Girl Scouts’ Powerful Legacy of Environmental Stewardship
Girl Scouts have always had a meaningful relationship with nature and the environment. It’s in our DNA!
Whether it’s enjoying a walk in the woods, going on an overnight camping adventure, or planting a vegetable garden, when Girl Scouts get outside, something special happens. Developing a connection to the outdoors can literally transform lives, and Girl Scouts have been ardent proponents of environmental stewardship throughout our organization’s 100-plus year history.
Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low was famous for encouraging girls to champion causes in which they believe strongly, not the least of which was—as continues to be—a love of nature and advocacy for environmental conservation.
Enjoying and taking care of our natural world is one of the cornerstones of the Girl Scout Movement, reflected in the encouragement in the Girl Scout Promise and Law to “use resources wisely.”
From the very beginning, Girl Scouts have not only enjoyed nature and the outdoors—they’ve cherished and protected our environment. As individuals, in troops, and as a nationwide movement, Girl Scouts put their hearts and minds to work for our planet every day.
“For in this United States of ours we have cut down too many trees and our forests are fast following the buffalo...so let us plant trees now.”
—Girl Scout Handbook (1913)
In fact, the very first Girl Scout Handbook from 1913 extolled the wonders of nature and encouraged Girl Scouts to get outside to explore and enjoy our world, noting that “sun and air are life-giving.”
The handbook also urged Girl Scouts to be stewards of the environment: “For in this United States of ours we have cut down too many trees and our forests are fast following the buffalo...so let us plant trees now.”
Girl Scouts across the nation took that message to heart, taking action to care for our environment in ways both large and small.
Yes, trees were planted (and continue to be), but that’s not all!
In the early days of the 20th century, inspired by food shortages brought about by World War I, Girl Scouts grew “Victory Gardens,” combining patriotism and altruism to help provide food for those less fortunate.
In 1924, nature activities were officially incorporated into Girl Scout program materials through special notebooks written by noted female naturalist Dr. Bertha Chapman Cady (the organization's official naturalist from 1924 to 1936).
After Juliette Gordon Low's passing in 1927, First Lady and National Girl Scout President Lou Henry Hoover stepped in to fill the void, embarking on an ambitious campaign to encourage girls to engage with the outdoors.
Hoover herself had a lifelong love of nature and the outdoor experience—she was even the first woman to graduate from Stanford University with a degree in geology. And she loved sharing her passions with others.
“I was a Scout years ago, before the Movement ever started,” Hoover once said. “My father took me hunting, fishing, and hiking in the mountains. Then I was sorry that more girls could not have what I had. When I learned of the [Girl Scout] Movement, I thought ‘here is what I always wanted other girls to have.’”
Among Hoover’s goals were to help girls understand the importance of the outdoors to our well-being and the value of environmental conservation—all while having fun and learning to be self-reliant. During her first term as president of our organization, Hoover expanded the scope of Girl Scouts’ outdoor programming and elevated the Movement’s already high standards in this area. An expert camper, she had a dream that all girls might experience the joys of camping in some form. As a result, day camping was introduced to Girl Scouting with Hoover at the helm.
In recognition of Hoover’s love of nature and conservation work, the GSUSA Board established the Lou Henry Hoover Memorial in 1944 as a living tribute to this twice-national president of our organization. The sanctuaries created as part of the memorial are wildlife conservation areas designed by Girl Scout councils. Sixty-six sanctuaries were established over 60 years on more than 9,266 acres of land.
With the 1940s came World War II, and Girl Scouts once again stepped in to help the war effort on the homefront. As part of the Farm Aides program, which helped American farmers harvest their crops during wartime when there was a shortage of workers, Girl Scouts assisted in food production and conservation as actual farmworkers. The girls spent hours hoeing and weeding and collecting food—and in 1942, they logged an impressive 48,068 hours working on farms.
In the late 1940s, as the United States adjusted to peacetime after the war, there was more time and energy to devote to conserving our natural resources and protecting the environment. Throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Girl Scouts supported anti-littering campaigns by handing out promotional leaflets and buttons and garbage bags. They took to the streets and marched with signs and placed posters in their communities. In 1972, Girl Scouts participated in the national 4-million-strong "Scouting Keep America Beautiful Day" and kept the momentum going by later conducting informational campaigns and cleanup projects in their communities.
The 1970s also saw the launch of Girl Scouts' very own Eco-Action program.
The national Eco-Action program was designed to increase girls' awareness of the interconnectedness of everything in the environment—including themselves—and to inspire girls to take action to prevent environmental damage. Girl Scouts were encouraged to learn about the environment and how to protect it, conserve resources, cut down on waste, and respect nature.
Girl Scouts launched the Elliot Wildlife Values Project (EWVP) in 1977 with funds from the charitable trust of preservationist Herford N. Elliott,* so that younger generations could further his commitment to preserving our nation's wildlife. With the objective of developing girls’ STEM, outdoor, and leadership skills, the program has inspired countless conservation-minded Girl Scouts to serve as stewards of the earth and leaders in the environmental movement. These days, EWVP features a new series of videos on a variety of outdoor topics, including how to “leave no trace” when enjoying the outdoors.
In 1992, Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated the 80th anniversary of its founding by launching a national environmental service project called “Girl Scouts Care for the Earth.” As part of the project, Girl Scouts learned about protecting the earth's natural resources and took part in environmental cleanup projects, tree planting, and recycling.
As part of our centennial celebration in 2014, Girl Scouts launched “Girl Scouts Forever Green,” an effort encouraging resource conservation worldwide. The undertaking ran from July 2011 to September 2013 and resulted in girls and their troops completing thousands of projects to help the environment. For example, girls and community members from Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles started a project that had them refilling water bottles, making and distributing reusable bags, and recycling aluminum cans. Other projects included replacing incandescent bulbs with energy efficient versions, reducing energy consumption, and building rain gardens.
Today, our Outdoor Journey and new series of Environmental Stewardship badges encourage girls to get outside to learn, explore, and enjoy. Fun, safe activities ranging from backyard camping to high adventures like eco-trekking and geocaching help girls build essential outdoor skills and inspire them to become environmental stewards.
Further, as part of the G.I.R.L. Agenda Powered by Girl Scouts, girls across the nation are speaking up and out about things they care about—with the environment strongly represented. Whether it's providing suitable habitats for bats, coming to the rescue of honeybees, or advocating to curb the use of plastic bags and straws, Girl Scouts everywhere are not only enjoying the environment, but protecting it.
We—all 7.6 billion of us—live on a single planet, and we share a responsibility to care for and preserve it for future generations. This means assuming a sense of ownership for the well-being of the earth, and understanding that environmental stewardship is fundamentally a moral issue.
At Girl Scouts, we believe environmental stewardship starts with the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, which instills in our future leaders the courage, confidence, and character to make strong moral decisions that ultimately make the world a better place. And a key part of making the world a better place is making sure we have a world to make better.
Environmental stewardship has been a key part of the Girl Scout experience for over a century. From traditional activities like camping, horseback riding, kayaking, and map reading, to more modern-day pursuits like GPS tracking, zip lining, and greenhouse exploration, Girl Scouts has a proud legacy of getting girls outside for valuable hands-on learning experiences that promote the sustainability of the place we all call home.
Environmental Badges Through the Years
Rock Tapper, 1920
Tree Finder, 1925
Eco Explorer, 2018
Check out the Award and Badge Explorer for details on every award, badge, and pin a Girl Scout can earn.
*Additional funding and in-kind support has been provided through grants, sponsors, and alliances.