Top 5 merit badges for Scouts who love the Earth

The superheroes who will save our planet from destruction don’t fly through the air. They don’t wear capes or wield magic hammers.

They’re men and women like you and your Scouts and Venturers.

Through actions big and small, heroes like you will keep this planet spinning for your grandchildren, their grandchildren and so on.

Scouting and Earth Day, which is April 22, are natural partners. And so in preparation I thought I’d share my top 5 merit badges for Scouts who love the Earth.

Turns out there are quite a few merit badges — far more than just five — that do right by our planet. Makes sense, considering the Boy Scouts of America’s impressive sustainability record that has lasted more than a century.

See my list, and tell me which merit badges you’d add, below.


Congratulations, you get 61 trees! (And you get 61 trees, and you get 61 trees … )

A 2008 NPR story estimated that everyone on Earth gets about 61 trees in their lifetime. Sounds like a lot, until you consider all the things those 61 trees get used for:

” … baseball bats, barrels, books, blocks, benches, crutches, coffee filters, guitars, grocery bags, pencils, pine oil, beds, billboards, buttons, candy wrappers, buttons, chewing gum, cork, crayons, egg cartons, fruit pie filling, kites, linoleum, luggage, paper, pingpong balls, chopsticks (especially the disposable kind), rubber, tambourines, telephone books, tires, toilet paper, turpentine, xylophones and yo-yos …”

OK, so those 61 trees don’t seem like that much after all. That’s why learning about sustainable forest management is so critical.

Scouts who earn the Forestry merit badge learn about the contributions forests make to various elements of our lives. And, just as important, they learn how to preserve our tree population for future generations.


You’re much more likely to protect the Earth if you’ve seen how incredible our planet really is. Unbelievable wildlife, breathtaking vistas and examples of nature’s awesome power can be preserved and shared with the click of a shutter button.

Pick up National Geographic magazine, for example, and you’ll see stunning photography that increases your appreciation for our world.

The Photography merit badge empowers Scouts to tell stories through images like these. Those stories could inspire the Scout and others to protect the planet and make sure those photoworthy places stick around for generations to come.

Seeing, as they say, is believing.

Soil-and-Water-conservation-merit-badge-pamphletSoil and Water Conservation

In 2006, a Cornell professor said “soil erosion is second only to population growth as the biggest environmental problem the world faces.”

So, yeah, it’s a big deal. By earning the Soil and Water Conservation merit badge, Scouts gain an understanding about the ways humans affect those two titular resources.

More specifically, Scouts learn about erosion, water pollution and the hydrologic cycle.

But Scouts do more than sit around and lament what’s already happened because of their predecessors actions.

They complete conservation projects to stop the ill effects and discuss ways to stop future erosion. It’s all about preserving the Earth as we know it.

Environmental-Science-merit-badge-pamphletEnvironmental Science

Scouts who earn the Eagle-required* Environmental Science merit badge gain a better understanding of the ways humans impact our planet.

For example, in one requirement they’re asked to “record the trips taken, mileage and fuel consumption of a family car for seven days.”

Then they figure out whether any of those trips could’ve be combined to save gas, and, if so, how many gallons of gas that would’ve saved. Instead of picking up your prescription on Tuesday and your dry cleaning on Wednesday, for example, next time you should do them both in one trip.

Similarly eye-opening experiments deal with ecology, air pollution, water pollution, land pollution and protecting endangered species.

Every Eagle Scout is required to earn either the Environmental Science or the Sustainability merit badge. If every human was required to do the same, the planet’s health would be greatly improved.


If there were an official merit badge of Earth Day, it likely would be the Eagle-required* Sustainability merit badge.

One of the BSA’s newest merit badges, the Sustainability MB debuted in July 2013 and made headlines for its innovative requirements that force Scouts to analyze their own behaviors and how they affect our planet.

Before Scouts get to work on requirements that address sustainable practices in water, food, community, energy and other “stuff,” they first pause to consider what sustainability means to them.

Requirement 1 says, “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.”

Those notes come in handy in a later requirement. It’s all part of helping Scouts be prepared for our modern world — a world where sustainable living isn’t just for tree-huggers anymore. It’s for us all.

Honorable mentions

  • Animal Science
  • Citizenship in the World
  • Geology
  • Nature

Which would you add to my Top 5, above? Which would you remove?

Others in the Top 5 merit badge series

For more Top 5 merit badge fun, click here.

* Scouts must earn either the Environmental Science merit badge OR the Sustainability merit badge to earn Eagle.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.