IEMA Impact: Shaping a sustainable future with impact assessment

27th November 2023

Lisa Pool on how IEMA is shaping a sustainable future with impact assessment

For more than three decades, IEMA has been setting standards in the complex realm of impact assessment (IA). In a field where legislation often sets the boundaries but lacks specificity, IEMA’s guidance has demonstrated influence and expertise when environmental impact assessment (EIA) was a budding field (it only gained substantial recognition in the late 1980s).

IEMA’s guidance carries significant weight with key stakeholders, experts and regulators. It possesses a unique soft power – its ability to fill the gaps left by legislation. Planning officers, inspectors and statutory consultees frequently advise applicants that IEMA’s guidance should be followed.

In April 2022, the secretary of state for transport made extensive reference to IEMA’s IA and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions guidance in the decision letter for the M54-to-M6 link road application. This endorsement underscores the trust placed in IEMA’s expertise, transforming its recommendations into a de facto industry standard. More recently, in a landmark Supreme Court case over the expansion of oil wells in Surrey, the lawyer representing the appeal referenced the guidance. In the absence of stringent laws, professionals turn to IEMA as an authoritative source.

A growing influence

Another example is the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment guidance, first published in 1995 by IEMA and the Landscape Institute. This document has become a recognised framework, with updated editions published in 2002 and 2013. It is still used by professionals today, with a recent volume of the Impact Assessment Outlook Journal providing thought pieces from UK practice. This illustrates the essential role that IEMA plays in standardising practices.

Moreover, IEMA’s guidance goes beyond professional circles. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as government advisory bodies such as Natural England have embraced IEMA’s recommendations. Members of the public are empowered to question why IEMA guidance hasn’t been followed.

Internationally, IEMA’s IA guidance has become a touchstone for nations striving to develop robust EIA frameworks. Governments from Iceland to Jordan have used the guidance, appreciating its international thought leadership. In the digital realm, IEMA’s influence continues to grow; both Nigerian and Danish governments have adopted aspects of IEMA’s Digital Impact Assessment primer, attesting to the adaptability and relevance of the guidance in an increasingly digital world.

The global reach of IEMA’s influence was exemplified during the formulation of the European EIA regulations in 2017. During the call for evidence, IEMA led a consultation exercise. The sheer scale of participation from IEMA members eclipsed the collective response from the rest of Europe. This strong voice had a tangible impact, with IEMA’s submission being referenced and adopted in 28 EU states, making a significant mark on European environmental policies.

Crucially, IEMA’s guidance is not crafted in an isolated office; it’s a collaborative effort from IEMA members, who invest their time and expertise to ensure it remains relevant and practical.

Telling a story

A remarkable example of this dedication is A New Perspective on Land and Soil in Environmental Impact Assessment, a pioneering document that marks a paradigm shift in the IA landscape. This guidance has the potential to influence projects for the next two decades or more.

IEMA’s work in IA is not just a set of recommendations; it’s a story of how dedicated individuals have, over three decades, shaped the fabric of IA. IEMA’s guidance will continue to serve as a compass, guiding professionals and policymakers toward a sustainable, environmentally conscious future. Each project, recommendation and policy contribution by IEMA and its members resonates far beyond the documents – they echo in the decisions made, the policies formulated and the landscapes preserved, ensuring a greener world for generations to come.

Lisa Pool AIEMA is head of marketing at IEMA

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