Sustainability Merit Badge Answers: A ScoutSmarts Guide


If you’re preparing to earn the Sustainability merit badge, you’re in the right place! In this guide, I’ll be providing you with all of the answers that you’ll need to complete your Sustainability merit badge worksheet. In the process, you’ll also learn how to conserve our planet’s resources at home and elsewhere!

You’ve reached part 2 of my ultimate guide to the Sustainability merit badge! If you’re new to ScoutSmarts, you should first check out part 1 for the answers to requirements 1-3 of the Sustainability merit badge.

If you’ve just come over from part one, congratulations! You’re halfway done. Once you finish this badge, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge needed to help preserve our planet’s ecosystems and resources. BTW, great job making it this far! 🙂

It’s time to get back into it! Take a minute to closely review and think through requirements 3-6 of the Sustainability merit badge:

What Are The Sustainability Merit Badge Answers?

  1. Do the following:
    • 3a) 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.
    • 3b) 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. 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.
    • 4a) 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.
    • 4b) 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.
    • 4c) 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.
    • 4d) 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.
    • 4e) 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.
    • 4f) 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. Discuss with your counselor three impacts of climate change and how these changes could impact sustainability of food, water, or other resources.
  3. Do the following:
    • 5a) 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.
    • 5b) Discuss with your counselor how living by the Scout Oath and Scout Law in your daily life helps promote sustainability and good stewardship.
  4. 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.
3a) 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.

To jump to requirement 3a) in my previous article, click here!

3b) 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.

Talking resources from the earth to create energy and products is what humans have done throughout history. However, only now can we actually deplete the earth’s resources and destroy ecosystems if we don’t act sustainably with both the present and future in mind.

Therefore, current and future sustainability thinking plays a major role in how we extract as well as produce our resources. Here are a few facts to keep in mind when thinking about sustainability planning:

  • Extraction – (such as mining for coal or setting up wells for oil) is a pretty quick way to get energy and resources but can cause irreparable harm to our environment.
  • Recycling – allows us to repurpose resources, giving them new life and preventing further extraction and environmental harm.
  • Distributing Products – is the process of getting them from production to their new owner.
    • They are moved in planes, cargo ships, trains, trucks, and vans, from one end of the world to another. As you might guess, the process of distribution takes up a ton of resources.
  • Consumption – is the use of products or resources.
    • While everyone needs to consume to survive, by overconsuming mindlessly humans can cause irreparable harm to our planet’s ecosystems.
  • Disposal/Repurposing – is where the goods that are consumed go.
    • Disposal creates trash in our landfills, whereas repurposing extends the life of a product and reduces one’s negative consumption effects!

If the planning is well thought out, we can mitigate environmental harm. On other hand, poor planning can lead to environmental damage and unnecessary human suffering. To protect our planet, planning is an important step in making sure our processes are sustainable.

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.

All of these topics are extremely interesting and can definitely teach you a lot about how to live more sustainably! When choosing which requirements to work on, I’d recommend you pick those that you’re especially interested in. (Or, you can do them all! 😉 )

To help guide your choice, consider choosing topics that affect the area around you or people you know. Learning more about issues that you’re close to can help you create sustainable changes for your own community! Understanding more is your first step to making a difference.

4a) 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.

Plastic, while extremely useful, has also been very damaging to our environment. Much of the waste in our ecosystems is plastic, which has caused countless deaths among animal populations. Plus, having garbage all over the place isn’t healthy for humans either!

A big step in preventing plastic waste from entering our ecosystems is recycling. Recycling gives plastics another life and prevents them from becoming pollution in our oceans. But, there some key things you should know about recycling.

To learn how to recycle correctly, because there’s more to it than most people might think, make sure to check out the informative video (1:49) below:

So, now do you understand the numbering system for plastic recyclables? That’s right, try to pick 1’s and 2’s! Using this system, you can get a better understanding of how your waste is recycled and whether or not it is ending up in a landfill.

