance environmental knowledge. It works with meteorologists, businesses, health workers, and other partners to inform, involve, and protect the public. It organizes National Environmental Education Week and runs the National Public Lands Day volunteer program. It also hosts the Earth Gauge website that provides information on the links between weather and the environment.

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for health education specialists and community health workers reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.