The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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A student from Open Meadow School, participating in the Crew for Restoring the Urban Environment (CRUE), takes a water sample.
Image by Michele Dailey.

Access To Knowledge

Conventional education, at all levels, largely ignores the broad context and specific skills that define an emerging conservation economy. Fragmented by discipline and disconnected with place, it leaves people ill prepared to direct the enormous transitions that are occurring.

A Conservation Economy depends on the Access to Knowledge of its citizens. This includes both access to basic literacy skills, math and science, history, geography, and so forth and a new kind of ecological literacy grounded in the core knowledge areas of a conservation economy. Access to Knowledge must be universal, and available to all ages.

Ecological literacy requires a broad familiarity with the functioning of the biosphere and the distribution of cultures and ecosystems across its land and waters. It entails a more detailed knowledge of the local bioregion and its flora, fauna, rivers and mountains, forests and fields, soils, geology, climate, and history. It demands an even more intimate knowledge of the immediate region, its mingled cultural and natural history, its economic activities, patterns of settlement, its elders and its storytellers. It is sensitive to local and ways of knowing.

Ecological literacy extends from Ecosystem Services to Green Building, from True Cost Pricing to Sustainable Agriculture. It provides the conceptual tools to map and invest in social, natural, and economic capital. It includes the practical tools to participate in Civic Society, along with skills like placing erosion control structures on a riverbank or tending a salmon hatchbox. The schools, centers, and universities that teach ecological literacy are a critical resource, and educational activities should be designed to give back to the community.

While ecological literacy is best instilled in the very young, it continues to be refined through high school, university, and work experience, and is fundamentally intergenerational in character. It can be transmitted through environmental curricula within traditional educational institutions; broadcasted through a wide range of bioregional media; incorporated within green marketing campaigns; passed on by skilled mentors; and continually renewed through festivals, celebrations, and rituals.

Ecological literacy creates opportunities for new products and services by facilitating greater understanding of local ecosystems and broader living processes. It celebrates and nurtures knowledge of place as a critical resource for sound stewardship. It encourages a base of shared knowledge that is widely distributed among the inhabitants of a bioregion, and emphasizes community access to data of local relevance. For these reasons, Access to Knowledge is a critical supporting element of Local Economies. It is the irreplaceable intellectual capital that pervades the Conservation Economy from the smallest village to the largest city, providing both new economic opportunities and renewed ties to place and biosphere.

At all educational levels, provide a fully-integrated ecological literacy curriculum which grounds students in the science of living systems and the practical skills necessary to create a conservation economy. Place particular emphasis on local and bioregional topics, and carefully connect educational institutions with their surrounding communities. Ensure that access to knowledge is universal, and available to all ages.

Examples of this pattern in action:

"If you're trying to teach kids about the wonders of nature, you'd be hard pressed to find a better setting than the Teton Science School outside Jackson, Wyoming. For thirty years now, youngsters have come to this cluster of log cabins at the foot of the towering Teton mountain range to learn the basics of ecology and get a grounding in scientific observation."
Eric Whitney, Producer, High Plains News Service, National Public Radio, August, 1997

People and communities of the Lower Columbia Pacific region have experienced a loss of traditional resource based jobs and are isolated from the centers of commerce, culture, information and education. The changing world of telecommunications can have a profound positive impact on our people if we choose to use these new technologies. To utilize technology requires two things, access and training, and the CIC provides both.

Center for Ecoliteracy
The Center for Ecoliteracy is dedicated to fostering the experience and understanding of the natural world. They recognizes food systems and watersheds as essential systems that provide meaningful contexts for achieving ecological literacy (ecological understanding). To ground education in the uniqueness of place, they work with whole schools on projects that take school children out of the classroom and into the natural world.

Sea Resources
Sea Resources strives to improve student performance and understanding while improving the ecological processes of the Chinook watershed.

For more than 20 years Rediscovery programs have pioneered new approaches to experiential education, self discovery, cross-cultural understanding and environmental awareness. It has been done so not in a formal classroom setting but through immersion. There is an old saying: "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

E/The Environmental Magazine

The Orion Society


Bowers, Chet. Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intellige. State University of New York. New York, NY. 1995.

Cajete, Gregory. Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education. Kivaki Press. Durango, CO. 1994.

Orr, David. Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. State University of New York. New York, NY. 1992.

Smith, April A.. Campus Ecology: A Guide to Assessing Environmental Quality and Creating Strategies for Change. Living Planet Press. Los Angeles, CA. 1993.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling