Sustainability merit badge requirements released

Updated, Aug. 22: Leaders, check out Scouting magazine’s latest Merit Badge Clinic focusing on the Sustainability merit badge. In this column, writer Mark Ray speaks to the four members of the Sustainability Merit Badge Task Force, all of whom share insights into why Sustainability merit badge was created and how to help Scouts earn the new badge.

Updated, July 16 with clarification about water bill

sustainabilityReady … set … go green!

The long-awaited requirements for the Boy Scouts of America’s Sustainability merit badge have been released.

The badge joins the Eagle-required list as an option to Environmental Science merit badge. Scouts must earn either Sustainability or Environmental Science on their journey to Eagle.

Scouts may begin working on Sustainability MB once pamphlets arrive in Scout Shops and at in early August, but you can get a first look at the requirements below. Or click here (PDF) for a downloadable flier you can share with your Scouts.

Sustainability MB requirements

1. Before starting work on any other requirements for this merit badge, write in your own words the meaning of sustainability. Explain how you think conservation and stewardship of our natural resources relate to sustainability. Have a family meeting, and ask family members to write down what they think sustainability means. Be sure to take notes. You will need this information again for requirement 5.

2. Do the following:

Water. Do A AND either B OR C.

A. 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.

B. Using a diagram you have created, explain to your counselor how your household gets its clean water from a natural source and what happens with the water after you use it. Include water that goes down the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry drains, and any runoff from watering the yard or washing the car. Tell two ways to preserve your family’s access to clean water in the future.

C. Discuss with your counselor two areas in the world that have been affected by drought over the last three years. For each area, identify a water conservation practice (successful or unsuccessful) that has been used. Tell whether the practice was effective and why. Discuss what water conservation practice you would have tried and why.

Food. Do A AND either B OR C.

A. 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.

B. Discuss with your counselor the ways individuals, families, and communities can create their own food sources (potted plants, family garden, rooftop garden, neighborhood or community garden). Tell how this plan might contribute to a more sustainable way of life if practiced globally.

C. Discuss with your counselor factors that limit the availability of food and food production in different regions of the world. Tell three ways these factors influence the sustainability of worldwide food supplies.

Community. Do A AND either B OR C.

A. 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.

B. With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, interview a local architect, engineer, contractor, or building materials supplier. Find out the factors that are considered when using sustainable materials in renovating or building a home. Share what you learn with your counselor.

C. Review a current housing needs assessment for your town, city, county, or state. Discuss with your counselor how birth and death rates affect sufficient housing, and how a lack of housing—or too much housing—can influence the sustainability of a local or global area.

Energy. Do A AND either B OR C.

A. 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.

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

C. Evaluate your family’s fuel and transportation usage. Review your family’s transportation-related bills (gasoline, diesel, electric, public transportation, etc.) reflecting usage for three months (past or current). As a family, choose three ways to help reduce consumption and be a better steward of this resource. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how your plan affected your family’s transportation habits.

Stuff. Do A AND either B OR C.

A. 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.

B. Plan a project that involves the participation of your family to identify the “stuff” your family no longer needs. Complete your project by donating, repurposing, or recycling these items.

C. 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.”

3. Do the following:

a. Explain to your counselor how the planetary life-support systems (soil, climate, freshwater, atmospheric, nutrient, oceanic, ecosystems, and species) support life on Earth and interact with one another.

b. Tell how the harvesting or production of raw materials (by extraction or recycling), along with distribution of the resulting products, consumption, and disposal/repurposing, influences current and future sustainability thinking and planning.

4. Explore TWO of the following categories. Have a discussion with your family about the two you select. In your discussion, include your observations, and best and worst practices. Share what you learn with your counselor.

a. Plastic waste. Discuss the impact plastic waste has on the environment (land, water, air). Learn about the number system for plastic recyclables, and determine which plastics are more commonly recycled. Find out what the trash vortex is and how it was formed.

b. Electronic waste. Choose three electronic devices in your household. Find out the average lifespan of each, what happens to these devices once they pass their useful life, and whether they can be recycled in whole or part. Discuss the impact of electronic waste on the environment.

c. Food waste. Learn about the value of composting and how to start a compost pile. Start a compost pile appropriate for your living situation. Tell what can be done with the compost when it is ready for use.

d. Species decline. Explain the term species (plant or animal) decline. Discuss the human activities that contribute to species decline, what can be done to help reverse the decline, and its impact on a sustainable environment.

e. World population. Learn how the world’s population affects the sustainability of Earth. Discuss three human activities that may contribute to putting Earth at risk, now and in the future.

f. Climate change. Find a world map that shows the pattern of temperature change for a period of at least 100 years. Share this map with your counselor, and discuss three factors that scientists believe affect the global weather and temperature.

5. Do the following:

a. After completing requirements 1 through 4, have a family meeting. Discuss what your family has learned about what it means to be a sustainable citizen. Talk about the behavioral changes and life choices your family can make to live more sustainably. Share what you learn with your counselor.

b. Discuss with your counselor how living by the Scout Oath and Scout Law in your daily life helps promote sustainability and good stewardship.

6. Learn about career opportunities in the sustainability field. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required. Discuss what you have learned with your counselor and explain why this career might interest you.

Update, July 16: Absent of a monthly water bill or statement, a Scout could arrive at his best guess or estimate on the amount of water usage in his home to satisfy the requirement. For example, if a meter is attached to the well, the Scout could estimate his family’s daily water usage by tracking gallons used per day.

Also, the Internet is a great source for finding information on conducting a household water audit. By searching Google, one might discover the state of Maryland, for example, offers a way to accurately estimate water use without a meter by measuring water flow from each fixture in the home. Other states’ websites offer water audit spreadsheets, charts, or checklists to help individuals evaluate water use.


  1. One small caveat for req’t 2/Water/A … in our community we have three groups. Some of us receive water bills twice a year, for a six month period. Others are on wells, and have no metering of their water usage. The third group rent and have water usage included in their rent, so they never see any water usage information.

    Some renters or home owners could read the meter themselves on a monthly basis and keep track of that (I’d recommend that to any of our scouts), but for those on wells … they’ve got nothing.

    That requirement will require some finessing by the counselor in order to meet the spirit of the requirement.

    It’s also interesting that under Energy, the requirement to monitor the usage is optional (it’s part B), but under Water, the requirement to monitor the usage is mandatory (it’s part A). Could it be that under Water, A and B are swapped (that would match well with the Energy section)?

    • I was wondering the same thing because it is similar here. I was thinking we could keep a bucket by the sink and dump water in it if it was something we were going to dump in the sink anyway. Or keep a log for every person in the house for everytime they use the water. Neither would be exact but it would give you something to evaluate your use.

    • We’re on a well, so apparently my boy can’t earn this badge. And I don’t really have a problem with scouts not being able to earn every badge… but an Eagle-optional one like this certainly could be written in a way where it would be possible for rural scouts to earn it. And I would imagine a lot of inner-city scouts will have a tough time finding water usage info too.

      I’m very disappointed.

      • I do have a problem with scouts not being able to earn a particular badge. Should they? in many cases it’s not wise. There are many badges that are geographically or economically challenging and I don’t have a problem with that, but a determined scout should have the opportunity. But to essentially make it impossible for thousands of scouts to complete a particular badge because the creators of it have no sense of the geographic diversity of our country is unacceptable.

        • On the well issue, what about relatives or friends who are on water bills? And just because your on a well, doesn’t mean you should not try to conserve that as well.

          Its an option merit badge as well for eagle scouts this or Environmental science.

          I guess this is one of the merit badges that you might have to out of the way for, like scuba diving. Nearest place for us to earn that one is a three hour car drive one way.

        • Are there other badges where a determined scout couldn’t earn the badge? I don’t know of any. But my scout can’t go use someone else’s water bill to figure out water usage and then try to conserve water, that makes NO sense.

          We certainly can do things to cut back our water usage (well, not really much… we’re in a serious drought here and have already done a lot) but the requirement says they need to be able to measure usage, which we simply cannot do.

