Why EIA needs EMS

18th June 2012

Ems 0

Related Topics

Related tags

  • EMS ,
  • Management



Linking impact assessment to an environment management system is vital, says Martin Broderick

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is a well-established instrument. And, as with any deep-rooted tool, there is ongoing debate about how effective it really is. A key question that needs answering is whether an EIA, on its own, leads to a project – and the impacted environment – being managed in an acceptable way.

Appropriately employed, EIA is an important tool that helps to protect the environment, but it’s only one device in the policy toolbox. Other actions include monitoring and evaluation of the impacts of a project that has been the subject of an assessment (an “EIA follow-up”), together with subsequent management of the development’s performance through an environment management system (EMS).

By reducing negative impacts and highlighting positive outcomes, EIA follow-up can provide a safeguard for environmental protection. And the most effective EIA systems are those that use follow-up processes to tangibly link EIA and EMS.

Drivers of EIA development

The diffusion of EIA practice through legal instruments has been the primary driver for its take-up, although impetus has also come from the development of voluntary codes and principles in industrial and financial sectors. Additionally, EIA practitioners, through professional bodies such as IEMA, have produced a range of best-practice guidance.

Having emerged first as a systematic and integrated process in the US (through the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act), several other countries, including Australia and Canada, followed suit and adopted EIA. The EU EIA Directive (85/337/EEC) came into force in 1985 and applies to a wide range of defined public and private projects.

However, too often national EIA regimes, even those regarded as highly effective, only measure its success through procedural compliance rather than project outcomes. With EIA practice now well into its second generation it is vital that legislative regimes “mature” by embedding follow-up and monitoring.

Voluntary measures

Best practice indicates that projects be assessed to determine their social and environmental outcomes, and this activity is endorsed through several voluntary codes and industry-standard principles.

The World Bank, for example, first developed environmental guidelines back in 1988. The aim of its EIA operational directive is to ensure that projects proposed for funding by the bank are environmentally sound and sustainable.

The bank favours preventive measures over mitigatory or compensatory measures whenever feasible, and monitoring and follow-up are integral to procedure.

Another initiative comes from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which promotes sustainable private sector investment in developing countries, and is part of the World Bank Group.

The IFC’s environmental and social safeguard policies and its disclosure policy mean the organisation applies sustainability standards to all investment projects to minimise their impact on the environment and on affected communities. Monitoring and follow-up are integral to the standards. In my own experience, the monitoring and follow-up requirements of the standards lead in a tangible way to better outcomes for all stakeholders.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) adopted its first environmental policy in 1991. It is accompanied by 10 related performance requirements based on good international sustainable development practice which EBRD-financed projects are expected to meet. The EBRD has defined specific performance requirements for key areas of environmental and social issues and impacts.

The Equator principles are a financial industry benchmark for determining, assessing and managing social and environmental risks in project financing. The principles are based on the World Bank and IFC guidelines and oblige financial institutions signing up to them to finance projects only where there is a guarantee that the social and ecological impact of projects are assessed.

There are 10 principles, and number four (entitled “Action plan and management system”) is the most relevant for linking EIA and EMS.

Principle four calls on developers to prepare a plan for implementing mitigation measures, corrective actions and effective monitoring in order to manage the impacts and risks identified in the impact assessment.

It also says they should maintain or establish an EMS that addresses the management of these impacts, risks and corrective actions to ensure they comply with applicable host country social and environmental laws and regulations.

In the UK, IEMA has also included follow-up as part of its best-practice guidelines. IEMA states that follow-up is one of the most important parts of the EIA process as it helps determine whether assessment makes a difference in terms of improved environmental protection.

Follow-up is essential for determining the outcomes of EIA. By incorporating feedback into the EIA process, post-development assessment enables organisations to learn from their experiences. It can and should occur in any EIA system to prevent impact assessment from simply becoming a pro-forma exercise.

Adding value

One of the characteristics of an advanced and effective EIA system is that it is linked to an EMS through follow-up. Appropriately employed, EIA is a key integrative element in environmental protection.

Monitoring and assessing post-development performance has the same goal as EIA, but its emphasis is placed on the action taken to achieve this goal. EIA has little value unless follow-up is carried out because without it the process will be incomplete and the consequences of EIA planning and decision making will remain unknown.

EIA follow-up can ensure the outcomes of the process are successfully incorporated into operational environment management systems, ensuring substantive and sustainable outcomes for projects.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

New guidance maps out journey to digital environmental assessment

IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network is delighted to have published A Roadmap to Digital Environmental Assessment.

2nd April 2024

Read more

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

27th November 2023

Read more

IEMA responded in September to the UK government’s consultation on the details of the operational reforms it is looking to make to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) consenting process as put forward in the NSIP reform action plan (February 2023).

24th November 2023

Read more

Members of IEMA’s Impact Assessment Network Steering Group have published the 17th edition of the Impact Assessment Outlook Journal, which provides a series of thought pieces on the policy and practice of habitats regulations assessment (HRA).

26th September 2023

Read more

In July, we published the long-awaited update and replacement of one of IEMA’s first published impact assessment guidance documents from 1993, Guidelines for the Environmental Assessment of Road Traffic.

1st August 2023

Read more

Are we losing sight of its intended purpose and what does the future hold for EIA? Jo Beech, Tiziana Bartolini and Jessamy Funnell report.

15th June 2023

Read more

Luke Barrows and Alfie Byron-Grange look at the barriers to adoption of digital environmental impacts assessments

1st June 2023

Read more

Susan Evans and Helen North consider how Environmental Statements can be more accessible and understandable

1st June 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close