South Carolina Environmental Literacy Plan

Executive Summary

A road  map to a strong, healthy, well-informed, and economically robust South Carolina


“Smiling faces beautiful places”

South Carolina is blessed with tremendous natural resources and gorgeous landscapes from the majestic Appalachian mountains, to the rolling hills and prairies of the Piedmont, to the coastal estuaries and beaches that are covered in a web of waterways and lakes that stretch across the state and support a myriad wildlife and people. Widespread, bipartisan support has led to unmatched achievements in land conservation and historic preservation. These natural and cultural assets are a major part of what attracts millions of visitors, new residents and companies to our state and are major contributors to the local economy.

At the same time, South Carolina faces many challenges as growth demands and environmental threats impact infrastructure, energy, housing, health, agriculture, water and air quality.

It is urgent for our citizens to have a basic understanding of how human societies interact with the natural systems so that people can make informed decisions about issues affecting the economy, human health, public safety, and can promote development that maintains high-quality of life for all citizens.

Having an informed population that is literate about South Carolina’s natural assets is critical to maintain the quality of life that people come to the state to enjoy.



Environmental education is the process that leads to the outcome of environmental literacy.

Environmental Education (EE)  It is the process in which individuals become more aware of the their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, and experiences in order to engage in problem solving and make informed decisions.

It can be going for a walk in the woods, catching a fish, looking for salamanders, going on a hunting trip, studying scientific concepts, climbing a tree, visiting a farm, planting a garden, cleaning out a storm drain, flying a kite or any other activity that leads to a broader understanding of the natural world and systems.  Many great inventions, scientific discoveries and works of art and literature have drawn inspiration from the natural world.

Environmental literacy “is the capacity of an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably.” An environmentally literate person, both individually and together with others, makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions to improve the wellbeing of other individuals, societies, and the global environment; and participates in civic life.

Environmentally literate individuals can draw from a large body of knowledge and experiences and use critical thinking skills to take action individually or collectively to ensure a better future. They use what they learn from reliable data to help make decisions related to things like consumer purchases, septic systems, compost piles, fertilizer, land use, pollution mitigation, energy conservation, transportation choices, wildlife habitat, invasive species, gardening practices, food choices, construction and the exercising of their rights as citizens.


The rapidly expanding population has increased demand for development, housing and improvements in infrastructure.

There is an urgent need for an environmentally literate population that can make informed decisions to face the myriad of challenges to ensure a better future for South Carolina. Every aspect of our lives is affected by the environment from food production to water supply, transportation, energy and more.  Knowledge about energy resources, water sources, soils, pests, flora and fauna, geology, and basic geography helps us to make better decisions about where to build roads, how to maintain our health, what to purchase and how to conserve water and other resources.

Environmental Literacy is important for education in South Carolina

  • More young people spend copious amounts of time indoors, in front of screens and less time exploring outdoors.
  • A positive impact on academic achievement and the reduction of discipline problems, leading to greater student success.
  • Development of “soft skills” like decision making, interpersonal relationships and leadership.
  • Helping students get a better grasp on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).  For example: The growing field of “biomimicry” has been used by companies like Boeing, who have studied the natural world for ideas in engineering and design.

Environmental Literacy is important for the economy of South Carolina

  • South Carolina has numerous national, state, county, and city parks, wildlife refuges, museums, zoos and other facilities that support people and wildlife throughout the state.
  • South Carolina enjoys widespread, bipartisan support for land conservation and historic preservation which has led to a thriving tourism and outdoor recreation industry.  For example: This has led to amazing collaborative accomplishments like the formation of the ACE Basin, which is considered a model for the rest of the country.
  • The businesses that provide services and supplies for outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, boating, surfing, kayaking, birding and others make huge contributions to the South Carolina economy.
  • There are numerous fields where people can get involved in studying, monitoring, and maintaining the environment we live in. Managing development, water resources, building codes, engineering, transportation infrastructure and agriculture is an ongoing effort.
  • Many new inventions, scientific discoveries, engineering feats and innovative technologies have historically come from a greater understanding of the natural processes.  For example: South Carolina’s agriculture such as peach and soybean production as well as numerous small and midsize family farms are vulnerable to environmental threats and pollution. Fisheries and waterways have been impacted by development, invasive species and other environmental issues.

