As I am sure you are aware, the NEBOSH Environmental Diploma exams have been postponed as a result of the pandemic, which for students can be very frustrating. To help maintain momentum in your studies, I had a think as to what we can do to help. I came up with a plan of a series of blog posts that add value to our course materials rather than repeat them, a sort of informal view on the key topics for each element. Hopefully these will help expand your knowledge and assist in keeping you interested until it is time for the exam.
Let’s take a look, then, at Element 1. This element is fairly short with just four key learning outcomes. Below are some of the more key sections, but do be aware you could be tested on other areas of the element as well.
The ISO 14001 definition of the ‘Environment’
The first thing you need to be aware of is the meaning of the term ‘environment’. There are lots of definitions of this term, but perhaps the most well known is that within ISO 14001, and this is the one that NEBOSH wants you to know. The key word in the ISO 14001 definition is ‘surroundings’. So when trying to remember this definition think about what those surroundings could be. For example, the air that we breathe, rivers, lakes as well as living things such as humans, plants and animals. From there you can develop the definition or something fairly close to it.
Knowing how the carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water (hydrological) cycles operate is an important topic to learn. I think most people can get their heads around the water cycle. When learning about the other cycles there are a lot of similarities. If you are struggling on a certain cycle but you are good on another, think about the one you are best on and adapt your answer.
For example, let’s take the cycling of elements through the food chain. This is an important part of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Basically, these elements accumulate in plants from the soil and/or atmosphere, then a herbivore eats the plant, a carnivore eats the herbivore, something eats that and so on! All these animals will go to the toilet and return some of the elements to the soil, as well as eventually dying which also returns nutrients to the soil.
Impacts of humans on the environment
Students also need to be aware of the impacts that humans may have on the environment. There is a fair amount in this learning outcome. A key area is understanding the impacts of humans on plants, animals and ecosystems. There are quite a few definitions and basic ecological knowledge that you need to gain. Like nutrient cycling there are similarities that can make your life a little easier when answering questions on this topic. Deforestation, desertification and soil erosion can be linked impacts. For example deforestation means that the ground is not sheltered by trees (known as impaction). As such it leads to the rain directly hitting the soil which dislodges it so that it washes away. This may lead to fertile top soil being washed away into a river, leaving the ground very low in nutrients and limiting growth of plants. Under certain conditions this can form deserts.
The two principles
There is a need in Element 1 to have some knowledge of two important environmental principles. The ‘precautionary principle’ is the first, and the most tricky. This principle is about being cautious; we don’t wait for absolute scientific or other evidence before we control an environmental risk.
Take, for example, climate change. There is a good understanding that this is a major issue. However it is difficult to predict with 100% certainty the actual effect it will have, as the earth is a complex system to accurately model. What do we do then? Wait until the impacts are significant and then do something to combat it? If we do this it could be too late. Many of the impacts are likely to take years to reverse or may be irreversible (at least on a human timescale). Additionally, the principle states that the best measures have ‘no regrets’ in that if there are other significant benefits from tackling a problem then it is even better. This again fits in well with climate change. Tackling this problem has many benefits such as increased urban air quality, cost savings from energy efficiency and improved energy security.
The next principle is ‘polluters pays’. This one is perhaps easier to understand than the previous principle. It is basically outlining that if you pollute the environment then you have to pay for its restoration. It is the basis of many environmental laws, for example the UK Landfill Tax. If a company sends waste to landfill then it pays a certain amount per tonne of waste. This money is used to fund various projects that are environmentally related that usually restore the environment in some way or another. There are many other examples covering discharge to air, land and water. For example, if you pollute any of these you have to pay for them to be remediated to the standard prior to pollution.
Final Note on Element 1
Well that’s some of the key sections of Element 1. Keep an eye for the next instalment and we will see what Element 2 has to offer.
John Binns BSc (Hons), 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.