          If my kids want to earn Landscape Architecture, we can go to a city where they can meet a landscape architect. If they want to earn Scuba Diving, we can drive somewhere that they can do that, as it certainly isn’t possible locally. If they want to earn Skiing, we can drive to the mountains. I don’t have a problem with that.

          But to not be able to earn a badge because we can’t measure our water usage… and it being an Eagle-optional one, that is just wrong.

        • I really don’t think that this is such a big deal. Such, the requirement should be rewritten, but I’m also sure that a counselor for that badge would understand the limitations that somebody using a well faces and they could easily work something out (such as a water usage log) that would have the same impact as looking a water bill.

    • Somebody on the merit badge team didn’t think this out very well (pun intended). Quick stop the presses! Back to the drawing board.

    • It says “Your family” Aunts/Uncles/Cousins are all part of “Your family” I see no reason you can’t hunt down water bills and work with them to reduce their usage and meet this requirement.

      One can also argue “Church family” or “Extended Family” could also be interpreted to make these requirements still done with original intent

  2. Bryan – Can you create a reduced size flyer? The flyer is 11.9MB which exceeds a lot of email systems limits so it gets bounced back.

  3. Bryan, with all the past discussions on how councilors can not change requirements please explain how we are to handle requirement 1A on water use when the family lives on a well. There is no meter or bill to trace usage.

  4. I agree with the water well issue. The language needs to be changed to indicate that some people do not have water bills. (and in my humble, rural opinion – this reflects the suburban focus of BSA!) Otherwise, it looks like a great merit badge.

  5. This may be the easiest Eagle required merit badge that I’ve seen. Great one for the younger scouts to pursue!

    It will take 6-7 weeks to earn due to the requirements in 2.A (have to implement water saving plan, and then get the bill in the mail to see if it worked to reduce usage).

  6. Well water here too… the vast majority of the scouts in our very rural district (not just the troop) are on wells. You’d think the team coming up with this would have thought of that.

      • You are so right. It turns out that the large increase in life expectancy in the 20th century was not due to medical advances in surgery and medication and the like. The primary factor was the global commitment to the understanding of the germ theory of disease, which led to reductions in all sorts of infections due to cleanliness, water purification, and proper storage and preparation of food. Proper nutrition and vaccinations were the next largest factors. We should NEVER forget these lessons.

  7. Here is my interpretation of Requirement 2a: If you have a well like I do then that requirement cannot pertain to you and a Scout that falls under that situation does not have to comply with it. How can he? He does not receive a bill. There is no other alternative or option. I suppose this was not that completely thought out.

    I guess we will have to wait for an official interpretation from the National Advancement Team. That’s my opinion and it’s worth what you paid for it.

    • It allows the scout to look at historical water bills. So have him go back into the family filing cabinet and find 3 months of bills from some period in which the family actually got a water bill. I think I have some from the apartment building that i lived in during1993.

      Ridiculous? Of course. But so would be the behavior of any MB counselor who refused to sign off on this badge just because a kid’s house was on a private well or not on a separate meter.

  8. Bryan If a scout takes this merit badge in lieu of Environmental Science can the scout still earn the World Conservation Award?

  9. I guess BSA supports Agenda 21 now. Most requirements are good but why the propaganda on Sustainable Development? Personally, I like the Environmental Science MB, at least it claims some science vs, a green agenda. Science vs. Agenda???

    • I agree with you. Agenda 21. We need to be shunning the concept not embracing it. Conservation is good but it should not be done this way.

    • About time BSA made conservation a personal goal for scouts. So you have never heard of LEED buildings? How about solar panels on houses? Sustainable farming has been a Federal mandate since the dust bowl. Most other nations have all of these requirements in the environmental science badge (or they still have conservation badges). Environmental Science is more of a group/global view concentrated on things the scouts can not control. Sustainability makes it a personal goal… How are you personally trying to solve the environmental problems of your area.

