Association for Environmental & Outdoor education

environmental educator certification program (EECP)

The 2021-2022 program application period will be opening soon. Click here to add your contact information to this interest form to be notified when the application period opens for next year's cohort!

Are you interested in becoming certified as an environmental educator? Come to one of our free info sessions to learn more. Bring your questions! Sign up at


The environmentally literate Californian

The air, water, land, and organisms of this planet make human life possible. It is imperative that society works toward growing a citizenry of environmentally literate individuals. Californians who are thoughtful, critical, and interested in learning about nature and how it functions can make informed decisions that improve the quality of life in their communities. They are able to assess values, evaluate issues, predict consequences, and make positive changes in the world around them.

An environmentally literate person understands ecological systems and how natural processes are interconnected and actively works for sustainable outcomes, considering the impact of their actions today and in the future, and expresses themselves as citizens of their community, country, and planet through voting, civic action, service, and conscientious choices. A world full of environmentally literate individuals can ultimately lead to healthy communities and societies committed to sustainable habits fueled by creative alternatives and a common respect for the resources that sustain us.

In the high tech, fast-paced world in which we live, the role of the environmental educator is increasingly important. The role of an environmental educator is to support the development of environmentally literate citizens. Environmental educators do not tell their audience what to think, but rather guide them in understanding the world around them. They reveal the wonders of this planet and the processes behind it to their students. Environmental educators share the joy of nature, and humanity’s place in it. An environmental educator demonstrates place-based best practices in teaching about the environment in an inclusive, experiential, and engaging manner. While we commend and celebrate environmental education in all formats, AEOE believes that environmental education is best optimized in outdoor settings, where students can experience natural systems firsthand. This program has been designed to reflect our commitment to outdoor learning.

Who should get certified?

Anyone who currently teaches about the environment could benefit from becoming a certified environmental educator. You may consider yourself a formal, non-formal, or informal educator. You may teach, or want to teach in public or private sectors of education. Examples of professions that may be interested in the certification include, but are not limited to, PreK-12th grade school teachers, nature center employees, state park interpreters, naturalists, community educators, college professors, and instructors of residential environmental or outdoor science education.  

This program has been designed with experienced educators in mind; that is, the EECP should not be your first foray into environmental education, nor do we expect that you are a seasoned veteran. Program participants will need to have completed at least two seasons or semesters of relevant teaching experience prior to starting the program and are eager to enhance their professional experience and refine their craft.

With such a diverse field, how can we categorize environmental educators into one group, and why would we want to? The answer lies in the benefits that come through certification.

Why should we have a certification process? 

The Environmental Educator Certification Program (EECP) draws together stewards and educators of the environment into a structured and effective initiative. Certification is a public declaration that a certain individual meets a stringent level of requirements and has a specific set of skills. People we rely upon for their knowledge – such as medical assistants, plumbers, firefighters, legal aides – have certification processes within their respective fields. The benefit of an established certification process extends to the individual, the public, and the field itself. Having the EECP enhances the legitimacy of the profession by building a uniform foundation in effectively teaching about the environment. Additionally, through participation in the certification program, educators will expand their professional networks, make important connections across the state, and better understand the full spectrum of environmental education careers available.

Should I get certified?

The process of certification allows the individual environmental educator to further their understanding of key environmental topics and improve their craft. As candidates go through the certification process, they will find opportunities for personal growth and learning while building professional contacts through shared experiences. Stretching into new comfort zones, learning new skills, developing interdisciplinary thinking, and learning with others will inherently transition to becoming a better educator in whatever role a candidate holds or aspires to achieve. As part of a group of motivated individuals, networking with other environmental educators around the state can also lead to new and exciting employment opportunities. Upon certification, candidates will be recognized for their accomplishments and hence, will experience increased marketability. Certified environmental educators will be viewed as rising leaders in the profession and will be better equipped to make a positive impact in their communities. 

How is the EECP good for California?

For the public, having a certification process allows someone from outside, or within the field of environmental education (EE) to recognize that a certificate holder has met a uniform set of standards and has a known set of skills and experiences. This uniformity of standards can satisfy a potential employer or other community member that the certificate holder can be expected to have a common set of skills and experiences regardless of their educational or work background. Certification has the goal of intentionally fostering community leaders who can integrate science fields in a teachable method, which benefits the community in innumerable ways. 

