Colby College, ME Environmental Literacy

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Colby College, ME, US

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Type: Policy

Status: Ongoing

Source File:


What is Environmental Literacy?

  • Environmental literacy can be defined as the cognitive and affective understanding of the environment that leads individuals toward environmental responsible behaviors, or actions directed toward the remediation of environmental problems (EETAP 2002).
  • In a survey of environmental literacy at colleges and universities, environmental literacy was defined as “a basic understanding of the concepts and knowledge of the issues and information relevant to the health and sustainability of the environment as well as environmental issues related to human health” (Rowe 2002).

Why is Environmental Literacy Important?

  • Research studies suggest that students who are exposed to environmental literacy develop:
  • An increased caring about the future of society
  • An increased belief that they can make a difference
  • An increased willingness to participate in civic engagement and help solve societal and environmental problems.
  • Research indicates that as little as one course in environmental literacy produces more environmentally responsible behavior (Rowe 2002).
  • All students, as the consumers of the future, should know about the causes of environmental problems and how they can help create an environmentally healthy and more humane world.
  • In a world increasingly plagued by environmental problems, environmental education is central to achieving future sustainable development and maintaining an ecologically healthy planet.

Environmental Literacy at Colby

  • Colby College is committed to promoting environmental awareness through its academic program as well as through its activities on campus and beyond. Colby seeks to model morally responsible, environmental stewardship.
  • Colby offers over 60 courses, which cover topics included in David Orr’s definition of environmental literacy. Orr suggests that no student should graduate from an educational institution without a basic understanding of the laws of thermodynamics, the basic principles of ecology, carrying capacity, energetics, least cost and end-use analysis, limits of technology, appropriate scale, sustainable agriculture and forestry, steady-state economics, and environmental ethics. These topics foster an understanding of environmental literacy. Click here for the list of courses.
  • The members of the Class of 2006 had a total of 829 course enrollments in environmental literacy courses over their four years at Colby. The number of environmental literacy course enrollments each year (approximately 221) was similar for the first, sophomore, and senior years. Fewer course enrollments occurred in the junior year (164) because many Colby students study abroad in that year.
  • Of the 464 students in the Class of 2006, 72% took at least one environmental literacy course and 39% took two or more courses. 28% did not take an environmental literacy course.
  • Of the 254 female students in the Class of 2006, 76% took at least one environmental literacy course and 39% took two or more courses.
  • Of the 210 male students in the Class of 2006, 68% took at least one environmental literacy course and 38% took two or more courses.


  • Approximately, three quarters of the Class of 2006 took at least one course that would foster environmental literacy.