Over the past decade the IEMA EIA Quality Mark scheme has enhanced Environmental Impact Assessment, allowing consultancies and developers that lead UK EIA to commit to undertaking quality practice and producing effective Environmental Statements. IEMA's Impact Assessment Lead Rufus Howard discusses the developments over the past decade.

As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the EIA Quality Mark, IEMA can announce that over the past twelve months the scheme has undergone a thorough review of practice, including stakeholder consultation with registrants and assessors, to review and improve the EIA Quality Mark. The anniversary amendments include a broadening and strengthening of the interview process, additional review procedures, a move towards a digital platform, closer integration between registrants and the activities of the IEMA Impact Assessment Network, and a broadening of opportunities to contribute to good practice.

EIA has a huge role to play in ensuring that the environmental impacts of new development are minimised and that key environmental issues are fully integrated into the decision-making process. EIA practitioners operate at the interface between local communities, developers and the environment. As a regulated process, the procedural complexities are potentially demanding, especially combined with the additional risk posed by legal challenges. At its best, EIA helps to shape the design and siting of development such that social value to communities and broader economic value to investors can both be met, without eroding natural capital and pushing the boundaries of environmental limits – a tool that can truly support moves towards sustainability.

‘EIA is a critical tool in the implementation of sustainable and responsible development. The IEMA EIA Quality Mark is a leading example of professional good practice in the field of EIA, not just in the UK but globally, and something we should all be proud of.’ Dr Rufus Howard, IEMA Impact Assessment Policy Lead.

IEMA has had a Corporate EIA Register since the 1990’s, however in April 2011 IEMA launched the EIA Quality Mark, establishing a new standard for organisations that co-ordinate EIA in the UK. The scheme allows consultancies and developers that regularly lead UK EIA to make a voluntary commitment to undertaking quality practice and producing effective Environmental Statements. IEMA is responsible for the operation of the scheme and monitoring each registrant’s on-going compliance to its seven commitments.

1. EIA Management – We commit to using effective project control and management processes to deliver quality in the EIAs we co-ordinate and the Environmental Statements we produce.

2. EIA Team Capabilities – We commit to ensuring that all our EIA staff have the opportunity to undertake regular and relevant continuing professional development.

3. EIA Regulatory Compliance – We commit to delivering Environmental Statements that meet the requirements established within the appropriate UK EIA Regulations.

4. EIA Context & Influence – We commit to ensuring that all EIAs we co-ordinate are effectively scoped and that we will transparently indicate how the EIA process, and any consultation undertaken, influenced the development proposed and any alternatives considered.

5. EIA Content – We commit to undertaking assessments that include: a robust analysis of the relevant baseline; assessment and transparent evaluation of impact significance; and an effective description of measures designed to monitor and manage significant effects.

6. EIA Presentation – We commit to deliver Environmental Statements that set out environmental information in a transparent and understandable manner.

7. Improving EIA practice – We commit to enhance the profile of good quality EIA by working with IEMA to deliver a mutually agreed set of activities, on an annual basis, and by making appropriate examples of our work available to the wider EIA community.

Over the past decade the EIA Quality Mark scheme has enhanced UK EIA by creating a strong community of practitioners who are working to maintain and improve standards as well as sharing examples and working together to enhance knowledge and produce innovative solutions in practice. The scheme has already provided numerous benefits that have driven improvements to UK EIA practice. These benefits have been felt by consenting authorities, communities, wider stakeholders as well as developers and EIA practitioners.

‘Having been involved with the pilot in 2010 and an advocate of the EIA Quality Mark across the last 10 years, I have seen the quality of EIA in the UK substantially improve during this period. The EIA Quality Mark has significantly contributed to this’. Andy Ricketts, Director, Head of EIA Turley

The benefits offered by the organisations operating under the EIA Quality Mark include:

Increased Confidence that the organisation undertaking the assessment will deliver an efficient and effective service rooted in their commitment to quality EIA.

Increased Quality as scheme registrants have access to IEMA’s impact assessment resources including a library of previous ES, EIA articles, EIA guidance, EIA webinars and working groups allowing them to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in EIA.

Increased Credibility in the eyes of consenting authorities, stakeholders and local communities as the assessment is led by an organisation that has volunteered to have its EIA activities regularly and independently reviewed by IEMA.

There were 38 organisations registered as founding members of the EIA Quality Mark at its launch on 18th April 2011, which included organisations that completed the transition from IEMA's previous corporate EIA register and those who piloted the scheme's application process during 2010. As we enter the second decade of the EIA Quality Mark we are proud to announce that we now have 58 organisations representing the leading organisations in the field if EIA. Further information on the registrants can be found here.

“IEMAs EIA Quality Mark is the only UK-wide scheme to independently verify performance both in terms of ES Quality and EIA team operations – it has for the past 10 years helped organisations to improve and demonstrate competence in the field of EIA, something to be celebrated!” Stef Simmons, IEMA Quality Mark Assessor.

The EIA Quality Mark is recognised internationally as a leading scheme of its kind and is of particular relevance during the climate emergency and ongoing biodiversity crisis. Impact assessment itself is in the spotlight with the UK Government’s 2020 planning reform white paper ‘Planning for the Future’ heralding the most wide-ranging English planning reforms since the end of the Second World War. The stated aims of the white paper were to propose ‘reforms of the planning system to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.’ The consultation on the planning reforms also included the commitment to reform the environmental impact assessment regime (EIA, SA and SEA), with a future consultation expected on this important area of environmental protection.

As the leading professional institute for impact assessment, IEMA have provided consultation and policy responses with respect to the recent white paper proposals including a policy paper, Levelling Up EIA to Build Back Better, our response to the white paper, and a submission to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on the future of the planning system in England.

IEMA’s initial recommendations, in advance of any published Government proposals, were that impact assessment reforms should focus on the following priorities:

  • Providing greater governance on ‘scoping’ non-EIA development and mandating the use of Environmental Management Plans (EMPs).
  • That clear requirements and standards for EIA and SEA should be published.
  • Ensuring that EMPs are central to the EIA process and provide certainty on implementation, monitoring and enforcement.
  • That the role of a national EIA unit for screening and scoping is appraised.
  • Embracing innovation and digital EIA.
  • Recognition of the importance of using competent professionals to undertake EIA and SEA.

The revised EIA Quality Mark will continue to be an important contributor to ensuring that the environmental impacts of new development are minimised and that key environmental issues are fully integrated into the decision-making process.

A substantial proportion of IEMA's near to 17,000 membership work in fields related to environmental management and assessment in the United Kingdom. IEMA is the largest professional body for those specialising in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), not just in the United Kingdom, but also worldwide.

Photo of Rufus howard
Rufus Howard

Dr Howard is the policy and engagement lead for Impact Assessment at IEMA and a leading professional in EIA, with two decades of international experience across renewable energy and major infrastructure.