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.” (Lieberman, 2013)

California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts have a timely and relevant place in the new state frameworks.

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 K–12 education system.

In 2004, identification of key environmental content resulted in the development and adoption of California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (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, with instructional materials publishers in exemplars, and with the California Subject Matter Project, where they are being integrated into professional learning courses for teachers.

As a result of these partnerships, California has revised the Science and History–Social Science Frameworks to formally include all five Principles:


Principle I: 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.


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


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


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


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


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.

From the California Science Curriculum Framework:

For many decades, California has been a national leader in educating students about the environment, and now more than ever, the state recognizes that environmental literacy is crucial to sustaining the economic and environmental wellbeing of all Californians. This is embodied in the California Education Code and reflected in the educational mandates of many state agencies. Environmental literacy means more than knowing environmental content; it also encompasses civic engagement and community involvement in diverse settings. Going beyond the walls of the classroom, environmental literacy can be developed through investigations on campus, in the local community, at nature centers and outdoor schools, as well as in the rich and diverse natural landscapes found throughout California.

California has identified several critical understandings, called the Environmental Principles and Concepts, that every student in the state should learn and be able to apply. The State Board of Education officially adopted the EP&Cs in 2004 and they are an important piece of the curricular expectations for all California students. Teachers can introduce these EP&Cs through their many connections with the three dimensions of the CA NGSS, and by focusing instruction on the environment of their local community and the issues that it faces. (California Science Curriculum Framework, adopted by the State Board of Education, November 3, 2016)


Our Partners in this Work:


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 6.2 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…

The California Subject Matter Project

The California Subject Matter Project is a network of nine discipline-based projects that provide rigorous professional development for K–12 educators to enhance learning for all students. With a network comprising the nine projects—History–Social…