Environmental Literacy is important for public health

  • The state faces increased threats from fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, invasive species, blight, and drought.  There is also a heightened awareness of insect and bird borne disease like Zika, Dengue, H1N1, and other public health concerns.
  • Attention deficit, hyperactive disorder and addiction are on the rise nationwide.  South Carolina has some of the highest numbers of cases of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
  • Recent studies have shown that outdoor activities in nature help with basic physical and mental well being that improves health, productivity and can lead to a happier life.


The environmental education plan will help to align South Carolina stakeholders with federal legislation as well as initiatives around the world, and will prepare them for additional funding for those efforts.

The plan will use published research, content experts, and state standards to provide guidelines to help broaden students’ exposure to state resources, strengthen their understanding of natural processes and increase their empathy. The plan will help stakeholders form collaborations, reduce redundancy and strengthen connections to local and international efforts. The plan will help set goals and provide a clear pathway to meet those goals. The result will be a healthier, more informed citizenry and a workforce which will lead to a better future for South Carolina people and places.

The SC environmental literacy plan is not another new thing to overwhelm teachers. This plan aims to help educators teach what they are already teaching using well researched, proven techniques that are fun and effective for both teachers and students.

The plan provides access to reliable data and strategies to help educators align with existing content standards and comply with recent legislation outlined in the Every Child Succeeds Act.

By coordinating existing programs and model programs, this plan aims to provide educators with resources to aid and enhance what they are already doing. This plan will also help educators become more aware of the resources available to them and connect them with people and experts that can help them with implementation.

Time out in nature has been shown to improve cognitive ability and has led to a 50% better performance on creative problem-solving activities. (Strayer 2016)

State high school graduation requirements already state that students maintain a certain level of environmentally literacy.



Provide guidance and resources for formal and informal educators to incorporate environmental education in effective ways in order to enhance their teaching

Strategy 1 Coordinate Efforts:

  • Inventory existing environmental education resources available to educators in South Carolina
  • Build a consortium of stakeholders who will develop strategies to expand the reach of environmental education and make it relevant to diverse audiences throughout the state. Build on the work already started by the EECapacity project
  • Use data from focus groups of formal and informal educators to determine the best way to make environmental education resources accessible, easy to search and easy to use to enhance existing programs, then implement the strategy
  • Link to local, state, regional, national and international EE initiatives such as the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance, The North American Association for Environmental Education, Environmental Protection Agency, EE Capacity, Environmental Education Association of South Carolina, South Carolina Marine Educators Alliance, and others
  • Demonstrate the correlation of EE to South Carolina content standards and federal legislation and emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of EE to meet education goals
  • Illustrate the benefits of EE for high school graduation, college admission, and career opportunities
  • Conduct a statewide campaign to make sure educators are aware of the EE resources available to them and their relevance to what they are already teaching
  • Identify, support and expand successful EE professional development opportunities so they are accessible to more teachers throughout the state including under served  areas

Formal Educators

  • Help those studying to become educators to understand the benefits of EE and the importance to incorporate EE into their teaching careers
  • Encourage colleges and universities to include NAAEE Environmental Education Standards into their pre-service curriculum for aspiring teachers and provide them with access to EE resources
  • Encourage school boards, administrators, and the Local Professional Development Committees who monitor the renewal of teaching licenses to accept and, if possible, require EE professional development
  • Provide practical examples of how teachers can use school facilities and surrounding areas as laboratories to help reach education goals
  • Encourage interaction between stakeholders from the public and private sector to foster effective EE programs
  • Support Ocean literacy through organizations such as SC Marine Educator Association and COSTEE and help them expand their reach to other

