Philosophy & Frameworks


The philosophy for SMCOE's Environmental Literacy Initiative is grounded in the idea that in order to create a more sustainable, equitable, and peaceful world, schools and the education system must be reimagined. This philosophy stems from the work of Zoe Weil, who wrote The World Becomes What We Teach. This manifesto for the future of education, calls on schools to be a major leverage point for a sustainable paradigm shift. In doing so, schools must fundamentally shift in philosophy and structure in order to prepare the next generation to be solutionaries - young people with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to create a better future.

THE HOW & WHERE: Whole School Sustainability Integration

The 4Cs of Whole-School Sustainability Integration Model helps clarify how and where to operationalize The World Becomes What We Teach philosophy. The 4Cs refers to environmental sustainability happening across all aspects (4Cs) of the institution:

  • Campus - Facilities and Operations: Greening the facilities and operations of a school to reduce the ecological footprint, and implementing inclusive and socially just practices. This allows the campus to be leveraged as a laboratory for learning, and a model for a sustainable future.
  • Curriculum and Instruction: Education for Sustainability (EfS) is integrated across all subject areas and grade levels, and students receive multiple opportunities for building knowledge, utilizing skills and values that are grounded in problem based and solutionary learning, and learning and playing outdoors.
  • Community programs and partnerships: There are programs and opportunities for bringing the community together around important environmental sustainability topics and issues, and the community walks the talk of sustainability in all community engagement programs (i.e. athletics, ASB, afterschool programs, etc...). There are strategic community based partnerships, and advocacy from the school community for a sustainable region (i.e. municipalities, business, etc...).
  • Culture: All of these efforts shift the overall institutional culture so that sustainability becomes fully integrated into all aspects of daily life in the school community and beyond.

THE WHAT: One Planet Living

The guiding framework for what needs to be achieved for an environmentally sustainable and socially just school community, is embodied in the One Planet Living Framework. This framework is based on ten principles (categories) that aim to bring forward the vision of a world in which people enjoy happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness. By taking action in each category, communities create pathways for individuals to engage with a sustainable lifestyle, and reduce their overall ecological footprint. The One Planet Framework provides structure for what to focus efforts on within a school community's Campus, Curriculum, and Community engagement programs.


Bringing sustainability and environmental literacy to a school community means a change to the status quo. Therefore, it is important that champions become well versed in change theory and change management processes. As the realities of Climate Change become more and more present, integrating environmental sustainability and environmental literacy into a school communities becomes more inevitable than voluntary. Additionally, in the state of California (and in many other cities and states), there is a considerable amount of policy and mandates that are pushing schools and communities to green their facilities and operations and help educate the public on issues related to the environment. Therefore, a good change theory to utilize is the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (1969). Further, it is recommended that change makers consider how to engage people along the change spectrum (see example from MossWarner below).

To see a quick overview to other change management models (i.e. Lewin's Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze, ADKAR Model, Kotter's 8 Step Model of Change, etc.) click here.

One other consideration for change management is whether not to approach this work from the top-down or bottom-up (grassroots). Sustainability and Environmental Literacy require all-hands-on-deck; therefore, the most successful initiatives will be a mix of top-level leadership and grassroots stakeholders. For more thoughts on top-down vs. bottom-up efforts see Zoe Weil's recent article in Psychology Today, "How to Make Real Change Happen".

The Timeline FOR CHANGE

A final consideration for district and schools that seek to integrate environmental sustainability and environmental literacy is in regards to what level of commitment (mild - medium - spicy) is right for their school community. Each level of commitment comes with an associated time frame, outcomes, and investment.

10+ Years: The MILD approach to Whole-School Sustainability Integration generally means that the community stays fairly status quo with pockets of success and activity the lead to low-level incremental changes over time. There is often little direction from leadership, and the process for change is unclear. While this method requires little investment of resources and personnel, there is enough support that teachers and students are allowed to try and make a difference. However, the slow pace of change can often lead to frustration for students who graduate before seeing any significant change, and burn-out for teachers who are actively trying to make a difference.

4-7 Years: The MEDIUM approach to Whole-School Sustainability Integration often means that a school community has both grassroots efforts and leadership coming to an agreement to tackle 1-2 One Planet Principles at a time. There is more direction from leadership, and the process for change becomes more clear with each success. This method requires more investment of resources and personnel, which will pay-off as dedicated champions become more organized and systemic.

2-4 Years: The SPICY approach to Whole-School Sustainability Integration means that a school community has strong grassroots efforts and strong commitment and direction from leadership. A comprehensive strategic plan and process for change are established from the beginning for all 4Cs: Campus, Curriculum, Community and Culture. The spicy method requires upfront investment of resources and personnel, including dedicated and compensated sustainability/environmental literacy coordinator(s). Transformation can be seen immediately, and all stakeholders will be engaged from the start.