Environmental Quality

Environmental quality can influence and be influenced by many things. Due to its potentially significant effects (positive and negative) on environments and their populations, it is important to understand its drivers and how to measure them. The information obtained through various measurement techniques makes it possible to manage threats and shortcomings of (lack of) environmental quality, which is necessary to improve and reduce damage.

Environmental Quality Environmental Quality

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Table of contents

    Environmental quality is a key indicator of human development. This is because humans are increasingly modifying the environment to cater to their needs. Therefore, if the environmental quality of an area is lacking, it is often a result of anthropogenic influence.

    Environmental quality refers to several components of the physical environment and their impact on the surrounding populations.

    As well as the natural environment, environmental quality also considers more urban and/or built-up environments. Many things can affect the environmental quality of a place. In turn, this means that there are many things to be considered when measuring the quality of an environment.

    "Scientists use the word “anthropogenic” in referring to environmental change caused or influenced by people, either directly or indirectly" - USGC.

    Environmental quality factors

    The following are examples of factors that have the potential to affect the quality of an environment:

    • Noise
    • Traffic/congestion
    • Graffiti/vandalism
    • Litter
    • Maintenance
    • Availability of green spaces
    • Distance from essential amenities

    If certain factors are prevalent, the environmental quality of an area may be compromised. By contrast, some of the factors can encourage a higher environmental quality.

    Imagine that there are two areas: Area A and Area B. If Area A is noisy, congested, with limited green spaces and poorly maintained buildings and Area B is full of green spaces, well-maintained buildings and aesthetically good infrastructure, then the environmental quality of Area B will be greater than that of Area A.

    However, sometimes it is not as easy to compare two different areas, as there will be strengths and shortcomings that can complicate direct comparison. That is why environmental quality needs to be measured.

    Measuring environmental quality

    To make it easier to compare, contrast and assess the environmental quality of particular areas, people have come up with ways to measure environmental quality. This is important to keep a healthy environment, one that has limited pollution, availability and accessibility to green spaces, is well-maintained and caters to the population's needs.

    Environmental quality survey

    An environmental quality survey is a method of measuring environmental quality. Typically, a survey will be circulated among the residents of an area to obtain data on how they perceive the area in question. This will involve rating various parameters from poor to excellent on a pre-determined scale. These parameters will collectively determine the environmental quality of an area. Therefore, they include many, if not all, of the factors listed above.

    Here is an example of a standard environmental quality survey:

    Environmental Quality, Example of an environmental quality survey, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Example of an environmental quality survey. Created with Canva. StudySmarter Originals.

    The example above is only 1 of many different surveys. There is no standard survey so it might be possible that one you have seen or even filled out, looked different and wanted you to rate other qualities.

    While the data obtained from environmental quality surveys are quantitative and scores can be added up to calculate the overall environmental quality of an area, it is crucial to recognise that they are also subjective. This is because one person may perceive an area to be of an entirely different quality than another person. This can complicate the data analysis process following the data collection.

    Environmental quality standards - UK

    Sometimes, a country or region may introduce environmental quality standards, from which areas or industries should compare and assess their surroundings as part of an environmental quality assessment.

    Environmental quality standards are a series of thresholds introduced to create a minimum standard expected from environments.

    As was the case with the environmental quality survey, the parameters covered by the environmental quality standards are often derived from the factors that influence the quality of the environment mentioned earlier. However, while the survey aims to simply assess environmental quality with the potential to use the information to improve an area, the environmental quality standards are often a minimum expectation threshold.

    In the UK, specific factors should and shouldn’t exist in certain environments. For example, in coastal and estuarine water management, some pollutants have been identified as priority substances because of the environmental quality standards. Therefore, immediate action should be taken if these pollutants are present and environmental quality standards are breached in the environmental quality assessment.

    Unlike the environmental quality survey, this approach is usually quantitative in nature and objective. This means that it often is an easier method for determining environmental quality because it has a higher accuracy rate, often leading to more consistent results.

    Why is environmental quality important?

    There are many reasons that obtaining and maintaining a high(er) environmental quality is important. This is because a low(er) environmental quality can be and is frequently associated with negative effects, whereas a high(er) environmental quality can encourage significant improvements. Let’s look at some examples of both of these in action.

    Positive and negative effects

    There are many positive effects of having a good environmental quality and many negative effects of having a bad one. Don't believe me? Let's look at a few examples:

    Negative effects of low environmental quality

    • Negative effects on human health (e.g. respiratory and/or cardiovascular diseases; negative mental health effects; higher blood pressure; cancer)

    • Lower life expectancies

    • Lower biodiversity

    • Requires significant financial support to fix, which can lead to economic difficulty

    Positive effects of high environmental quality

    • Positive effects on human health

    • Higher life expectancies

    • Encourages biodiversity

    How can we maintain high environmental quality?

    To maintain or obtain high environmental quality, it is essential to account for all the potential influences of environmental quality. From here, measures can be introduced to either reduce the damage done by prevalent factors or can eradicate the issue entirely. Let’s break this down into the factors we listed earlier and identify how each influence can be managed.

    Noise

    Noise pollution can be detrimental to the environment. To combat this, it is important to identify the sources of noise pollution. In the case of many places, we can attribute noise pollution primarily to traffic, industry and activity from within buildings. So, what can we do about these?

    In the case of traffic, common management techniques include: the introduction of speed limits/speed bumps/road narrowing to reduce traffic speed and, by extension, noise; source modification; introducing and incentivising the use of electric (low-noise) vehicles and the introduction of noise mapping/zoning so that noise can be monitored.

