Environmental Stewardship; Parks and Recreation Leading the Way

By Dr. June N. Price-Shingles | Posted on January 15, 2014

Tags: Conservation

Written by Dr. June N. Price-Shingles, Associate Professor and Director of the Recreation Program at Chicago State University

Research demonstrates that students who learn in the field gain greater command of their subjects and enjoy their time learning. In today’s highly competitive global economy continued professional development, such as that offered by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), is vital for professionals as well as those studying recreation-related careers at university. The charge of “reconnecting youth to nature,” focuses candidates on the need to become environmental stewards with a thorough understanding of sustainability issues.  

Over the last several years “going green” has evolved from a table topic to an item embedded in every facet of state, national and international agendas. Sustainability has rapidly become the conversation, not of choice, but of urgency. Legislatures are advocating and Congress is funding initiatives via grants and special projects to teach high-quality environmental education which includes using the local environment. Parks and recreation agencies across the country are either revamping environmental policies or creating them for the very first time.  

In 2009, Landscape Structures and NRPA designed a study to review environmental stewardship initiatives in parks and recreation. The study sought to examine how agencies view their stewardship roles and how they plan future initiatives. One goal of the study was to begin a formal discussion among recreation agencies and provide an avenue to share best practices. Data revealed 9 percent of agencies reportedly drafted an annual environmental stewardship plan.  Additionally, it was reported 30 percent of agencies had developed a “green team" to focus on sustainability initiatives. Other efforts cited by agencies included stewardship initiatives regarding agency management and policies, facilitation of green spaces, addressing electricity usage, water conservation, greenhouse gas reduction efforts and recycling. 



Current research demonstrates environmental education programming by park and recreation agencies has been on the rise since 2011 (Recreation Management, 2012). Agencies of all sizes are making attempts to “go green.” These attempts, however, should be addressed in a more strategic and comprehensive fashion. After all, we’re one of the few professions ideally positioned to address issues regarding sustainability of our natural resources. Recreation agencies must embrace the role of consummate natural resources leader when it comes to environmental stewardship. Furthermore, educators responsible for preparing future cohorts of recreation providers must work to ensure they’re prepared to create, lead and sustain the changes that have been implemented.

As a former practitioner and current recreation faculty, professional development activities such as the NRPA Green School are especially educational, informative and timely. In an effort to prepare future cohorts of recreation providers, I recently attended year one of the NRPA Green School. It is impossible to sum up the multitude of information imparted upon professionals gathered to learn trending information regarding greening our agencies and communities as well as how to educate stakeholders on the importance of this initiative. Attendees learned that sustainable development is the perfect balance between social, economic and environmental factors also known as the "triple bottom line." 

NRPA Green School provided attendees with information to enhance the most basic day-to-day functions and operations of their agencies, as well as how to develop a framework for setting long- and short-term goals for incorporating sustainable practices agency-wide. Additionally, participants were referred to assessment tools such as the Ecosystem Valuation to aid in estimating the value of ecosystems within their community. It is imperative that park administrators and boards continue to advocate about the value-add of our agencies and the overall economic impact and benefits our agencies have on the community. Rep. Sarbanes (D-MD) sponsored the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) and presented it to the 111th and 112th Congress. Moving Outdoors in Nature (MONA) was also introduced to the 111th Congress. NCLI and MONA both share the goal of reconnecting youth to nature. To that end, NRPA public policy staffers have been consistent in their efforts to ensure park and recreation agencies have access to funds made available via state and federal grants for such initiatives.

Establishing new educational resources is pivotal for university curriculum. The NRPA Green School provided an abundance of information that initially can be used as supplemental material in conjunction with current recreation curriculum. It is important to begin discussions with undergraduate students on the importance of building sustainable practices. In an ever-changing society, issues such as sustainability, economic conditions, cultural diversity, and technological changes should all be considered in updating and designing new curricula. Daley and Price-Shingles (2009) state, “Presently there is a lack of formal curricula and few textbooks for recreation students that specifically address sustainability topics. Therefore, recreation majors are currently shouldering the responsibility of educating themselves outside the classroom on sustainability issues and concepts of how to “green” the agencies they’ll be leading” (p.52).  The education of future recreation cohorts must include components that ensure they have a thorough understanding of environmental education and their role as stewards of sustainable practices.

In 2008, an NRPA Summit addressed park and recreation agencies’ roles and responsibilities for introducing green concepts to program participants community-wide. Nationally and locally, associations are providing continuing education units for professionals to increase their knowledge of sustainable practices. Through professional development, administrative staff can learn how to create a philosophy for sustainable practices as well as revamp annual budgets to coincide with the implementation of green practices. With regard to future recreation providers, they will most assuredly need to be more versatile than their predecessors in addressing trends and issues. Houston (2009) states, “The issues include securing a stable funding stream, advancing conservation and sustainability goals, building coalitions with other organizations to leverage resources, promoting the health and wellness mission, and positioning parks as a essential service in the community” (p.46).  Seldom are our facilities looked upon as health and wellness centers. Promotion of health and wellness in our communities is a new emerging theme agencies should address. 

In meeting today’s employer needs, recreation graduates must demonstrate versatility, a sincere interest in professional development, and a capacity to acquire new skills and certifications by participating in activities such as the NRPA Green School.  Such skills will create a new generation of professionals who will work to expand the development of our services. Going green is a major undertaking that needs to be addressed from a social, environmental and economic sustainability approach--an approach I was totally unaware of until attending Green School. Going green is not a one dimensional processes or a series of completed steps. Rather, it’s a continuous process. As our instructors informed us, “going green” should not be couched as a “green issue,” rather a return on investment of a given agency’s overall business operation. 

In closing, I plan to return for year two (Spring 2014) of NRPA’s Green School to complete the certification course. I will continue to advocate for this most important initiative launched by NRPA which works to address the charge given in 2008 to “reconnect youth to nature,” and “leave no child inside.”  For our society to truly become sustainable, we must address the “triple bottom line” by addressing societal needs, evaluating the economic impact of parks and recreation services, and most importantly scanning our communities to assess environmental factors that impact our total quality of life.  


Dr. June N. Price-Shingles is a former practitioner in parks and recreation (1988-2007) and is currently Associate Professor and Director of the Recreation Program at Chicago State University in Chicago, IL.





Daley, B., Price-Shingles, J. (Dec 2010).  Getting “Green” horn started; Educating Upcoming Professionals. Parks and Business Magazine. (p.52).


Houston, Richard T. (2009, August).  NRPA in Action Follow the Leader, Parks and Recreation p.46.

Pinoniemi, L. (May 2009).  Taking the Measure of Environmental Stewardship.  Parks and Recreation. (p. 45-50).

Tipping, E. (June 2012).  State of the Industry 2012. A look at what’s happening in Recreation, Sports and Fitness Facilities. (p. 57).