If you’re involved in Scouting, you likely spend more time outdoors than most people. But how well do you understand the science of nature? To become an Eagle Scout, a Scout must broaden their understanding of the outdoor ecosystem by earning either the sustainability or environmental science merit badge.
Environmental Science or Sustainability? The Environmental Science Badge requires thorough research but can be finished in under a week, whereas the Sustainability Badge requires less research but will take at least a month to complete. The Sustainability badge relates to your household while Environmental Science involves experiments or in-depth research within your community.
Both the Sustainability and Environmental Science merit badges will teach you important skills relating to conservation and our natural ecosystem. These Eagle-required badges provide the foundation for understanding how our actions relate to the outdoors. I’ll give you a full overview of both topics so that you can decide which badge is best for you to earn.
In this article, you’ll see a full comparison and analysis of the requirements you’ll need to complete to earn these two badges. I’ll cue you in on which requirements will likely be the easiest for you to finish, and give you some insider tips on how I approached earning these badges. At the bottom of the page, there’s a pdf you can download of the merit badge worksheet as well. Don’t be overwhelmed, you’ve got this! Only 6 requirements to go.
Sustainability Vs Environmental Science Requirements
1) Before starting work on any other requirements for this merit badge, write in your own words the meaning of sustainability. Explain how you think conservation and stewardship of our natural resources relate to sustainability. Have a family meeting, and ask family members to write down what they think sustainability means. Be sure to take notes. You will need this information again for requirement 5.
1) Make a timeline of the history of environmental science in America. Identify the contribution made by the Boy Scouts of America to environmental science. Include dates, names of people or organizations, and important events.
These two requirements can be completed in roughly the same amount of time. Personally, I chose to earn the Environmental Science badge and was able to finish the timeline in about 30 minutes. Since the Sustainability requirement is based on your initial perceptions, it also should be quick to complete. Overall, the first requirements are tied for difficulty and duration.
2) Do the following:
a. Explain to your counselor how the planetary life-support systems (soil, climate, freshwater, atmospheric, nutrient, oceanic, ecosystems, and species) support life on Earth and interact with one another.
b. Tell how the harvesting or production of raw materials (by extraction or recycling), along with distribution of the resulting products, consumption, and disposal/repurposing, influences current and future sustainability thinking and planning.
2) Define the following terms: population, community, ecosystem, biosphere, symbiosis, niche, habitat, conservation, threatened species, endangered species, extinction, pollution prevention, brownfield, ozone, watershed, airshed, nonpoint source, hybrid vehicle, fuel cell.
These two requirements are similar and involve defining technical terms. I would say that each requirement will take about an hour to complete if you’re researching using the internet (with your parent’s permission).
The Sustainability Badge’s requirement allows you to learn more applicable, everyday knowledge, which is why I find Sustainability requirement 2 to be the better option. These badges are still very even in terms of difficulty.
3) Do the following:
Water. Do A AND either B OR C.
A. Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce your family’s water usage. As a family, discuss water usage. To aid in your discussion, if past water bills are available, you may choose to examine a few. As a family, choose three ways to help reduce water consumption. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how you think your plan affected your family’s water usage
B. Using a diagram you have created, explain to your counselor how your household gets its clean water from a natural source and what happens with the water after you use it. Include water that goes down the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry drains, and any runoff from watering the yard or washing the car. Tell two ways to preserve your family’s access to clean water in the future.
C. Discuss with your counselor two areas in the world that have been affected by drought over the last three years. For each area, identify a water conservation practice (successful or unsuccessful) that has been used. Tell whether the practice was effective and why. Discuss what water conservation practice you would have tried and why.
Food. Do A AND either B OR C.
A. Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce your household food waste. Establish a baseline and then track and record your results for two weeks. Report your results to your family and counselor.
B. Discuss with your counselor the ways individuals, families, and communities can create their own food sources (potted plants, family garden, rooftop garden, neighborhood or community garden). Tell how this plan might contribute to a more sustainable way of life if practiced globally.
C. Discuss with your counselor factors that limit the availability of food and food production in different regions of the world. Tell three ways these factors influence the sustainability of worldwide food supplies.
