Which Environmental Qualification is right for you

In this post I thought we could look at IEMA and NEBOSH approaches to environmental management qualifications. By comparing the two approaches at the foundation and advanced levels it might help you choose which is best for you if you want to undertake a formalised environmental management qualification.

Foundation Level

Firstly, let’s look at the foundation level. These are a good place to start if you have no formal knowledge of environmental management and provide a solid foundation in environmental management. At this level we have the IEMA Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management and the NEBOSH Certificate in Environmental Management (we will call them the IEMA Foundation and NEBOSH Env. Cert. from now on!). Both qualifications if delivered in the classroom tend to be 5 days in total and obviously take as long as you need, within reason, if completed via e-learning so as you would expect are of broadly equal length of time.

Although the content of the two qualifications is similar the IEMA Foundation does tend to be more biased towards sustainable development, whereas the NEBOSH Env. Cert does cover sustainability but is more focused on assessing and controlling environmental risk. For example, the NEBOSH Env. Cert. is largely categorised by environmental management theme such as impact assessment, air pollution, water pollution and waste whereas the IEMA Foundation is more holistic.

A key difference is how the qualifications are assessed. The NEBOSH Env. Cert.  Is a two-hour closed book exam undertaken at a NEBOSH centre of 11 mandatory written questions. You must also undertake an assignment in the form of an environmental review of a workplace, producing a report of around 500-750 words plus completed questionnaire. The IEMA Foundation consists of a 1 hour multiple-choice exam of 30 questions that is completed online at any location with internet access. There is no assignment. The pass mark for the IEMA foundation is 70% and for the NEBOSH Env. Cert.  is 45% for the exam and 60% for the assignment (you must achieve a pass separately in each). Both qualifications, if you are successful, will allow you to achieve the academic requirements for associate level membership of IEMA.

Advanced Level

The more high-level general qualifications for environmental management from the two organisations are the NEBOSH Diploma in Environmental Management and the IEMA Certificate in Environmental Management.  These are both designed for people who need a more detailed knowledge of environmental management such as those who are or aspire to be fully fledged environmental practitioners. There is a lot greater commitment required for both these qualifications (for example they take 15 days of teaching time in the classroom).  For the NEBOSH Diploma the content is structured into various elements covering various environmental themes such as sustainability, air pollution, waste etc. The second unit of the course largely covers environmental law (either UK or international depending on which stream you decide to take).  For the IEMA certificate there is a very big emphasis, in the first unit on sustainable development, following this there are various environmental management topics covered.

The assessment for the NEBOSH Environment Diploma is a three-hour closed book exam that consists of answering five questions out of a choice of eight. They are written question, usually of a long answer format. You will need to undertake the exam at a NEBOSH centre, you will also need to complete a project that is a review of an organisations environmental management system that requires development of a report of 8000 – 12000 words. The pass mark is 45% for the exam and 50% for the assignment. For the IEMA certificate you will need to complete an assignment for each of the three units (and a competency assessment if you want to apply for Practitioner Membership) and send your answers to your training provider to be marked. The pass mark for each assignment is 50%. Both qualifications fulfil the academic requirements of Practitioner level membership of IEMA.


That is the two sets of qualifications! If you are totally new to environmental management or don’t feel confident enough to complete one of the higher-level qualifications or your job role only requires a basic knowledge of environmental management then I would consider either the NEBOSH Env. Cert. or the IEMA Foundation. The content is similar remember but the IEMA Foundation is more orientated towards sustainability and a relatively higher level of understanding of environmental management. The NEBOSH qualification is a little more practical in nature.

If you need a more detailed knowledge of environmental management for whatever reason – for example your job demands it, then consider the NEBOSH Env. Diploma or IEMA Certificate. Both are solid qualifications covering similar topics – but there is more emphasis on law in the NEBOSH Diploma qualification and more on sustainability for the IEMA Certificate.

It very much depends on the individual circumstances as which will be best for you. Look at what we have discussed above regarding each qualification and consider which one fits in best with what you want to learn, what is your favoured form of assessment and what you need to know for your job. If you have completed a NEBSOH qualification or IEMA qualification before and enjoyed the structure and were successful, then maybe continue with that bodies qualification. If you are still unsure about which is best for you then don’t hesitate to contact us at RRC for further advice.

John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MSc, MIEMA

With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.