The origins of the Foundation for Environmental Education are anchored as far back as 1980 at a time when the concept of being “eco-friendly” was only a shadow of the issue it is today. Unaware of the flourishing international organisation that it was to become, a group of dedicated environmental experts were busy formulating ideas and concepts which they believed could help steer the world towards a more environmentally sustainable future. They expressed these notions at internal meetings, external seminars, conferences and in a number of publications, and in 1981, Dutchman Harry Wals organised an international seminar the theoretical basis of which, together with some of the people involved, gave birth later that year to the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe: the FEEE.
In 1987, an idea of a European award scheme for beaches and marinas surfaced in France known as the Blue Flag. Originally adopted as the symbol for an environmental education project, it soon came to the attention of the FEEE and later that same year was adopted as the first of the organisation's programmes. The Blue Flag epitomises the true spirit of what FEE is all about: what began life as a local initiative to educate children has gone on to have a tremendous impact on the Foundation.
1987 was also the “European Year of the Environment” and to help get their message across the European Union entered into a partnership with the fledgling FEEE. This exposure and responsibility rallied new members to the organisation, and for the first time the FEEE ranks swelled to double figures. Close cooperation with the EU followed, and over the course of more than a decade of partnership FEEE continued to expand its scope and ambition.
In the initial years, no regular general assemblies were held and a majority of countries were running FEEE’s programme without the authority to do so. Therefore, in the late 80s and early 90s big constitutional changes were made and the organisation was stabilised. New statutes were enacted which defined what constituted “environmental education” in a broad sense and the member categories of Full, Associate, Affiliate and Honorary were established. Any country that wanted to run a FEEE programme needed to be a member of the organisation and from 1992 the criteria for Blue Flags was standardised across all participating sites.
Having standardised the organisation, the next step was consolidating what the FEEE had accomplished after such impressive growth. It was decided that National Operators should be given the opportunity to meet to discuss technical issues outside of the General Assembly at an annual National Operators meeting. This event is even today one of the most valuable exercises we engage in as it brings people together to discuss their programmes in a physical manifestation of the unifying aim of FEE.
With the Blue Flag firmly established and with a concrete operating policy in place the FEEE began contemplating expansion. In 1993 this ideal became reality with the adoption of the Eco-Schools and Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) initiatives which were implemented over the following years as the second and third programmes respectively.
In 1996, a conference in Paris about environmental education resulted in an already existing network, “Forests in Schools”, seeking cooperation with FEEE. Jointly run by Norway, Sweden and Finland, this initiative was very much in keeping with the FEEE ethos, and so the first step was taken to establish the fourth programme, LEAF (Learning about Forests), later that year. The fifth programme, The Green Key, was later introduced in the same way.
By the time the 20th anniversary General Assembly was held in Copenhagen in 2001, the organisation had expanded beyond Europe into South Africa and realised that it could no longer limit itself by being FEEE. The decision was taken to drop the last “Europe” from the end of the name and thus the Foundation for Environmental Education as we know it today was born.
The Foundation for Environmental Education and its programmes have matured and expanded over the years, welcoming new members into the fold and supporting those who have been with us for years in equal measure. The uptake of our programmes has more than tripled in the last decade and under the current Head Office of FEE in Denmark, the organisation continues to experience growth and changes, primarily with the addition of new member organisations from outside of Europe.
In September 2016 FEE published the story of the organisation, as told through interviews by Jan Eriksen, FEE President 2004-2016, and Finn Bolding Thomsen, International Green Key Director. You can download the FEE Story Book here.