Community. Do A AND either B OR C.
A. Draw a rough sketch depicting how you would design a sustainable community. Share your sketch with your counselor, and explain how the housing, work locations, shops, schools, and transportation systems affect energy, pollution, natural resources, and the economy of the community.
B. With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, interview a local architect, engineer, contractor, or building materials supplier. Find out the factors that are considered when using sustainable materials in renovating or building a home. Share what you learn with your counselor.
C. Review a current housing needs assessment for your town, city, county, or state. Discuss with your counselor how birth and death rates affect sufficient housing, and how a lack of housing—or too much housing—can influence the sustainability of a local or global area.
Energy. Do A AND either B OR C.
A. Learn about the sustainability of different energy sources, including fossil fuels, solar, wind, nuclear, hydropower, and geothermal. Find out how the production and consumption of each of these energy sources affects the environment and what the term “carbon footprint” means. Discuss what you learn with your counselor, and explain how you think your family can reduce its carbon footprint.
B. Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce consumption for one of your family’s household utilities. Examine your family’s bills for that utility reflecting usage for three months (past or current). As a family, choose three ways to help reduce consumption and be a better steward of this resource. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how your plan affected your family’s usage.
C. Evaluate your family’s fuel and transportation usage. Review your family’s transportation-related bills (gasoline, diesel, electric, public transportation, etc.) reflecting usage for three months (past or current). As a family, choose three ways to help reduce consumption and be a better steward of this resource. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how your plan affected your family’s transportation habits.
Stuff. Do A AND either B OR C.
A. Keep a log of the “stuff” your family purchases (excluding food items) for two weeks. In your log, categorize each purchase as an essential need (such as soap) or a desirable want (such as a DVD). Share what you learn with your counselor.
B. Plan a project that involves the participation of your family to identify the “stuff” your family no longer needs. Complete your project by donating, repurposing, or recycling these items.
C. Discuss with your counselor how having too much “stuff” affects you, your family, and your community. Include the following: the financial impact, time spent, maintenance, health, storage, and waste. Include in your discussion the practices that can be used to avoid accumulating too much “stuff.”
3) Do ONE activity from EACH of the following categories using the activities in the merit badge pamphlet as the basis for planning and projects):
1. Conduct an experiment to find out how living things respond to changes in their environments. Discuss your observations with your counselor.
2. Conduct an experiment illustrating the greenhouse effect. Keep a journal of your data and observations. Discuss your conclusions with your counselor.
3. Discuss what is an ecosystem. Tell how it is maintained in nature and how it survives.
b. Air Pollution
1. Perform an experiment to test for particulates that contribute to air pollution. Discuss your findings with your counselor.
2. Record the trips taken, mileage, and fuel consumption of a family car for seven days, and calculate how many miles per gallon the car gets. Determine whether any trips could have been combined (“chained”) rather than taken out and back. Using the idea of trip chaining, determine how many miles and gallons of gas could have been saved in those seven days.
3. Explain what is acid rain. In your explanation, tell how it affects plants and the environment and the steps society can take to help reduce its effects.
c. Water Pollution
1. Conduct an experiment to show how living things react to thermal pollution. Discuss your observations with your counselor.
2. Conduct an experiment to identify the methods that could be used to mediate (reduce) the effects of an oil spill on waterfowl. Discuss your results with your counselor.
3. Describe the impact of a waterborne pollutant on an aquatic community. Write a 100-word report on how that pollutant affected aquatic life, what the effect was, and whether the effect is linked to biomagnification.
d. Land Pollution
1. Conduct an experiment to illustrate soil erosion by water. Take photographs or make a drawing of the soil before and after your experiment, and make a poster showing your results. Present your poster to your counselor.
2. Perform an experiment to determine the effect of an oil spill on land. Discuss your conclusions with your counselor.
3. Photograph an area affected by erosion. Share your photographs with your counselor and discuss why the area has eroded and what might be done to help alleviate the erosion.
e. Endangered Species
1. Do research on one endangered species found in your state. Find out what its natural habitat is, why it is endangered, what is being done to preserve it, and how many individual organisms are left in the wild. Prepare a 100-word report about the organism, including a drawing. Present your report to your patrol or troop.
