Environmental Systems and Societies

Course Description

Environmental Systems and Societies is an interdisciplinary course, offered only at SL, which can be selected either as a Group 3 or as a Group 4 subject. This offers students greater flexibility in their choice of subjects to study as part of their diploma. The course satisfies the requirements for both hexagon groups 3 and 4, leaving students the opportunity to study another subject from any group of the hexagon including another subject from groups 3 or 4.

The prime intent of this course is to provide students with a coherent perspective of the interrelationships between environmental systems and societies; one that enables them to adopt an informed personal response to the wide range of pressing environmental issues that they will inevitably come to face. Through the course students should become able to evaluate the scientific, ethical and socio-political aspects of environmental issues while appreciating alternative viewpoints, including the perceptions of different cultures.

Course Content

Apart from the theory taught in class, the course includes a number of practical experimental work in the form of activities or investigations.

The chapter covered are:

  • Foundations of environmental systems and societies
  • Ecosystems and ecology
  • Biodiversity and conservation
  • Water, food production systems and society
  • Soil systems and society
  • Atmospheric systems and society
  • Climate change and energy production
  • Human systems and resource use

Also, some investigations and activities will be carried out during the two-year course. These may include in-class activities, short experiments, computer simulations, analysis and processing of data from databases, data gathering through questionnaires or surveys and fieldwork.


Students’ progress will be continuously evaluated on the basis of class participation, diligence and performance in written assignments, quizzes and revision tests. Written work is assessed against criteria specified by the IB.

The final Diploma grade in the subject is determined by two assessment components:

Internal assessment: Individual investigation

This component is internally assessed by the subject teacher and externally moderated by the IBO. The grade awarded comprises 25% of the final IB Diploma grade. It consists of an Individual investigation.

- The individual investigation is a scientific investigation performed by the student on a topic covered by the course. It should be between 1500-2250 words and is assessed on 6 criteria: identifying the context, planning, results- analysis and conclusion, discussion and evaluation, applications, communication.  

External assessment: Written examinations

The final written examination takes place in May of the second year and comprises 75% of the final IB Diploma grade. It is externally assessed by the IBO.

It consists of 2 papers:

Paper 1: a case study

Paper 2: section A consists of short-answer questions and section B of structured essays.


ESS being both a natural and a social science is related, more or less closely, to many topics as biology, ecology, chemistry, geography, but also economy, management and politics. This makes ESS a very relevant background subject for a variety of future field of studies at university. Awareness and ability to make informed choices on environmental issues, as well as the systems approach that is consolidated through this course are important for a number of university studies ranging from law and politics, to business, economics and natural sciences.

Download the subject guide