Find out What the Trash Vortex is and how it was Formed

The last topic you must explain for this requirement is the trash vortex. This has gotten a lot of attention over the years because of the Great Pacific garbage patch. Trash vortexes are large patches of garbage in our oceans that are brought together by natural currents. 🙁

National Geographic has a great sustainability article explaining what the Great Pacific garbage patch is and how it was formed.

Their slideshow goes pretty in-depth on the topic, providing you with scientific insights and saddening images so that you can better understand the scope of the issue.

Seeing this article made me want to recycle and become sustainable even more than I already do! I hope the same is true for you too. Remember, changing every problem for the better begins with individuals being concerned, speaking up, and taking action!

4b) 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.

In our current world, technology and its waste have become more common than ever. This is because the lifespans of our technology are cut short by innovation and planned obsolescence ( where a product is designed to fail after a certain period of use).

Because of our need to upgrade our tech, we throw a lot of electronics away, many of which are toxic to the environment. Thankfully, many companies have introduced recycling programs for our electronics. Here are a few notable recycling programs:

Without recycling, much of this waste ends up in the environment, especially in third-world countries. This is harmful to humans and nature, as many electronic components (batteries, circuit boards, and plastic) contain toxins that contaminate drinking water and kill animals.

Now that you know the damage caused by failing to properly recycle electronics, it’s time to think closer to home. What electronic devices do you own? How can you ensure they don’t end up in our oceans, harming marine creatures?

Action step: Choose 3 of your devices, Google them to figure out their lifespans (you can search: “how long does my X last?”), and then plan out how you’ll recycle them when the time comes!

4c) 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.

As a culture, we are a massive producer of food waste. Each year, roughly 133 billion pounds of food is wasted (as of the USDA’s 2017 estimate). This equates to around 30%-40% of our entire food supply! Luckily, despite not being able to recycle this waste, we can put it to good use.

Composting is essentially recycling food. While it won’t turn into something we can eat, composting will create rich soil that will allow plants to grow from our decomposing food. Even if you’re not gardening, this rich soil is a great way to give back to the environment!

Once you know the fundamentals, you can compost from anywhere! All you need to know is what to throw in to your compost pile (as well as what to trash). Here’s a great video (3:16) explaining how you can make your own compost pile:

From this pile, you can easily create a sustainable garden a grow tons of your favorite fruits and vegetables! Even when I lived in an apartment, I had a few herbs that I’d put compost into and they were always great to include in my dishes. Literally anyone can compost! 🙂

Plus, growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to lead a more healthy and nutritious lifestyle!

To learn some useful culinary techniques and recipes that incorporate fresh produce, I’d encourage you to earn your Cooking merit badge (link is to my guide, which will help you get started).

4d) 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. 

Species decline is seen when a certain population begins to sharply decrease over time. In modern history, humans have been the cause of many such declines. Over-harvesting crops, slaughtering livestock, and pollution are all ways that we contribute to high death rates and low birth rates in populations.

As we’ve covered in the earlier requirements, much of the environmental damage we’re seeing today can be avoided by becoming less wasteful and more sustainable. Sadly, we have a lot of work to do for the many species currently in decline.

To learn more about species decline, you should read CBS’s article about the effect of humans on animal populations. This is a sad reality, and the first step toward fixing it is to live more sustainably and encourage others to do the same.

To reverse species decline, we can also more carefully regulate our production of products that come from plants and animals. Setting harsher penalties for polluting and poaching are other key ways that we can prevent the further decline of already endangered animal populations.

4e) World population. Learn how the world’s population affects the sustainability of the Earth. Discuss three human activities that may contribute to putting Earth at risk, now and in the future. 

The overall world population of humans plays a big role in the population of other plants and animals on Earth. We’ve already discussed population sustainability in part 1 of the article, but to recap here are 3 human behaviors that contribute to putting the earth at risk:

  1. Over-population can cause excessive use of available resources, which can eventually result in scarcity and famine. Over extracting resources can also damage other organisms living in affected environments.
  2. Under-population can be a waste of available resources, causing infrastructure to use unnecessary amounts of water, electricity, and other energy sources.
  3. Human pollution is one of the biggest factors that affect global warming. Whenever we burn coal, oil, or natural gas instead of using sustainable energy sources, we release harmful toxins into the air.