  10. This should be called the Liberal Agenda Merit Badge. It assumes that everyone isn’t already using things in moderation.
    In today’s economy where 70% of GDP is based on consumerism. It is illogical to assume that reducing everything is sustainable for the economy. How many jobs do we lose because of irrational indoctrination.
    Planning communities is simply a way to eliminating the free choice of where people can live and has nothing to do with sustainability. Our cities are already sustainable by that fact that they have existed for decades and centuries.
    The Global Climate change and Over Population religion is now being taught as an Eagle Required merit badge.
    Here is an idea for Sustainability. Don’t kill a bunch of trees to printed handbooks full of drivel.

    • Our cities are failing at an unprecidented level due to lack of planning. Infastructure is failing all around us as the affluent move out of the cities and into the burbs. How does planning for sustainability reduce choices? Planned unit develepments have been around for decades and they work better because of better planning.

      If the liberal term of “sustainability” was replaced by “Common Sense Long Term Planning Merit badge” i’d bet you would think it was an ok idea.

      As for jobs, the “green idustry jobs” are actually the ones growing right now and helping to fuel ‘mericas recovery tyvm.

      Global Change is a reality, the environment has never been stable in it’s entire history regardless of human impact. Why is reducing any impact is such a bad idea ?

  11. Sustainablility is not a new concept. I had read about it back in college in relationship to farming. The core concept is a very good one. I believe this merit badge, as with most of them, are to make our young people think. I was excited to see the merit badge come out. Now if we figure out how to do 2a, we can get started! 🙂

  12. Good thing this is an alternate for Eagle. My son will not be able to earn this MB unless we move. We do not have “city” water, we have a well, so we do not get water bills.

    And after looking at the rest of the requirements, it is one that I would not allow him to do anyway. “Carbon footprint”? “Climate change”? Why did Boy Scouts add a junk science MB to their program? Climate change is a discredited theory that has no place in the Boy Scout program. They can’t prove it, junk scientists started out saying “humans are causing a global ice age”. When they couldn’t prove that they started on the “humans are causing global warming”. Since they can’t prove that either, now it is “humans are causing Climate change”. Just another indication that the Boys Scouts has lost its way.

  13. With the exception of the water bill issue, this looks like a great merit badge. I agree with some of the comments here, I grew up with a cistern, not a well, and we could always tell how much water was in the cistern so you could figure out your usage. Not everyone would be able to have this information, however. Sustainability is not a new idea, it’s been practiced by many people for a long, long time.

  14. You could probably get an estimate without a “bill” to look at – some examples:

    Many water usages give info – for example a toilet often tells how many gallons per flush, a shower says how much water comes out per minute, things like that.
    For other uses, it could be measured – instead of just putting water in a pan to cook, use a measuring cup – for drinking put it in a pitcher and see how long it takes to use that up or use a glass with a known size.
    You won’t get all of it, but it would give a pretty good idea.

    And, might I add – having “city” water may not help – where my grandmother lived, they just got a flat rate bill, no meters. So someone there wouldn’t have known gallons used either.

  15. I think that this is a much more involved merit badge. It will require a lot more thinking and doing than I see scouts willing to do. As a councilor for Environmental Science, I think that scouts will find it easier to continue doing the Environmental Science merit badge verse doing this one. I do like this one though because of the thought process involved. The only problem I see with this one is with the water bill and usage. I am sure this can be easily fixed. I would like to see the scouts having to do both Environmental Science and Sustainability to earn their Eagle.

  16. I think with a little creativity the requirement 2a could still be fulfilled. Figure out the CFM of the well pump. Or if it is an artisan well, the flow rate could still be determined. Monitor that for a week using time and or power consumption and a rough estimate could be gained. We had to do this on our farm when I was growing up. The idea is to then put into place corrective measures to lower the household consumption. put those measures in place and see if the power consumption, time pump is running etc. When ever I have come across these in merit badge requirements I have always looked at it as an opportunity to maybe look at bringing in another requirement from a different merit badge to fulfill this requirement.

  17. I believe the focus on 2A is as the first line reads; “Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce your family’s water usage.” and “As a family, choose three ways to help reduce consumption. Implement those ideas for one month”. Now quantifying the usage is an issue so they want you to use your water bills as reference.
    As a MB coordinator, I would see it OK for the counselor to extend any way of quantifying the water usage as meeting “Examine your family’s water bills reflecting usage for three months.” Counsels have some wiggle room in excepting the scout’s work. This would be a perfect example of the counselor giving such wiggle.

