For many years, the environmental education field has focused on providing high-caliber programs to address the lack of environmental literacy being seen in our society. It is past time to turn our attention to scale, reach, and equity.
The Landscape of Environmental Education Providers
in the U.S. Southeast
Published October 2020; Updated September 2023
Brought to you by
A collaboration between
Funded in part by
There are numerous organizations providing high-quality environmental education (EE) programs across the southeast. Environmental Education is a process that helps individuals, communities and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about how to address global challenges (NAAEE, 2022). The southeast faces issues that are common across the country. Most programs operate independently of one another, and little has been done to harness the collective impact of these programs to create large-scale change in each state or throughout the region. Funding often goes toward local, disjointed initiatives rather than larger-scale, capacity-building initiatives. This makes it challenging to sustain these projects in the long term or to extend the impact beyond the local community.
The additional challenge in addressing education issues such as environmental literacy is that there is no central system to work within. The academic standards used to develop and analyze curriculum vary substantially from one state to another. And because most states are “local-control states” (meaning education is governed at the county or district level), even within a single state education can look very different from one county to another.
Aware of these challenges, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) conducted a landscape analysis of environmental education efforts in the southeast. This analysis was designed to take a comprehensive look at the environmental education already happening on the ground, identify gaps and barriers to access that prevent successful implementation, and provide recommendations and next steps for increasing environmental literacy efforts in the southeast. This analysis will equip the organizations conducting environmental and conservation-related work in the region with the resources they need to address gaps, allocate resources more effectively, and ultimately meet the goal of increasing environmental literacy levels and stewardship behaviors.
In addition, the analysis will serve as a guide for future strategic-planning efforts in individual states, as well as the regional SEEA collaborative. As a tool, it will help ensure that in the future we continue to focus our limited time and resources in areas where we will have the biggest impact.
Through stakeholder use of this report, educators will have the tools they need to increase the number of students receiving high quality environmental education and broaden the competency of those students to demonstrate improved environmental literacy and age-appropriate stewardship behaviors. Educators and providers will be able to target their efforts in the areas with the highest need, whether that need is demographic, geographic, and/or content based.
A Summary for Busy People
For many years, the environmental education field has focused on providing high-caliber programs to address the lack of environmental literacy being seen in our society. It is past time to turn our attention to scale, reach, and equity. To that end, this project provides:
a comprehensive look at organizational reach and program offerings
a better understanding of the staffing, structure, and funding of organizations and how that affects reach and sustainability
organizational strategies for scaling programs for broader, equitable reach
state-level initiatives for scaling programs for broader, equitable reach
state and regional findings to inform future strategic planning efforts
646 reporting programs across eight states
2,194,272 students/youth served annually across all programs
16,355 schools served annually
79,857 volunteers across all programs
Not all programs responded to the request; therefore, this sample is not necessarily representative of the population as a whole.
Many variables that were used for data collection (e.g., starting rate) do not provide clear means of comparison with other widely available national datasets (e.g., median salary and wages). These issues should be addressed in future iterations of the survey.
Many programs serve multiple counties, making it difficult to accurately determine the scope of services, including gaps and overlaps.
Staff and leadership do not reflect the overall demographics of the state.
The average entry level salary for environmental educators is 15-25% lower than comparable fields.
There is a need to increase opportunities for engagement at the early childhood and high school level in order for students to receive the same level of engagement in environmental education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
There is a need for more support and training around the importance of evaluating programs and better tools to help providers do this in a meaningful way that allows them to strengthen their programs.
There are gaps in services found across the region in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, and areas with the lowest income.
There is a need for additional support and training around the importance of collecting demographic information and how it can be used to strengthen programs and opportunities for broader engagement.
The main driver of this project was to gain an enhanced understanding of the environmental education providers in the southeast who are working towards the same or similar goals. Through the design and implementation of an environmental education program provider survey tool, we engaged in a robust mapping process to gather and share the insights and offerings of 646 organizations across the southeast. The survey was designed not only to determine who the players were but also to provide a baseline dataset of the current assets and barriers in our field so that we would be equipped to take a more holistic approach to advancing environmental literacy efforts in the region.
At the onset of this project, the leadership team — composed of the Project Director (Ashley Hoffman), Strategy Consultant (Vanessa Morel), and a State Coordinator from the state environmental education associations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee — spent a considerable amount of time gathering information and insights from other groups who have completed similar analyses, determining what kind of information various partners would like to see in our analysis, and discussing potential partnerships. It was these conversations that led us to a collaboration with EcoRise and the University of Texas. EcoRise had already invested significant resources in survey design as well as data management, analytics, and visualization for their work in Texas and Louisiana. We engaged in an intensive process to merge our surveys and create baseline questions that can serve as a standard for our states as well as a nationwide effort. There are numerous other states that have expressed an interest in adopting this survey tool, which would allow us to compare data beyond the southern US to provide a national perspective on the field.
After merging our survey tool with EcoRise, SEEA launched the regional survey tool through Google Forms on March 17, 2021, across the eight southeast states.
Once the data-collection period closed, our team spent several weeks cleaning the data; this included removing duplicate entries, searching for errors in data reporting, standardizing organizational names, and cross checking information for accuracy. After this concerted outreach effort that included numerous follow-up emails and personal phone calls, we completed this step and saw that we had collected a solid dataset, with 646 organizations (to date) submitting from: Business/LLC (7%); Local, City, State or Federal Government (35%); Higher Education Institutions (12%); and Nonprofit (44%).