Environmental policy has become an important area of European Union (EU) policy making, even though it had not originally been foreseen in the Treaty of Rome. Its emergence in the early 1970s can be understood as a result of a transfer of the novel policy idea of the environment to the European level. This paper thus inquires into the emergence of a European environmental policy from a diffusion of ideas perspective. Rather than focusing on multi-level policy making it seeks to trace the diffusion of environmental ideas from the level of international organizations to the European Communities (EC) in the early 1970s. It analyzes how and why these new concepts were taken up by the European Communities and adapted to the specific institutional framework of the EC. Starting with a brief introduction into the historical context, the paper first explores the origins of the notion of the environment as a political concept emerging in the context of international organizations at the time. Secondly, an analysis of the first Environmental Action Programme of 1973 will be used to show how the EC conceptualized the environment, including the definition of problems and potential remedies. Thirdly, the origins of these ideas will be traced back to international models, from the UNESCO conference “Man and the Biosphere” in 1968 onwards. In a final step, the paper tries to explain the diffusion and reception of ideas. It examines how these ideas were received by the EC, which actors were involved in this process, and which mechanisms of diffusion played a role. The goal is thus to make a contribution to the debate about the transnational diffusion of ideas.