Environmental Education today must be understood as education for sustainability. The flow information and knowledge caused by Environmental Education have the potential to build a new vision of the world capable of guiding actions towards sustainability.

Environmental Education appeared together with the consolidation of the environmental movement during the 60’s and 70’s, both in its ideas and in its acceptance. The human environment crisis was the central theme at the Stockholm Conference organized by the United Nations in 1972. It pointed out the need for a global approach that could offer solutions against the increasing deterioration of the environmental situation.

The Stockholm Conference produced, among others, the Human Environment Declaration, with environmental guidelines to the participating countries’ governments contained in the World Action Plan, and, in particular, recommending the establishment of an Environmental Education international program directed at the common citizen’s qualification training, in order to enable citizens to manage and control their environments. The Conference granted education the status of key element for confronting the emerging worldwide environmental crisis.

The year of 1977 represented a milestone for the history of Environmental Education. The Tibilisi Conference in URSS held by UNESCO in collaboration with PNUMA (UNEP), granted Environmental Education the status of international policy, establishing principles and general guidelines for programs to be prepared all over the world. Since then, what is now called Environmental Education focus its efforts on informing and providing the necessary knowledge to make people aware of environmental problems. Awareness-training, consciousness-raising and participation are key words and include, respectively, the following goals: to awaken individuals and collectivities to environmental problems; to give meaning to these problems by relating them to daily life; and to offer the indispensable knowledge so that individuals may be able to undertake actions on behalf of their environment and quality of life.

In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio-92, the importance of Environmental Education as a tool for a qualitative change in mankind’s behavior towards the environment was reaffirmed. The document proposed by this Forum, the Agenda 21, includes a chapter specifically dedicated to this theme, entitled Promoting Environmental Education (Cap. 36, section IV), which deals with the redirection of Environmental Education towards sustainability.

To be successful in reaching this goal, Environmental Education should be taught not only at formal schools but also at the so-called non-formal and informal spaces. For consciousness-raising and sensitization to happen in a wider spectrum, programs must be established both at formal educational places and at teacher training schools and courses, and at places designed for non-formal and informal education. Within formal education, we already find Environmental Education as part of the school disciplines. Nevertheless, it is in non-formal educational places that major programs may be identified. Non-formal education pursues goals that are planned but not specifically directed to grant scores as part of the official educational system. It is a system complementary to formal education, playing an important role in the renewal of attitudes and values currently demanded by our society. Examples of non-formal education are: museums, science centers, exhibitions, parks, and cultural centers. Other examples include the actions of neighborhood environmental associations, and sets of activities promoted by a company or an union for their employees. The main goals of such initiatives are to improve the quality of community life and strengthen the sense of citizenship.

Therefore, informal education consists of non-planned education taking place during the socialization process related to the actual environment, including the daily relationships established with family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Its importance is related to its multiplying effect, as each person will be, by his/her turn, a potential promoter of this daily social interaction.

Associated to citizenship notions, Environmental Education in non-formal spaces is responsible for actions that are more conscious and ethic, and for strengthening local development initiatives in their path towards sustainability.