Informal Educators

  • Help informal educators and EE service providers with resources to align with school curriculum and statewide educational goals
  • Foster collaborations and joint use agreements to utilize local camps, nature centers, parks, gardens, farms, wildlife refuges and open spaces for environmental education
  • Help to remove barriers to teaching outdoors such as ensuring safety, limiting liability, and providing research that will garner support and address parental concerns
  • Identify, cultivate, and grow funding opportunities for environmental education through grants, business, and individual donations and make them easily accessible to support worthy EE projects
  • Provide access to professional development opportunities for informal educators (NAI, NAAEE, SCMEA, ) ect..
  • Develop best practices for successful informal education providers


The South Carolina economy is deeply connected to natural resource management.

It is important to have an environmentally literate population that will make decisions in regards to important matters such as: the growing outdoor recreation and tourism industry; how we produce and conserve energy; how we grow food and support our farmers; our ability to reduce pollution and provide clean, safe drinking water; the areas for wildlife habitat and living laboratories for scientific discoveries; how we build homes and use land; the ability to attract, develop and retain a quality workforce and maintain a high standard of living for all citizens.  These are all important parts of economic development and quality of life in the state.

South Carolina is a leader in land conservation and historic preservation. The state is blessed with unique ecosystems, majestic landscapes and vast expanses of protected lands that support some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. This has contributed to a thriving outdoor economy. As habitats in other parts of the country continue to shrink in the face of human development, South Carolina’s conservation areas will continue to grow in value and be a desirable destination for animals and nature enthusiasts alike. The protected swamps, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, barriers islands and the creatures that inhabit them may serve as renewable resources that can benefit South Carolina’s economy for years to come.

The future survival of these valuable natural and cultural assets depends on our ability to build awareness to a wider audience and to balance economic growth with conservation and preservation efforts.  Environmental education will be important to make this happen.


Tourism is the largest part of the South Carolina economy with nature and cultural tourism are growing trends around the world.  There is a 2 trillion dollar industry and it is growing at a rate of 5% annually.  Nature tourism and cultural tourism are some of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry.

According to the 2012 OIA report, the outdoor recreation industry contributed $646 billion dollars to the US economy and created over $6.1 million American jobs.  In 2009, the USC Moore School of Business produced a report that showed the “Underappreciated Assets” clearly tied to the state’s natural resources (not including agriculture), accounted for $30 billion dollars in South Carolina’s economic output and was responsible for employing over 230 million people in the state.

Wildlife viewing is one of the strongest segments of the outdoor economy, with birders making up the largest group according to US Fish and Wildlife report.

Hunting and fishing licenses play a huge role in generating revenue for conservation efforts.

There are 47 facilities that the SC State Park Service administers, 7 National Park Service properties, 2 national forests, and 8 wildlife refuges in South Carolina. South Carolina has some excellent zoos, aquariums, and museums. The ACE Basin is almost 650K acres of protected wildlife and has become a model for the rest of the country for land conservation through private and public partnerships.  The outdoor retail industry is also a huge contributor to the economy.  South Carolina is home to huge retail companies, like Confluence watersports, Half Moon Outfitters, and the Backpacker who provide employment and manufacturing jobs.

Although these natural and cultural assets attract thousands of visitors each year, many South Carolina citizens are unaware of them and their importance.  The evidence has shown that people are spending more time indoors and disconnected with nature. Some people face economic and cultural barriers and have never developed an interest in exploring and learning from the outdoors.  There is a lack of diversity in both visitors and employees at nature centers and in outdoor recreation service providers.



Increase access South Carolina outdoor experiences and natural resource education to a wider audience and develop the outdoor economy.

