Adding value to projects through early consideration of aspects

11th January 2013

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Andrea Taylor, from Xodus, on the importance of considering environmental aspects at an early stage in project development

The legal framework governing development in the UK includes an explicit requirement to consider how a project may affect the environment and this consideration must be demonstrated in preparing and submitting applications for consent.

The timing of this consideration can not only affect consent of the project, but can also enable cost savings, enhanced environmental credentials and stakeholder acceptance.

It is preferable that environmental aspects are integrated into the development of projects as early as possible with the aim to develop a sustainable project.

Value-adding appraisal

A number of tools and techniques can be employed as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process to integrate the environment into decision making and define the scope of studies, including: EIA scoping; modelling, for example, oil spill, atmospheric emissions, coastal processes; environmental issues identification (ENVID); and value, decision and risk management (VDRM).

VDRM approaches may be used at any stage in a project where options need to be selected and several drivers, including environmental aspects, need to be considered. VDRM provides a robust and systematic decision-making process and an auditable record of the decisions made.

ENVID workshops meanwhile, present the opportunity to involve the whole project team in identifying and characterising potential impacts arising from a proposed project and the mitigation measures required.

Such workshops look at all development stages and consider standard operating parameters, as well as relevant scenarios where these parameters may be breached. An ENVID matrix is then used to work through, document and detail the possible aspects of the proposal which should be considered further in EIA.

The ENVID approach also explores the aspects of the proposal which are most sensitive from a stakeholder perspective, and which will require careful management throughout the EIA process and beyond.

The value of these and other tools and techniques is generally increased the earlier in the EIA process they are adopted. However, a strategic outlook is required in assessing when their adoption will prove most effective in achieving a particular project’s aims and objectives. The timing needs to be aligned, for example, with available data and the project schedule, among other things.

This approach enables environmental aspects to influence the final design and prevent, reduce or offset potentially significant effects wherever possible. Considering environmental aspects early on, helps to avoid having to adopt costly mitigation measures at a later stage of the project.

Consideration of mitigation requirements throughout the EIA process and project development can also embed environment decisions into the project design, thereby increasing its attractiveness to stakeholders and improving environmental conditions.

Communicating added value

Client buy-in and ownership from an early stage of the project is required to increase the effectiveness of the value-adding approaches employed.

It is therefore important to outline how the tools and techniques used can benefit the client and the project overall to ensure acceptance by all parties.

This can be achieved by clearly outlining the risks and benefits to the project as early as possible and by developing a close relationship with the client, enabling you to work through issues.

Conversely, inefficient and incomplete consideration of environmental aspects can lead to delays in consenting, increased costs later on in the project and problems justifying why a particular option should go ahead.

In practice

Xodus successfully employed the VDRM technique early on in the EIA process in assisting a client to select a site for a marine renewable development.

A workshop was held to undertake a ranking exercise, assessing the suitability of a range of potential sites. The key members of the project team were involved in every stage of the process, from weighting project drivers and identifying key characteristics of those drivers to scoring individual sites against the drivers.

Aspects of both the onshore and offshore environments were considered – integrating environmental aspects into project decision making at an early stage.

In this example, environmental aspects were considered along with a range of other feasibility aspects, ensuring the big picture was considered from the outset.

In summary, a range of powerful appraisal tools and techniques are available to EIA practitioners, which, when used effectively and with client buy-in, can deliver long-term economic, social and environmental benefits to projects.

This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Andrea Taylor is an environmental consultant at Xodus

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