2. Do research on one species that was endangered or threatened but which has now recovered. Find out how the organism recovered, and what its new status is. Write a 100-word report on the species and discuss it with your counselor.
3. With your parent’s and counselor’s approval, work with a natural resource professional to identify two projects that have been approved to improve the habitat for a threatened or endangered species in your area. Visit the site of one of these projects and report on what you saw.
f. Pollution Prevention, Resource Recovery, and Conservation
1. Look around your home and determine 10 ways your family can help reduce pollution. Practice at least two of these methods for seven days and discuss with your counselor what you have learned.
2. Determine 10 ways to conserve resources or use resources more efficiently in your home, at school, or at camp. Practice at least two of these methods for seven days and discuss with your counselor what you have learned.
3. Perform an experiment on packaging materials to find out which ones are biodegradable. Discuss your conclusion with your counselor.
1. Using photographs or illustrations, point out the differences between a drone and a worker bee. Discuss the stages of bee development (eggs, larvae, pupae). Explain the pollination process, and what propolis is and how it is used by honey bees. Tell how bees make honey and beeswax, and how both are harvested. Explain the part played in the life of the hive by the queen, the drones, and the workers.
2. Present to your counselor a one-page report on how and why honey bees are used in pollinating food crops. In your report, discuss the problems faced by the bee population today, and the impact to humanity if there were no pollinators. Share your report with your troop or patrol, your class at school, or another group approved by your counselor.
3. (Must visit a physician to determine if you are allergic to bee stings beforehand) Halve a swarm OR divide at least one colony of honey bees. Explain how a hive is constructed
Funny how finishing requirement 3 is like earning an entirely new merit badge! No need to thank me, but I’ve underlined the elective requirements which you’ll have the easiest time completing. The activities which are required are also underlined. Let me briefly recap for you what is written above.
Sustainability has five sections: water, food, community, energy, and stuff. You’ll need to do part A for each category, then choose between completing B or C. That’s a total of 10 requirements to complete. Many of the activities relate to sustainability in your own household, and can potentially save you money if put into effect. Super useful stuff.
Environmental science, on the other hand, has seven categories but only requires you to complete one activity for each category. That’s a total of seven requirements to complete. However, Environmental Science tends to have you work on more difficult activities: either writing or conducting experiments. Less applicable to you, but still very important to know.
For the Environmental Science badge, unless you want to do an experiment on packaging materials, you’ll need at least one week to complete the badge requirement, 3f. This activity involves identifying 10 ways to conserve at home and practicing 2 of those methods for 7 days. Afterward, you will discuss what you’ve learned with your counselor.
For the Sustainability badge, you’ll need one month at a minimum. To complete the first requirement around water, you’ll need to implement sustainability practices for one month. There are other requirements which are duration based but can be completed using past receipts.
Requirement 3 is the bulk of earning both of these merit badges, so don’t be discouraged by how much you need to do. Everything that you’re learning right now will be useful in running your household later on in life. By tackling one sub-requirement a day, you’ll be finished with this section in no time!
4) Explore TWO of the following categories. Have a discussion with your family about the two you select. In your discussion, include your observations, and best and worst practices. Share what you learn with your counselor.
a. Plastic waste. Discuss the impact plastic waste has on the environment (land, water, air). Learn about the number system for plastic recyclables, and determine which plastics are more commonly recycled. Find out what the trash vortex is and how it was formed.
b. Electronic waste. Choose three electronic devices in your household. Find out the average lifespan of each, what happens to these devices once they pass their useful life, and whether they can be recycled in whole or part. Discuss the impact of electronic waste on the environment.
c. Food waste. Learn about the value of composting and how to start a compost pile. Start a compost pile appropriate for your living situation. Tell what can be done with the compost when it is ready for use.
d. Species decline. Explain the term species (plant or animal) decline. Discuss the human activities that contribute to species decline, what can be done to help reverse the decline, and its impact on a sustainable environment.
e. World population. Learn how the world’s population affects the sustainability of Earth. Discuss three human activities that may contribute to putting Earth at risk, now and in the future.
f. Climate change. Find a world map that shows the pattern of temperature change for a period of at least 100 years. Share this map with your counselor, and discuss three factors that scientists believe affect the global weather and temperature.