While the world population is something that you can’t control, pollution is something you can. As I said before, cutting back on your usage of gas and electricity can make a huge difference in the long run!

4f) 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. Discuss with your counselor three impacts of climate change and how these changes could impact sustainability of food, water, or other resources.

Global warming is a term you’ve probably heard a million times. It’s hard not to know what it is with all of the coverage it gets on the news and other media. However, the causes of climate change are a little more complex and date back almost 200 years.

Before we dive into the causes and effects of climate change, take a second to watch this clip (0:32) showing how our global temperatures have changed from their baseline over the past 140 years:

Cas you can probably see, temperatures have begun to significantly increase in recent years. A 2-3 degree increase in temperature might not seem like much, but it can actually have a devastating effect. So, why is our planet heating up?

There are three main causes of global warming (source-Europa.eu):

  1. Deforestation: The rapid removal of trees makes it harder for the Earth to filter out carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.
    1. The accumulation of greenhouse gasses raises temperatures on Earth by trapping heat from the sun within the layers of our atmosphere — sort of like how an actual greenhouse traps heat.
  2. Industry: Industrial plants burn coal and other fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases, and gradually raising the Earth’s temperature.
    • Transporting goods also creates enormous amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. This is definitely one of the biggest factors leading to global warming.
  3. Agriculture: Believe it or not, livestock and farming are major producers of greenhouse gases.
    • The animals release gas (yes, that means farts 😛 ) which are also greenhouse gases. Nitrogen in fertilizers is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Heating up the planet can be detrimental to life everywhere. However, by reducing our greenhouse emissions from each of these sources, we can slow the rate of global warming. By planting more trees and inventing new methods or repairing our environment, we can stop climate change entirely!

How Climate Change Could Impact the Sustainability of Food, Water, or Other Resources

Here are some examples of what disasters will continue to happen more often if we don’t become more sustainable and curb our emission of greenhouse gasses (Source-National Geographic):

  1. Rising Temperatures: This is definitely the most obvious effect, but it’s important to talk about. Over time, this will force animals out of their habitats and make the planet inhospitable to any life that doesn’t quickly adapt.
  2. Rising Sea Levels: Rising temperatures will quickly melt much of the ice in the north and south poles. This forces animals out of those ecosystems and will cause areas of the Earth to “sink” into the ocean.
  3. More Extreme Weather: Global warming contributes to major storms in some areas while creating extreme dryness and droughts in others. For instance, wildfires in places like California or Australia would become much more common.

These effects are scary, which ties this problem to every species’ survival on our planet. However, hope is not lost! By living sustainably and encouraging others to do the same, you can do your part in preventing the excess emissions leading to climate change.

5a) 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.

Now it’s your turn! Using the information you’ve learned so far about sustainability, ecosystems, and reducing your consumption, set aside some time to have an in-depth conversation with your family. This is an important step toward becoming a sustainable citizen!

When speaking with your family, I’d recommend asking some thought-provoking questions that you can all discuss amongst yourselves. This will help you all to explore and understand your impact on the planet! Ask yourselves:

  • What does it mean to live sustainably? Why is it important?
  • How will it improve our lives to work together, as a family, to reduce our waste and carbon footprint?
  • In what one area are we creating the most waste, and what can we do to become more sustainable there?
  • What can we do to make sure we keep accountable and continue our sustainable habits for the long haul?

Afterward, I would recommend that you create a table of what changes you’d like to make within your family, as well as how you’d enact them. This is something you can do step-by-step, over time, so there’s no need to try and change everything at once.

Living sustainably begins with the decision to care. By trying to carpool more often, making sure to recycle, and treating your resources like they’re precious (which they are!) you and your family will be doing your duty to help the planet!

5b) Discuss with your counselor how living by the Scout Oath and Scout Law in your daily life helps promote sustainability and good stewardship.

