Boy Scouts of America introduce sustainability merit badge

Screen capture Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts have always been strong on conservation and nature, but they have always been pretty conservative too. The concept of sustainability is controversial in much of the USA, particularly in states where the Boy Scouts are a big deal. So it was surprising to see the BSA introduce a sustainability badge at this time, and much more surprising when you read the requirements for getting the badge; this is a serious and sophisticated approach to sustainability.

The requirements look at five areas of sustainability; here are some of the things that the scout has to achieve, taken from the blog of Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout and editor of Scouting Magazine.


Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce your family’s water usage. Examine your family’s water bills reflecting usage for three months (past or current). As a family, choose three ways to help reduce consumption. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how your plan affected your family’s water usage.


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.


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.

This is where it gets really interesting, going beyond the usual and into more complex and controversial issues of sustainability:


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.


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.

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.”

Candidates for the badge then have to explore and discuss two the issues of plastic waste, electronic waste, food waste, species decline, world population and climate change.

Why is this controversial?

When I was a Boy Scout, and indeed since the beginning of scouting, conservation and protection of the environment have been an integral part of the movement. However any discussion of sustainability or mention of climate change is going to be controversial in the USA today. It didn't take long for commenters in the blog post to start calling this the "Liberal Agenda Merit Badge" and write "“Carbon footprint”? “Climate change”? Why did Boy Scouts add a junk science MB to their program?" and of course, "Sustainability = U.N. Agenda 21′s system to global control and one world government."

On some issues, like gay rights and religion, the BSA have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It is wonderful to see that when it comes to sustainability, they have jumped in with both feet and demonstrated real leadership.

Read all the requirements at Bryan on Scouting

Boy Scouts of America introduce sustainability merit badge
It's a surprisingly well-rounded and thorough view of sustainability that shouldn't be limited to boy scouts.

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