For the profession, a certification process with predictability and high standards elevates the field of EE as a true profession. As the cadre of certified environmental educators grows, public awareness will lead to increased respect and appreciation for the field as a whole. 

Requirements for Certification 

To obtain EE certification, candidates must successfully participate in all program elements and demonstrate competency in the themes outlined below, in addition to completion of a Final Action Project to be presented at AEOE’s spring statewide conference. 

Candidate criteria

In order to be accepted into the program, EECP candidates must meet the following criteria:

    • Have completed at least two semesters/seasons of relevant teaching experience
    • Live and work in California
    • Have reliable internet access and access to a computer/tablet
    • Ability to devote an average of 2-4 hours/week to online meetings and program requirements
    • Be actively working in the field of EE (note: given the reality of how deeply COVID-19 has impacted our field, the active employment requirement will be waived for the 2020-2021 program year; that said, if not actively employed, some program elements will need to be creatively addressed to complete as evidence of and reflection on current practice is required)

 Prior to beginning the EECP program, candidates must:

    • complete an application (the application period is now closed)
    • pay the $25 non-refundable application fee

If accepted, candidates must:

    • complete a self-assessment, and 
    • pay the required program fee (chosen voluntarily: $300 at scholarship level, $350 regular level, or $400 at a contributor level)

Program Scholarships 

For the pilot 2020-2021 Environmental Educator Certification Program, four partial scholarships (totaling $150 each) are available for individuals that identify as a member of a community that has historically and systemically been marginalized in the field of Environmental Education (EE). Two of the scholarships are specifically designated for individuals that identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC).

Program Elements: 

    • Cohort Participation: Each participant is placed in either a northern or southern cohort (combined in the pilot year) comprising approximately 20 members. Meetings will occur 1-2x/month during evenings and weekends.
    • Conference Attendance: Fall regional conference attendance, which includes in-person cohort sessions (likely offered virtually during fall 2020). Spring statewide conference attendance, at which final action projects are presented. 
    • Engagement in Online Learning Community: Group discussions, chat, and digital submission of assignments. 
    • Completion of Online Independent Learning: Includes articles, videos, and learning modules (e.g. online learning modules developed by NAAEE).
    • Independent Professional Development: Individually selected PD or training sanctioned by AEOE.
    • Final Action Project: The program will culminate with a project that provides a summary of the skills and knowledge gained and positively impacts the candidate’s community. These projects will be presented at the spring statewide conference. 
    • Mentorship: Each participant will be matched with a mentor in the field of EE with whom they will meet on a monthly basis virtually (or face-to-face if feasible) in small groups to set professional learning goals and discuss the culminating final project. 

Content: The EECP content is based on NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence, with supplementary components based on California’s ecology and the diverse needs of our state.

Description of a Certified Environmental Educator in California

While environmental educators come with a variety of backgrounds and work in a variety of settings, there is a core set of characteristics that all environmental educators should possess. The requirements of the certification program are designed to assess and ensure that all candidates demonstrate aptitude in the following areas:  

A Certified Environmental Educator in California…

    • Continually strives to improve their skills and knowledge 
    • Has an awareness of significant events in EE history, current and historical environmental issues, and EE resources within the state of California 
    • Teaches and communicates effectively with a diverse audience – for example, with participants who: come from a variety of socio-economic and racial/ethic backgrounds, have a range of experience and comfort in the outdoors, are of varying ages and developmental levels, etc.
    • Exhibits the skills and ability to critically analyze current environmental issues 
    • Distinguishes between education and advocacy
    • Demonstrates leadership and collaboration in the EE community 
    • Takes actionable steps to improve their community

The characteristics of a certified environmental educator were formulated by the EECP Steering Committee and derived in part from the Core Competencies published by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Click here to learn more about the program, including operational policies such as recertification and reciprocity with other states

Note: Membership isn't required prior to applying for EECP, but you will need to create an account if you don't have one already. One year of membership is included in the program fee. For current members, your membership will be extended one full year past the expiration date.


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