  • Compile solid research to educate the general public and elected officials on the importance of natural and cultural treasures and promote advocacy
  • Build a task force of collaborators from public, private, and nonprofit sector to address the concerns related to the outdoor industry
  • Promote marketing efforts such as the South Carolina Great Outdoors Project to help increase visitation, funding and support for  local camps, nature centers, parks , community gardens, farms, historic sites, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, museums, and other related sites
  • Provide access to resources for best practices and encourage collaborations to help build success
  • Illustrate the value of blueways, bicycle paths, and hiking trails and promote support for creation, use, and maintenance
  • Expand awareness, education and access for schools to utilize natural and historical sites for teaching
  • Address barriers to access such as transportation, litigation, funding for field trips, mindset, native language/culture
  • Provide training for addressing the needs of diverse audiences and working in under served communities
  • Promote the benefits of outdoor recreation and environmental education
  • Support sustainable fishing and hunting education and promote awareness
  • Build awareness about employment opportunities and help develop a diverse, quality workforce for the outdoor industry

Workforce Development Attracting and Retaining talent

Use environmental education to cultivate interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, the Arts, and Humanities and develop, attract, and retain a happy, healthy, and productive workforce that continues to help prosperity flourish in the state.


The economy and quality of life of the people of South Carolina are dependent on the skills and attitudes of the citizens.  As more people move to the state, there is a growing need to find qualified people to address the issues, especially with regard to infrastructure, energy, housing, health, agriculture, water and air quality and the growing outdoor recreation industry.  There has been a tremendous push to increase education in the areas of STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This is also important to the many companies that choose South Carolina as their home, who continuously express their need to develop, attract and retain a quality workforce. They look to the  beauty, climate, and opportunities of the state to give them a competitive advantage.


Environmental education can be used to cultivate interest in science, technology, engineering and math as well as workforce development.


Many advances in medicine have been developed from studying how different organisms interact with the environment.  This has helped the South Carolina thriving bio-tech sector develop.

Many companies have expressed the importance of soft skills, like interpersonal relations, teamwork, and leadership, in their workers. Outdoor learning has been shown to help to build these soft skills as well as to inspire inquiry, problem-solving and critical thinking skills in students.

The results of an environmentally literate population who are active outdoors can help inspire innovation, reduce numbers of sick days, help productivity, and improve the overall well-being of the workforce.

South Carolina is a leader in land conservation and historic preservation. The state is blessed with unique ecosystems, majestic landscapes and vast expanses of protected lands that support some of the most diverse wildlife in the world. This has contributed to a thriving outdoor economy. Studies from the SCDNR and Outdoor Industry Association have shown that outdoor recreation such as hiking, biking, water sports, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing contribute over  $30 billion dollars in South Carolina’s economic output and was responsible for employing over 230 million people in the state. The industry continues to grow year after year.  This inspired Governor Nikki Haley to make a proclamation in support of Outdoors Month.

As habitats in other parts of the country continue to shrink in the face of human development, South Carolina’s conservation areas will continue to grow in value and be a desirable destination for animals and nature enthusiasts alike. The protected swamps, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, barriers islands and the creatures that inhabit them may serve as renewable resources that can benefit South Carolina’s economy for years to come.

The future survival of these valuable natural and cultural assets depends on our ability to build awareness to a wider audience and balance economic growth with conservation and preservation efforts.  Environmental education will be important to make this happen.

Strategies Workforce Development:

  • Form strategic partnerships with the SC Chamber of Commerce and educators from K12 and higher education.
  • Help facilitate communication with businesses and educators to develop EE programs that lead to environmental literacy and career opportunities
  • Coordinate programs for K12 and college students that build necessary skills
  • Work with companies to allow employees to become more aware and have access to outdoor experiences
  • Support successful models of EE programs that inspire for engineering and design
  • Help schools organize field trips to higher education and businesses to cultivate interest in STEM careers
  • Support EE programs that help build ocean literacy
  • Support EE programs that build on the arts and humanities
  • Build alliances to support utilities and energy companies to support EE programs that build energy education.  Coordinate with successful energy education program efficiency
  • Encourage EE programs that address transportation issues and reduce traffic congestion and pollution
  • Support entrepreneurship in EE


Use environmental education to encourage healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, reduce obesity and maintain a high quality of life for all citizens


Environmental education helps people to be aware behaviors of threats to the environment that can affect their drinking water, air quality, and safety. Environmental education can build awareness and help citizens take actions that can reduce threats and save their lives.