  18. This MB is too important to just write off as impossible. Let’s think outside the box. It only implies that you use the water meter/bill to measure your “family’s” water use. If you have no meter/bill, don’t worry…the real requirement is to develop a plan that attempts to reduce water usage. Even with a fixed cost for water…has it changed over the last few years? Just discussing one bill with the family might encourage them to try to save water. The meter/bill is the easy way to track your progress. What about tracking the number of times a week you flush your toilet, or the number of minutes each family member takes a shower. That’s where most of the water use goes. Water use can be tracked and reduced if you don’t get hung up on meters and bills.
    As far as “family” goes, why can’t a Scout work with a relative who gets a water bill to reduce that family’s useage, or Scout A working with Scout B’s family on a joint project. You would have two champions of conservation pushing the family to reduce useage. It would be no different than if Scouts A and B were brothers.

  19. I’m actually quite disappointed in this MB. I’m certified as an LNT trainer (took the course because my son needed an adult to go through it with him), and admittedly, it was initially described to me by another LNT trainer. However – my understanding was that it would be a tie-in to Scouting’s emphasis on LNT. Instead it reads like a checklist of first-world angst.

    As we roll out this (and other) new MB’s, we should be focusing on tying them directly into Scouting activities and more directly into our core values as Scouts. Yes – conservation is important, but it requires action. Frankly, I see this MB as just another way to make scouts’ eyes glaze over.

  20. After looking at the requirements this merit badge seems to combine Family Life and Environmental Science. If you are on a well or pond filtration systems you could use the amount of electricity used. I think a better merit badge would to make American Heritage an Eagle Requirement and go back to the drawing board on this one

  21. This is great and I applaud BSA for implementing this new badge. I would have been excited to do this one when I was in Scouts.

    Badges aren’t meant to be the end of the discussion but are really meant to open Scout’s minds up to new ideas and get them to teach themselves. These are great topics and are very complimentary to scouting values.

  22. Bryan, our son attended the Jamboree last month. He said that they were told several times that the Sustainability Merit Badge is going to replace the Environmental Science Merit Badge next year. Have you heard anything about this?

    • Hi, Sharon. The Sustainability merit badge is not replacing the Environmental Science merit badge. Scouts working toward Eagle can earn one or the other as Eagle-required merit badges. (Or they can earn both.) The task force for Sustainability merit badge discusses the differences between the two merit badges in this Scouting magazine story:

      Hope that helps. —Gretchen

  23. you could monitor the power usage of the well pump with a simple amp meter to gain Volume! it won’t be in gallons but it is recordable and easily checked. if it is a 110V pump you could use a “Kill-A-Watt” type meter, or use a run time meter.

  24. Updated From BSA National Website

    2. Do the following:
    Water. Do A AND either B OR C.

    A: Develop and implement a plan that attempts to reduce your family’s water usage. As a family, discuss water usage. To aid in your discussion, if past water bills are available, you may choose to examine a few. As a family, choose three ways to help reduce water consumption. Implement those ideas for one month. Share what you learn with your counselor, and tell how you think your plan affected your family’s water usage.

    This was a fixed that was mentioned in the advancement Newsletter from National.

  25. Thank you for some other informative site. Where else
    may I am getting that kind of information written in such a perfect approach?
    I’ve a project that I am simply now working on, and I have been at the look out for such info.

  26. What a great way to dovetail many crucial Scouting values: thrift, conservation, awareness, preparedness. This badge allows the boys the chance to put those core values of Scouting into practice and verify results. Good for the Scouts of today and of course for their kids too. Much of the basis for my current knowledge on how the Earth’s systems and people (civilizations and individuals) affect each other I learned form my years in Scouting. I’m glad to see this badge come up, and I look for ward to the lessons the boys can learn from it. Good for the boys. Good for the long term Scouting legacy!

  27. same problem here- requirement number 1= we have a well. How do you suggest a PRACTICAL way to get around this requirement??

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