4) Choose two outdoor study areas that are very different from one another (e.g., hilltop vs. bottom of a hill; field vs. forest; swamp vs. dry land). For BOTH study areas, do ONE of the following:
a. Mark off a plot of 4 square yards in each study area, and count the number of species found there. Estimate how much space is occupied by each plant species and the type and number of nonplant species you find. Write a report that adequately discusses the biodiversity and population density of these study areas. Discuss your report with your counselor.
b. Make at least three visits to each of the two study areas (for a total of six visits), staying for at least 20 minutes each time, to observe the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem. Space each visit far enough apart that there are readily apparent differences in the observations. Keep a journal that includes the differences you observe. Then, write a short report that adequately addresses your observations, including how the differences of the study areas might relate to the differences noted, and discuss this with your counselor.
Sustainability wins requirement 4, as knowing about two categories is far easier than running an experiment. I’ve underlined the two simplest and most applicable Sustainability sub-requirements, but feel free to choose the activities you that apply most to you. I would guess that you could complete this section in under an hour.
If you’re working on the Environmental Science badge, I would recommend doing requirement 4a, as you only need to visit the location once vs the 3 times you’ll need to visit for 4b. You’ll also need to write a report, but all of this can be done in an afternoon. In the company of other scouts working on the badge, I found that this wasn’t too difficult a requirement.
5) Do the following:
a. After completing requirements 1 through 4, have a family meeting. Discuss what your family has learned about what it means to be a sustainable citizen. Talk about the behavioral changes and life choices your family can make to live more sustainably. Share what you learn with your counselor.
b. Discuss with your counselor how living by the Scout Oath and Scout Law in your daily life helps promote sustainability and good stewardship.
5) Using the construction project provided or a plan you create on your own, identify the items that would need to be included in an environmental impact statement for the project planned.
Environmental science wins requirement 5 and is especially useful if you’re planning an Eagle Scout project. Otherwise, it still isn’t difficult to learn what’s included in an environmental impact statement and use it in reference to a past project or one that you’ve made up on the spot. You likely won’t use what you learn here very often in life, but it’s helpful to at least know what an environmental impact statement is.
Sustainability requirement 5 is also simple, involving a discussion with your family and counselor which will recap what you’ve learned while working on the badge. This can be done quickly but requires some planning beforehand. Hopefully, this badge has taught you and your family effective ways to save money by conserving resources at home.
6) Learn about career opportunities in the sustainability field. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required. Discuss what you have learned with your counselor and explain why this career might interest you.
6) Find out about three career opportunities in environmental science. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required for this profession. Discuss this with your counselor, and explain why this profession might interest you.
Requirement six is identical between the Sustainability and Environmental Science merit badge. This is fitting, as I think these badges are equal in their own right. If you’re trying to earn your badge quickly before aging out, definitely go with Environmental Science. However, if you’re looking to learn about nature and conservation, both of these badges are great choices.
Earning either of these badges will leave you well-equipped to understand the environmental impact of your daily activities. Even as an adult, I use the knowledge learned in these badges to examine how I can live more sustainably. This saves me money and brings me peace of mind, knowing that I’m having a part in creating a more healthy planet.
If you do decide to work on the Environmental Science merit badge, I would strongly suggest working together with scouts in your troop. Together, you can complete some of the more challenging and enriching activities. Although experiments aren’t the easiest requirements, they’re a lot of fun when done together with friends. At least in my experience.
Remember, the easier path is good in some circumstances but isn’t always better. I hope you found this comparison helpful, and encourage you to check out some of my other articles if you’re trying to earn merit badges or are getting close to becoming an Eagle Scout. If you liked this, you’ll want to check out my other merit badge guides and comparisons here. As always, best of luck on your Scouting journey!