As people become more aware of environmental issues, they are more likely to change behaviors related to litter, pollution and wasting resources.  This also leads to more community pride and civic engagement.

South Carolina has a serious problem with obesity and related illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. Trends show that people are spending less time in the outdoors. Time spent learning outside has been shown to help with the physical and mental wellness.

Many studies have confirmed that physical activity outside has many health benefits. Going for a walk, working in the garden, riding a bicycle, or taking part in paddle sports, burns calories, reduces obesity, and improves cardiovascular function.

Time outside in nature also has been shown to help reduce stress, improve mental efficiency and reduce the effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder better than exercise indoors.

Education about food and nutrition can also have a positive effect on health and the environment.

Access to natural areas and nature-based activities helps to improve the overall quality of life of citizens.  Healthy people who spend time being active in nature tend to have a positive outlook on life.


Maintain a high quality of life for all citizens


Our understanding of the environment will help us make informed decisions that will impact the ability of all citizens to lead, happy, healthy, productive lives.

Simple behaviors can make a huge difference in issues such as litter, pollution, energy consumption, and air and water quality.

How we get to work or school and recreation affects traffic congestion and air pollution and our ability to safely get to where we need to go throughout the day and maintain a positive mental attitude.*****

The way we approach land management and landscaping practices can have an influence on the surrounding environment.

Understanding how our food and shopping choices affect our health and local economy.

Not all neighborhoods are created equal.  Careful planning and coordination with residents will have an affect on people’s ability to get to where they need to go in order make a living and maintain a healthy and happy household. It will also affect land values and desirability of the area.

Our choices will make the difference of whether we will be able to maintain the beauty that draws so many people to South Carolina and will help create the love and fond memories of those who have grown up here.


  • Support education that will reduce litter and build community pride
  • Encourage creation and conservation of green space within new and existing neighborhoods
  • Encourage access and conservation of natural areas that provide recreation opportunities and healthy environments
  • Promote education about exotic plants and best practices for landscaping and property management
  • Support education about exotic animals and pets and how they can have an adverse affect on the surrounding environment and ecosystems
  • Support education on recycling and disposal of toxic waste
  • Support education about point source pollution and best practices for managing pet waste,  maintaining and washing motor vehicles, using pesticides and fertilizers, and other activities that affect water quality
  • Encourage education on behaviors that reduce energy consumption, save money for property owners, and reduce air pollution
  • Promote green building practices
  • Encourage creation and use of safe routes for bicycles and pedestrians
  • Support socially and environmentally considerate business practices
  • Encourage healthy food choices and support local farmers
  • Promote civic engagement


Gather evidence that documents improvement in environmental literacy and environmental conscience behavior and record the social and economic benefits to the state

How will the state agency measure the plan?

Key Strategies

  • Identify funding sources for environmental literacy assessment
  • Organize an environmental literacy assessment team
  • Identify existing sources of environmental literacy assessment data from school districts, EE providers, state and federal agencies, parks and recreation facilities, surveys and other relevant sources such as: state achievement tests, current university studies, demographic data of EE program participants, high-school graduation programs, college entrance exams, and other relevant data
  • Identify gaps in data collection and design mechanisms for a more comprehensive assessment of environmental literacy. (identify successful data collection mechanisms from other states that can be modified for South Carolina)
  • Aggregate data and establish a baseline for the current state of environmental literacy in South Carolina
  • Schedule regular collection and analysis of data and monitor progress towards environmental literacy goals outlined in the SC Environmental Literacy Plan
  • Identify methods to measure and document environmentally friendly behavior changes such as reduction of litter, energy conservation, reduction point source pollution, transportation
  • Measure key indicators for economic, health, and quality of life improvements relative to improvement in environmental literacy
  • Compile data into an annual report
  • Modify plan every 3-5years to be more effective and adjust to changing circumstances


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