Umweltbildung deals with the environment and its value as a foundation for the life of human beings with each other. It presumes reciprocal relationships at its center and thus attempts to get from the acquisition of a basic environment-related knowledge to an understanding for eco-social connections in a value-based manner.i
This education fosters competences to understand the limitedness of resources and to foster solidarity towards the community of Umwelt and society. Historically, this approach began in Germany in the 1970s as a responsible way to interact with the environment that came out of the first environmental movements. Eulefeld termed it Umwelterziehung [environmental education] in 1981, Bolscho and Seybold termed it Ökologisches Lernen [ecological learning] in 1988 and Ökopädagogik [eco-pedagogy] in 1989 (Beer and de Haan).ii
In the 1980s, this pedagogy then began to be implemented in German schools, from Kindergarten to University education. The term environmental education as in Umwelterziehung is not used much anymore, as the pedagogical vocabulary has changed to prefer Bildung which has less to do with raising children and more with general education and mindsets.
These terms might still crop up here and there in the literature and in the news, yet there has now mostly been a transition from these earlier terms to Umweltbildung and then the BNE agenda (Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung, Education for a sustainable development), named after the UN-decade which began on January 1, 2005.
Umweltbildung has already attempted to address the different problem areas of classic environmental education (Umwelterziehung). First, there has always been the idea that students should be motivated for the right behavior change as they draw the supposedly necessary conclusions for their own life – a pedagogy that is doomed to fall short of reality and statistics. Second, students were taught to think in complex systems involving ecological change. Third, nature should be taught to be an invaluable good that needed to be cherished by students and thus worthy of protection.
Fourth, the pedagogy attempted to teach decision-making skills in light of these complex situations when many different ethical values might collide with each other. Fifth, there was the goal to establish positive future visions of environment and society. Last, but not least, there was the belief in the existence of a canon or assortment of knowledge and competences which did not exist in that way.
The new form of BNE is designed to pay tribute to these former failures as well, as it already contains the word development and changing values in its name. In its simplest terms, it mirrors where Umweltbildung deals with the relationship between humans and their environment, but attempts to use newer pedagogical concepts and tools to do so. The goals are nothing less than a clean environment, healthy living, the end of the dying species, slowed climate change, better air quality and the relief of future generations.
Practical measures for this education are nature learning paths [Naturerlebnispfad], school excursions, lectures, workshops, and games. An important term here is ökologische Gerechtigkeit [ecological equality] as these projects are meant to be implemented at all levels of society for all ages. It pervades scholarly, as well as religious or other voluntary organizations in society. In Germany, the number of Umweltbildungseinrichtungen [environmental pedagogy facilities] is estimated at around 4,600 schools, parks, hostels, farms, environmental academies, kindergartens, etc.
Newer BNE and Umweltbildung models integrate concrete actions, emotions, conscious use of knowledge, developing visions, reflecting and thinking critically, communicating, cooperating and participating as well as a variety of methods to reach these ends.iii The plans aim to integrate these skills across the whole curriculum in all learning environments and in the training and education of school personnel.
In addition, the creation of a consciousness for sustainability or Umweltbewusstsein / Nachhaltigkeitsbewusstsein is paid a lot of attention to as well. There have been studies for over 25 years in Germany, measuring this ‘insight of persons into the endangerment of natural living foundations for humans, including the willingness to remedy the situation, as one of the first reports in 1978 labelled it’.iv
It is considered partially normative, partially descriptive in different studies and signifies the social concern [Sorgen] with environmental problems. Due to the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in 1986, reunification in 1989 and dying forests in Germany, awareness was high in the 1980s but declined a decade later until it reached a medium high level in the early 2000s.
Since 2009, there is not just a question of Umweltschutz anymore, but a separate category of Klimaschutz. The category Umweltprobleme [environmental problems] has now been broadened into ‘Umwelt/Klima/Energiewende’ after 2013 to include the energy transition. The Covid Pandemic was further seen as a sustainability problem in recent years (approximately 2019-2020).v
i Éducation21. „Umweltbildung.“ Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung (BNE): das Portal. Homepage: https://education21.ch/de/bne/zugaenge/umweltbildung Accessed on July 30, 2023.
ii Lehrer-Online. “Von der Umweltbildung zur BNE.“ Homepage: < https://www.lehrer-online.de/unterricht/sekundarstufen/naturwissenschaften/biologie/artikel/seite/fa/umweltbildung-und-bildung-fuer-nachhaltige-entwicklung/von-der-umweltbildung-zur-bne/> Accessed on July 31, 2023.
iii Bildung 2030. „BNE-Kompetenzen“. Homepage: < https://bildung2030.at/bildung-fuer-nachhaltige-entwicklung/bne-kompetenzen> Accessed on August 2, 2023.
iv BMU. „Umweltpolitik für eine nachhaltige Gesellschaft.“ Broschüre 10056. Published on September 1, 2020. Homepage: <BMUV: Umweltpolitik für eine nachhaltige Gesellschaft – Der Nachhaltigkeitsbericht des BMU 2020 | Publikation> Accessed on July 20, 2023.p. 6.
v Ibidem. p. 13.