Environmental Principles and Concepts

Environment-based education programs “are vibrant, living programs that engage students and teachers in active learning that has meaning for their daily lives and for their futures. And, they give students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to become active, contributing members of the global society of the twenty-first century.” ~ Dr. Gerald Lieberman

California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) have a timely and relevant place in our state frameworks.

Background: In 2003, the California Education and the Environment Initiative, Assembly Bill 1548, was passed by California’s legislature and signed into law by the governor. It called upon multiple state agencies, including the State Board of Education, California Department of Education, and Natural Resources Agency, to work with the California Environmental Protection Agency and Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle) to implement several initiatives intended to increase the environmental literacy of students throughout the state’s TK–12 education system.

In 2004, identification of key environmental content resulted in the development and adoption of California’s EP&Cs. Developed by more than 100 scientists and technical experts, they examine the interdependence of human societies and natural systems and are the foundation of the model Education and the Environment Initiative Curriculum.

We and our partners work to raise awareness of the EP&Cs, sharing them at statewide rollouts of new standards and frameworks, with instructional materials publishers in exemplars, and with professional learning providers where they are being integrated into professional learning courses for teachers.

As a result of these partnerships, California has revised the Science, History-Social Science, Health, and Arts Frameworks to formally include the EP&Cs.

These curriculum frameworks provide guidance for implementing the content standards adopted by the State Board of Education. Standards are often referred to as the what students should learn and be able to do, while the curriculum framework is the document that provides the how. California frameworks also play a part in determining which textbooks and other instructional materials are approved by the Board for use in classrooms statewide.

In 2018, Ten Strands sponsored SB 720, which was signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., on September 13, 2018. The bill was authored by Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond—now California’s State Superintendent for Public Instruction. SB 720 strengthens California’s commitment to providing all public school students with the opportunity to learn in and through their local environment, better preparing them to lead our state into the future. This legislation:

  1. Directs the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction, district superintendents, and their school boards to support environmental literacy;
  2. Codifies California’s adopted EP&Cs in Education Code as the state’s definition of environmental literacy;
  3. Moves core ideas from California’s Blueprint for Environmental Literacy into California’s Education Code; 
  4. Ensures inclusion of the EP&Cs in new curriculum frameworks, providing educators clear guidelines on integrating environmental literacy into core subject areas and classrooms;
  5. Adds climate change and environmental justice as topics covered under the EP&Cs.

Learn more about the EP&Cs:

Principle 1: The continuation and health of individual human lives and of human communities and societies depend on the health of the natural systems that provide essential goods and ecosystem services.


Concept A. The goods produced by natural systems are essential to human life and to the functioning of our economies and cultures.
Concept B. The ecosystem services provided by natural systems are essential to human life and to the functioning of our economies and cultures.
Concept C. The quality, quantity, and reliability of the goods and ecosystem services provided by natural systems are directly affected by the health of those systems.

Principle 2: The long-term functioning and health of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems are influenced by their relationships with human societies.


Concept A. Direct and indirect changes to natural systems due to the growth of human populations and their consumption rates influence the geographic extent, composition, biological diversity, and viability of natural systems.
Concept B. Methods used to extract, harvest, transport, and consume natural resources influence the geographic extent, composition, biological diversity, and viability of natural systems.
Concept C. The expansion and operation of human communities influences the geographic extent, composition, biological diversity, and viability of natural systems.
Concept D. The legal, economic, and political systems that govern the use and management of natural systems directly influence the geographic extent, composition, biological diversity, and viability of natural systems.

Principle 3: Natural systems proceed through cycles that humans depend upon, benefit from, and can alter.


Concept A. Natural systems proceed through cycles and processes that are required for their functioning.
Concept B. Human practices depend upon and benefit from the cycles and processes that operate within natural systems.
Concept C. Human practices can alter the cycles and processes that operate within natural systems.

Principle 4: The exchange of matter between natural systems and human societies affects the long-term functioning of both.


Concept A. The effects of human activities on natural systems are directly related to the quantities of resources consumed and to the quantity and characteristics of the resulting byproducts.
Concept B. The byproducts of human activity are not readily prevented from entering natural systems and may be beneficial, neutral, or detrimental in their effect.
Concept C. The capacity of natural systems to adjust to human-caused alterations depends on the nature of the system as well as the scope, scale, and duration of the activity and the nature of its byproducts.

Principle 5: Decisions affecting resources and natural systems are based on a wide range of considerations and decision-making processes.


Concept A. There is a spectrum of what is considered in making decisions about resources and natural systems and how those factors influence decisions.
Concept B. The process of making decisions about resources and natural systems, and how the assessment of social, economic, political, and environmental factors has changed over time.


State Education and Environment Roundtable

The State Education and Environment Roundtable provides professional development programs to meet the needs of schools and districts. Their programs are highly interactive, and are designed to help teachers achieve standards-based learning goals…


California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) brings together the state's recycling and waste management programs, and maintains a tradition of environmental stewardship. CalRecycle's vision is to inspire and challenge Californians to…

California Department of Education

California is the largest state in the country, serving over 5.8 million public school students and 300,000 teachers, in over 1,000 school districts and 10,000 schools. The California Department of Education's mission is to…