Environmental Systems & Societies

Course description

Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) is an exciting and highly relevant cross-disciplinary subject that draws together elements from Biology, Geography, Environmental Science, Physics, Chemistry, Politics and Economics. From September 2024, we are delighted to announce we will be offering ESS at both Standard and Higher Level (SL and HL).

ESS provides a coherent perspective on the interrelationships between environmental systems and the societies within them, encouraging pupils to develop an informed and personal response to pressing environmental issues. A rigorous and scientific course, ESS involves practical investigations but also develops an understanding of how socio-economic, cultural, and political factors help to shape environmental behaviour. A holistic “systems” approach is used and leads pupils to an appreciation of nature and values of internationalism. All students undertake practical work designed to develop their practical and enquiry skills in preparation for the Internal Assessment (IA), as well as to deepen their appreciation for and experience of different earth systems.

ESS contains both science and social science elements and counts as either a Group 3 or Group 4 subject (at SL and HL), making it one of the most versatile subjects that the IB offers. This allows pupils who study ESS in Group 3 to study up to three sciences (including ESS), or pupils who take it in Group 4 to study up to three humanities (including ESS). ESS works particularly well in combination with subjects such as Biology, Geography, Economics and Politics.

In addition to SL content, the ESS HL course will consider different environmental systems in greater depth, including ecosystem dynamics, atmospheric and oceanic physics and hydrological systems. Pressing issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and food security will be considered in more detail. HL Students will also study three further modules in Environmental Law, Environmental and Ecological Economics and Environmental Ethics.


Biology and/or Geography GCSE with at least a grade 6 are not prerequisites but would be an advantage. Pupils must be hungry for a deeper understanding about the world in which they live and be willing to explore pressing issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable development.

Potential careers

The Environmental Systems and Societies course will provide pupils with a broad knowledge base in many of the pressing contemporary and historical socio-ecological issues facing humanity. ESS HL will be particularly relevant to pupils wishing to study subjects such as Biology, Geography, Anthropology and Environmental Science at university (this is not an exhaustive list). ESS is an asset in careers that deal specifically with environmental issues, including nature conservation, journalism, politics, law, teaching and finance. Pupils will also develop many transferable skills such as public speaking and presentation delivery, group work and forming and expressing personal opinions. These skills will undoubtedly prepare them for a wide range of careers in management and business. The ability to analyse and reason are key learning outcomes of the course.

Contact for further information

Mrs Abigail Patterson, Head of ESS (AMP@wellingtoncollege.org.uk)