The Next Generation: Inspiring Environmental Leadership Through Competition

ACCD is cultivating the next generation of environmental leaders through a hands-on education event dating back to 1979. 

More than 40 years ago, the nation’s largest environmental education competition started right here in Pennsylvania. In 1979, Conservation Districts across Pennsylvania founded the Environmental Olympics, a county-based educational competition aimed at engaging local youth in natural resource conservation learning and stewardship challenges.

By 1988, the Enviro-Olympics' popularity had spread beyond Pennsylvania, hosting the first national competition with teams from Ohio and Massachusetts joining in the fun. In 1992, the competition stepped onto the international stage with the inclusion of Canadian teams, and adopted its current name, the Envirothon. 

Why Envirothon?  

While the Envirothon competition first took shape more than 40 years ago, the program’s goals are just as relevant and important today. Aligned with the National Standards for Environmental Education, Envirothon aims to: 

  • Promote a desire to learn about the surrounding natural environment and the complexities of current environmental issues 

  • Promote stewardship of natural resources 

  • Develop skills required to achieve and maintain a natural balance between quality of life and quality of environment 

  • Cultivate a sense of environmental awareness that empowers youth to become action-oriented citizens 

Learn more about the goals of Envirothon.

The 2023 Competition 

These goals are accomplished through Envirothon’s unique competition model. Guided by a teacher or volunteer coach, teams of five students in grades 9 through 12 are assembled for the county competition. This year, 23 teams representing seven different high schools across the county will participate in Allegheny County Conservation District’s Envirothon.  

Teams study and prepare for challenges in five interdisciplinary areas: soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, wildlife, and current environmental issues. This year, students will dive into climate change as the featured current environmental issue.

On competition day, teams rotate between the five interdisciplinary stations, navigating identification quizzes, scenario challenges and more. Each station is led by a volunteer who works in the environmental sciences field, bringing a diversity of perspectives and experiences in building experiential learning opportunities for youth.  

At the end of the competition, team scores are tallied and ranked. The top three scoring teams are announced during the lunch time awards ceremony and are awarded scholarships to support their continuing education aspirations. 

Photo: Fox Chapel High School won first place at the 2022 competition held at Allegheny County's Boyce Park.

Beyond Competition Day 

Educational competitions have risen in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. These competitions allow students to move beyond traditional classroom learning, motivating youth to immerse themselves in the development of skills and knowledge through real-time, hands-on experiences. When students participate in Envirothon, they practice hard skills, elevating their career readiness and providing valuable professional experience prior to graduating high school.  

Students also cultivate a network of industry professionals through participation in Envirothon. During the Allegheny County Envirothon competition, students connect with experts across a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) focused fields. Over the years, students have connected with: 

  • Resource Conservationists from Allegheny County Conservation District 
  • Game Wardens representing the Pennsylvania Game Commission
  • Allegheny County Park Rangers
  • Experts from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
  • Certified Arborists 
  • Public Works Professionals 
  • Civil Engineers  

Tomorrow’s Leaders 

Today’s participating youth go on to become tomorrow’s leaders in STEM careers. Dr. Emily Moberg, an alum of Pennsylvania Envirothon, is a perfect example of the competition’s potential to launch young people into a meaningful and impactful career.  

Dr. Emily Moberg works as a Research Lead Specialist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in D.C. while running the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation. When asked by National Conservation Foundation- Envirothon how engagement in Envirothon can support the next generation, Dr. Moberg stated,

“The most critical challenge is making sure the next generation knows that there are both careers and interesting topics in conservation. I think allowing students, who are the next generation of conservation leaders, to explore and experience a range of environmental topics is so important.”   

Similarly, Envirothon was a foundational experience for Pennsylvania Envirothon alumni Rayn Ling, now a District Forester with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Ryan credits his experience with Envirothon as essential in shaping his career choice stating,

“When people ask me why I chose a career in forestry, I always answer without hesitation the same two reasons: Scouting and the Envirothon.”  

Check out the full interviews from Envirothon Alumni. 

Make an Impact 

Interested in making ACCD’s Envirothon a success, promoting environmental learning and impacting the next generation? Learn more about investing in future leaders by becoming a sponsor at