VCE Environmental Science enables students to explore the challenges that past and current human interactions with the environment presents for the future by considering how Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere function as interrelated systems. In undertaking this study, students examine how environmental actions affect, and are affected by, ethical, social and political frameworks.

In VCE Environmental Science students develop a range of inquiry skills involving practical experimentation and research, analytical skills including critical and creative thinking, and communication skills. Students use scientific and cognitive skills and understanding to analyse contemporary issues related to environmental science, and communicate their views from an informed position.

VCE Environmental Science provides for continuing study pathways within the field and leads to a range of careers. Diverse areas of employment range from design, including landscape or building architecture, engineering and urban planning, environmental consultancy and advocacy, which may involve employment in air, water and/or soil quality monitoring and control, agriculture, construction, mining and property management and water quality engineering. Environmental scientists also work in cross-disciplinary areas such as bushfire research, environmental management and conservation, geology and oceanography.

Units of Study

Unit 1:

How are Earth’s systems connected? 

In this unit students examine Earth as a set of four interacting systems: the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. Students apply a systems perspective when exploring the physical requirements for life in terms of inputs and outputs, and consider the effects of natural and human-induced changes in ecosystems. They investigate the physical environment and its components, the function of local ecosystems and the interactions that occur in and between ecological components over different timescales. Students consider how the biotic and abiotic components of local ecosystems can be monitored and measured.

A student practical investigation related to ecosystem monitoring and/or change is undertaken in this unit. The investigation draws on content from Area of Study 1 and/or Area of Study 2.

Unit 2:

How can pollution be managed?

In this unit students explore the concept of pollution and associated impacts on Earth’s four systems through global, national and local perspectives. They distinguish between wastes, contaminants and pollutants and examine the characteristics, measurement and management of pollution. They analyse the effects of pollutants on the health of humans and the environment over time. Students consider the rules for use, treatment and disposal of pollutants and evaluate the different perspectives of those who are affected by pollutants. They explore the significance of technology, government initiatives, communities and individuals in redressing the effects of pollutants, and consider how values, beliefs and evidence affect environmental decision making.

Pollutants can be produced through natural and human activities and can generate adverse effects for living and non-living things when released into ecosystems. Students examine how pollutant effects produced in one of Earth’s four systems may have an impact on the other systems. They explore the factors that affect the nature and impact of pollution including pollutant sources, transport mechanisms and potential build-up due to long-term or repeated exposure. Students compare three pollutants of national and/or global significance with reference to their effects in the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere, and discuss management options.

Students undertake an in-depth case study of the management strategies that apply to a pollutant of local concern related to ecosystem monitoring and/or change.

Unit 3:

How can biodiversity and development be sustained?

In this unit students focus on environmental management through the examination and application of sustainability principles. They explore the value and management of the biosphere by examining the concept of biodiversity and the services provided to all living things. They analyse the processes that threaten biodiversity and apply scientific principles in evaluating biodiversity management strategies for a selected threatened endemic species. Students use a selected environmental science case study with reference to the principles of sustainability and environmental management to explore management at an Earth systems scale, including impact on the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere.

A student practical investigation related to biodiversity or energy use from an environmental management perspective is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, and is assessed in Unit 4, Outcome 3. The findings of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format.

Unit 4:

How can the impacts of human energy use be reduced?

In this unit students analyse the social and environmental impacts of energy production and use on society and the environment. They explore the complexities of interacting systems of water, air, land and living organisms that influence climate, focusing on both local and global scales, and consider long-term consequences of energy production and use. Students examine scientific concepts and principles associated with energy, compare efficiencies of the use of renewable and non-renewable energy resources, and consider how science can be used to reduce the impacts of energy production and use. They distinguish between natural and enhanced greenhouse effects and discuss their impacts on living things and the environment, including climate change.

Measurement of environmental indicators often involves uncertainty. Students develop skills in data interpretation, extrapolation and interpolation, test predictions, and recognise the limitations of provisional and incomplete data. They learn to differentiate between relationships that are correlative and those that are cause-and-effect, and make judgments about accuracy, validity and reliability of evidence.

A student practical investigation related to biodiversity or energy use from an environmental management perspective is undertaken either in Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, and is assessed in Unit 4, Outcome 3. The findings of the investigation are presented in a scientific poster format.

Example pathways
  • Science
  • Agriculture
  • Chemist
  • Civil Engineer
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Forester
  • Geologist
  • Surveyor
  • Education

This is a guide only, please see the careers team for pathway planning advice.


There are no prerequisites for entry to Units 1, 2 and 3. Students must undertake Unit 3 prior to undertaking Unit 4.

Unit 3 and 4 Assessment

Percentage contributions to the study score in VCE Environmental Science are as follows:

  • Unit 3 School-assessed Coursework: 20 per cent.
  • Unit 4 School-assessed Coursework: 30 per cent
  • End-of-year examination: 50 per cent