At this point, answering how the Scout Oath and Law tie into sustainability should be a breeze for you! Below I’ll give you a bit of guidance, but you should really think this one through for yourself so that you can get the most out of it.

So, how can the Scout Law be applied to sustainability? For starters, the Scout Law has the line A Scout is thrifty!” This perfectly applies to sustainability as avoiding waste and using only what you need helps to conserve resources. Now, think up some other examples!

On the other hand, the Scout Oath says that “I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” Part of your duty to the land is giving back. Composting or recycling is one way to give back the resources that the Earth has provided!

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.

1. Marine Biologist:

Becoming a marine biologist is one of the best ways that you could positively impact the health of our planet’s oceans. If you have a fondness for sea life, this could be your dream career! Preserving species and their ecosystems is an important job that definitely could use some smart scouts. 😉

Plus, you can work as a marine biologist with just a bachelor’s degree, although there are some higher positions that require more education and training. Biology can be a tough subject but is well worth the effort if you put your skills towards improving our planet for future generations!

2. Forest Ranger:

Acting as a forest ranger might just be the perfect career for someone who loves Scouting! Think about it: as a forest ranger, you get to immerse yourself in the outdoors, teach others about sustainability, and are even paid to stay active. Sounds like a good deal to me.

This varies by area, but most forest rangers need at least a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. They’ll also need to complete a physical fitness exam and a forest ranger exam. You’ll definitely have better odds of getting this job if you have Eagle Scout on your resume, though!

3. Environmental Engineer:

Both of my parents worked for the government in the environmental engineering field, so this career path is especially close to my heart! Environmental engineers use their knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering to create environmentally sustainable solutions.

For instance, my mom would often assist farmers in building erosion control methods on their property. The methods that she worked with them on devising helped to conserve water, reduce pesticide use, and helped farmers to be more sustainable!

To become an environmental engineer, you’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree (nowadays it’ll likely be a master’s), complete a 4-year certification program, and earn your state professional engineering license. I’ll break down each of these sections in more detail below:

  • University requirements: At a minimum, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in general, civil, mechanical, or chemical engineering. However, I’ve found that most engineers these days spend at least six years in university and have a master’s degree.
  • Internship requirements: Most environmental engineers gain experience through at least 2 STEM-related internships while in college. Graduating from a program accredited by the accreditation board for engineering and technology (ABET) will increase your odds of getting into a training program.
  • Testing requirements: Environmental engineers must first pass the fundamentals of engineering exam (FE), then later, the professional engineering exam (PE) to work as licensed engineers
  • Experience-based requirements: Between taking the FE and PE exams, a prospective environmental engineer must gain at least four years of relevant working experience.

Full-fledged environmental engineers can also seek board certifications to bolster their resumes. For instance, the AAEES certification is often the next step for exemplary engineers who’ve demonstrated their expertise in environmental science.

While the amount of work that goes into becoming an environmental engineer is comparable to the work it takes to become a lawyer or doctor, the average pay is significantly less, at roughly $65,000. 

However, if you want to become an environmental engineer, don’t let that deter you. I’ve heard firsthand that the work of an environmental engineer is incredibly rewarding. Plus, by pursuing this career, you’ll be in a fantastic position to protect our planet and its people!

Congrats on Finishing the Sustainability Merit Badge!

I know this was quite a long badge, but I hope you learned a ton from it! Sustainability is an extremely important subject to know about and practice in your everyday life. Remember, it’s the actions of humans like you and me that will ultimately determine the future of our planet! 🙂

If you found this post helpful, I’ve also written guides to many of the other Eagle-required merit badges. I’d definitely recommend checking out my comprehensive difficulty rankings for every Eagle-required merit badge if you haven’t seen it already!

Great work, scout! You’ve just learned everything necessary to answer each of the requirements in your merit badge workbook and earn your Sustainability merit badge!! I hope you found my guide helpful and, until next time, I’m wishing you the best of luck in your Scouting journey.

(Click here to return to part 1 of my guide to the Sustainability merit badge!)

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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