What is Environmental Planning?

Environmental Planning is an area of specialization in the field of Planning. It is usually practiced by an Environmental Planner and emphasizes on environmental issues,  environmental assessment, environmental policy and matters concerning land use, policy framework, and design. The term environment suggests, the biotic and abiotic factors/components surrounding us. It involves air and its quality, water and its quality which may be surface or groundwater, micro, and macro-climatic conditions, soil, flora in terms of forests and fauna, agricultural lands and its interrelationship with the built environment, etc. Environmental Planning does not just give priority to the environment, but also deals with the associate issues/ problems. These are often because of with the interplay of the natural and built environment. A person who specializes in environmental planning is called as Environmental Planner.

The Environment and Urban Development

More than the past, there is a need for Environmental Planning today. Due to the diverse nature of our cities and settlements, more complexity in terms of technology and development, the impact on the environment is significantly high. The cities and settlements have been set up and were thriving along the river, water body or along the coast most of which have negative impact on environmental quality. This continues even now but this has led to the extensive land dedicated for the development and less for the environment. Also, due to extensive forces of economic development, the cities are outgrowing with no limits with compromise in the Urban environment. Some of the consequences include, cities along the coast or river losing the wetlands, mangroves, forests. Also urban areas lose other necessary environmental assets on the name of development making these settlements vulnerable to floods, storm surges, cyclones, and sea-level rise.


  1. Importance of Urban Planning
  2. Environmental Planner | Roles, Responsibilities & Future Prospects
  3. Regional Planning – Need, Importance & Implementation
Environmental Planning
Various aspects of Environmental Planning – Visual Representation

The environment comprises of various ecosystems and these ecosystems are the habitat of diverse flora and fauna. When the ecosystem is altered they not only cause ecosystem imbalances but also affect the functioning of other ecosystems and impacts natural environment. Various planning projects come up as a result of economy generation but it ignores the ecological factors. Thus Environment Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are being done. Ecosystem Valuation is being done to evaluate the ecosystem services of a specific habitat based on its benefit to the society.

The cities today have the major issue of solid waste management which has a direct impact on public health. Lack of planning of landfill site can cause air pollution & soil contamination. Also leachate when undergoing the soil, alters the soil characteristics, and pollutes the groundwater affecting the public health with water-borne diseases.

Not only at the micro-scale, but the macro-level environmental alteration also affects the micro-level too. These are problems pertaining to the atmosphere. They bring the changes in the physical characteristics of the atmosphere and changes in the air quality. The major phenomenon is climate change which is bringing the changes/irregularity. These include changes in the rainfall patterns, a number of sunny days, heat waves, etc. in the various places of the world. The phenomena of Climate change is not new though significant evidence is available many scientists deny the fact of changing climate over the world. Due to fast pace development in 19th and 20th century, the loss of shock-absorbing elements within cities has been very rapid like that of wetlands, mangroves, etc. which has led to intense events such as flooding. 

Important elements and aspects

Planning being a long term process and dealing with large geographical areas has various aspects which needs to be taken care of. These aspects and elements needs to be worked on together for an effective plan making. 

  • Social & Economic Development
  • Urban & Regional Development
  • Natural Resource Management & Demography
  • Infrastructure & Finance
  • Governance & Urban management

Environmental planning can be done for a small area such as a town or city but in general encompasses a much larger area. This can be done by means of various policies, having various standards in place as well as by means of immediate steps. This can further extend to state, country or international level. Policies and steps related to carbon emissions, forest cover & conservation, greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, use of renewable energy can be considered as additional elements of environmental planning. Impact analysis is important while working on development projects so as to mitigate the environmental effects and to promote environmental protection.

Related: Regional Planning – Need, Importance & Implementation

Role and Responsibilities of Environmental Planners

Environmental Planning, being a multidisciplinary field, requires a variety of perspectives from different backgrounds. Environmental Planners have three key responsibilities like that of a Planner:

  1. Technical skills such as cartography or mapping, analysing, modeling, proposing and monitoring, etc
  2. Design which involves the preparation of Plans and design of facilities and services etc
  3. Decision making which involves formulating necessary policies, legal and institutional frameworks, evaluating the alternatives of the project, etc

There can be other tasks and responsibilities based on the type of the project that might be Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). EIA is a part of strategic planning based on stakeholders consultation, development planning, landscape management, environment monitoring, solid waste management plans. The role of Environmental Planners may be based on the need of the project and work at various level such as project manager with a local government to framing national level policies. They also work as policy analysts and review international and national policies & Acts which are often termed as National Environmental Policy Act.

Environmental Planning is not only confined to the issues described above while the issues may vary depending upon various scenarios and development proposals. The field is new but it has a lot to offer to those who see themselves as Environmentalists. It also help those who want to bring something new on the table while contributing to the environment and the society. People taking care of environmental aspects also work on framing environmental policy, environmental regulations so as to keep environmental quality in check. 

Environmental Planning Courses and Education

Courses related to environment are gaining interest of students now because of increasing environmental concerns and depletion of natural resources. Discussions and decisions taken at global platforms is one of the major reason environment is being given more importance now. Environmental Planning is offered as a full time course and as well as part time course by various universities all over the world. There are various related environmental planning certifications also. These courses are offered as undergraduate, post graduate or doctorate courses. Few  universities also offer online degrees and long distance courses to students. Environmental planning can also be taught as a subject or a combination of subjects under different & related courses. These usually deal with environmental law, ecology, environmental science, demography, urban planning & town planning etc. 

Historical Evolution of Environmental Planning

Romanticism (Artistic movement of late 18th century)

Since the past, humans have been engaged in environmental planning by some means or another. These include acts such as diverting the course of the river, maintaining the irrigation systems, burning grasslands to change the range of grazing animals for settlement purposes. The attitude of people towards the environment has been friendly as it helped in meeting their basic necessities of food, water, navigation and protection. But at a point, in the middle ages in case of Europe, environment has been ignored. The new romantic movement in the 1970s had brought the protection of the environment against the development of environmental consciousness. The movement elevated the concept of nature and environment as a basic human value.

Public Health

The 19th century brought the need of environment in protecting public health. Environmentally sensitive diseases such as malaria, fever, cholera, typhoid, dysentery, etc were documented. This resulted in understanding of the relationship between environment, anthropogenic activities, and its impact on the well-being of the people’s lives.

The Conservation Movement

The conservation movement was the third underpin of environmental Planning which brought the issue of loss of land and its resources due to developmental activities. The movement influenced the community land-use planning in the US and in other parts of the world along with establishment of National Parks, Forest services, etc. The concept has also been used in the 1970s as conservation sensitive land use planning. In this, ecological approach was used and land uses were allocated based on its carrying capacity, land-use suitability, and environmental sensitivity. Ian McHarg was the major contributor and spokesperson of this approach. Subsequently, numerous movements have been happening on the various diverse environmental issues.

Related: Importance of ecology, Introduction to Human Geography