    Source modification refers to making changes to the source of noise itself, rather than simply mitigating against damage it causes. When we consider traffic as a cause of noise pollution, some examples of source modification can include changing the type of tyres used on cars or even modifying road surfaces so that they produce less noise.

    Noise pollution from industrial activity is becoming increasingly regulated by authorities. The introduction of industry standards has encouraged owners of industrial plants to rework their activity so that less noise pollution is created.

    Industry standards are, much like environmental quality standards, a series of thresholds introduced to create a minimum standard expected from industries so that the environment and surrounding populations are not significantly harmed/damaged.

    Traffic/congestion

    Traffic/congestion can cause environmental degradation through the increased emissions, as well as through noise pollution. As we are becoming more environmentally aware, efforts have been introduced across the world to reduce the impacts of congestion. Broadly, these measures can be divided into 2: the measures that offer encourage alternative transport and those which put people off relying on cars.

    Alternative Transport IncentivesReducing Car Use Incentives
    Park and ride schemesIntroduction of congestion zones
    Improving public transport networksIntroduction of low emission zones
    Incentives to cycle to work (e.g. through the introduction of bike lanes)Introduction of vehicle exclusion zones
    Introduction of car-pooling incentives (e.g. car-pooling lanes)Increasing the cost of parking

    Table 1

    Often, a combination of incentives is used to both encourage people to rely on their cars less and to adopt other modes of transport, e.g. public transport.

    The company 'Uber' has expanded on the Park and Ride schemes to include 'Park and Glide'. This way, people can commute around London along the River Thames on boats!

    Graffiti/vandalism

    Graffiti and vandalism are environmental issues that are arguably easier to manage than large-scale issues of congestion. Many places take a 2-pronged approach: (1) remove existing vandalism and (2) prevent it from reoccurring. Prevention tactics include introducing stricter anti-vandalism legislation, restricting access to walls that could be targeted by graffiti artists, painting areas with anti-graffiti paint and increasing public awareness of the issue.

    Litter

    You have probably seen litter, whether that be near your home, on holiday or at a sports/music venue. But what can be done to make people consider the environment before they drop their rubbish carelessly? Like vandalism, combatting the issue of litter requires the removal of current litter and then efforts to prevent further litter from being added to the problem. The first aim can be achieved through the mobilisation of volunteer groups and widespread litter-picking activity. The second is arguably more difficult. Common strategies include the implementation and regular emptying of more bins, and increasing public awareness.

    Environmental Quality Litter-Picking StudySmarterFig. 2 - A group of volunteers picking up litter

    Maintenance

    A failure to maintain buildings and infrastructure can lead to environmental issues associated with dereliction. To maintain a high environmental quality here, it is important to regularly maintain infrastructure and/or the environment, which can be supported through increasing funding and through the mobilisation of volunteer groups to help out.

    Availability of green spaces

    Having green spaces readily available is good for both the physical environment and the people who occupy it. However, the demands of people often mean that this gets overlooked and the construction of buildings and infrastructure takes priority. Creating green spaces, whether that's green walls, green roofs, parks or gardens and increasing funding and public awareness can work to reverse these priorities and compromise so that the environmental quality is maintained at a high level.

    In Singapore, the Gardens by the Bay is a perfect example of how green spaces have been created to ensure a high(er) environmental quality. The area in which the gardens can be found is urban by nature. This urban greening project was introduced by the nation to improve the quality of the environment.

    Distance from essential amenities

    It is fairly obvious that having essential amenities close by is incredibly important for the population of an area. Failure to have these amenities in close proximity can exacerbate other environmental problems by requiring people to commute further for basic necessities. Here, there are 2 potential solutions:

    1. Build amenities/services/shops closer to the population in need.
    2. Improve transport links to areas where there are amenities (preferably in line with traffic/congestion goals).

    Environmental Quality - Key takeaways

    • Environmental quality can be used as an indicator of human development.
    • Having a low environmental quality can have several negative effects on the environment and population, whereas having a high environmental quality can have several positive effects on both the environment and people.
    • It is important to measure and manage environmental quality to mitigate damage and enable sustainable development (where meeting the needs of the present population does not compromise the needs of the future generation(s)).
    • Environmental quality can be measured through environmental quality surveys and/or environmental quality assessments (which are generated from looking at environmental quality standards).

    References

    1. Definition of anthropogenic: https://www.usgs.gov/news/earthword-anthropogenic
    2. Fig. 2: Litter picking (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plogging_Hikers.jpg) by Ben Nelson (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Bennelson8801) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Environmental Quality

    Why is environmental quality important?

    Environmental quality is important because changes in quality can have significant impacts on both the environment and population(s). These can include negative effects on human health, biodiversity and finances.

    What are environmental quality standards?

    Environmental quality standards are a series of thresholds introduced to create a minimum standard expected from environments. 

    How can we maintain environmental quality?

    Environmental quality management techniques include those which prevent environmental issues, reduce them, eradicate them entirely or even simply work to improve environmental quality. This can include measures such as: litter-picking; congestion charges; creation of green spaces and clearing up graffiti. 

    What are the qualities of a healthy environment?

    A healthy environment has limited pollution; available and accessible green spaces; is well-maintained and caters to the needs of the population

    What are positive environmental impacts?

    Positive environmental impacts include rich biodiversity, health benefits, longer life expectancies and economic opportunity.

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    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Environmental Quality Teachers

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