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Carrying out an environmental impact assessment, of what importance is it?

 What is EIA?

According to a study by the World Bank- environmental impact assessment (EIA) is the systematic analysis of the probable environmental impacts of proposed projects. The outcome of the assessment – which are gathered in a document called the Environmental Statement (ES) – are utilized by decision-makers to carry out a fair assessment of the environmental consequences of the proposed action and the alternative examined. Decision- makers then use the ES as a contribution to the information base which is then used to make decisions. The ultimate goal of an EIA is to obtain developmental interventions that are better by protecting the environment (physical, human and biotic).In short, the EIA gives birth to an ES and the ES often results in a management guide, or Environmental Management Plan (EMP), used for controlling and managing the environmental impacts of a project and conducting the environmental control mechanisms.

Today, for most projects, some sort of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is usually prepared, often required and specified by regulation or law, often times just as a part of good, modern project management. Even though no comparable standard for such an assessment is widely accepted, an EIA usually contains: a description of the existing environmental situation (the baseline conditions), an explanation of environmental policy and objectives; a description of the project; an assessment of the environmental aspects and potential effects of the project; a summary of recommendations; and an Environmental Management Plan (EMP).

 What is EIA purpose (dredging case study)

The purpose of carrying out an environmental impact definition is to make sure that project activities are carried out in an environmentally friendly and acceptable manner, utilize sound engineering methods that are economically warranted and take adequate consideration of long term effects.

The scope of an EIA usually includes a review and survey of prior studies carried out by others to describe the chemical, physical, and biological conditions (environmental aspects) of the study area; a characterization of physical and chemical properties of typical regional dredged materials and an evaluation of project and disposal needs. The EIA will also design substitutes for dredged material management, make recommendations for further evaluation and perform a preliminary evaluation of alternatives management methods.

Importance of an EIA in Environmental Protection

Before starting a construction project for example on federal lands in the U.S, it must pass through an environmental evaluation process.

An environmental impact assessment is defined by the International Association for Impact Assessment, as the process of assessing the major environmental impacts of a proposed action. The need for a standard analysis process was highlighted when quick natural resource development after World War II coincided with the advent of environmental awareness in the 1960s. Appraisal of impacts before carrying out a project has since become an international norm. The essence of the EIA process lies in its capacity to drive project studies and deal with environmental impacts before they occur.

A thorough and well carried out EIA can lead to cost-effective mitigation. When environmental mitigation is considered as an integral part of project design, rather than as an extra exercise, it decreases project costs and lower community costs. For example, mitigation of impacts to flora and fauna may be as simple as making provisions to comply with seasonal prohibitions by dredging during a period that does not infringe marine life reproduction cycles. This does not mean that the costs of control measures resulting from an environmental impact assessment are lower than if no EIA was carried out at all. But the costs will obviously be greater, if the plans have to be modified midstream when the project is running already. The EIA is an essential instrument for project planning and can help minimize the risks for miscomprehension, offer insight about environmental concerns and enhance cooperation between all stakeholders including dredging contractors, project owners and the public. Social, economic and environmental change is tied to development. Whilst development gears to bring about essential change, it can give birth to conflicts. In the past, encouraging economic growth as the engine for increased welfare was the principal development push with little consideration to negative environmental or social impacts. The need to reduce/mitigate negative impacts and to safeguard benefits in the long run, gave birth to the concept of sustainability. This concept has become renowned as an essential element of development if the purpose of greater equality and welfare in providing basic necessities has to be achieved for this generation and for future generations. An EIA is that formal process used to forecast the environmental impacts of developmental projects and to plan adequate dispositions to reduce/eliminate negative effects and to enhance positive effects. An EIA has three main roles/functions

• To forecast issues,
• to device methods to avoid them, and
• to improve positive effects.

The most important function is the third. The EIA offers a distinct opportunity to show ways in which the environment can be made better as an element of the development process. The EIA also forecasts constraints and conflicts between the proposed program, project or sectoral plan and its environment. It offers an opportunity for monitoring programs to be established to appraise future impacts and give data on which managers can incorporate into the decision- making process to avoid damage to the environment. It offers an avenue for control/mitigation measures to be incorporated to reduce problems.

EIA is a tool used by decision makers and planners for management and augments other project studies on economics and engineering.

The overall goal of any EIA should be to ease sustainable development. Advantageous environmental effects are enhanced while negative effects are avoided or mitigated as far as is reasonably possible. EIA provides assistance in selecting and designing programs, projects or plans while laying emphasis on long term feasibility thus, enhancing cost effectiveness.

It is essential that an EIA is not just considered a mandatory element of the approval process. A considerable number of reports produced for such a purpose, which are not thoroughly read or acted upon will reduce the value of the process. An essential result of the EIA should be an action plan to be rigorously followed during execution and after execution during monitoring. To make the action plan more effective, the EIA can also recommend alterations to institutional structures and laws.

Environmental impact of your business- corporate social responsibility

Businesses can affect many different individuals through their activities- customers, employees, suppliers and the local community. Also, it has a wider environmental impact.

Reducing costs

Even the most trivial measure for energy efficiency like switching off equipments and lights, when they are not in use makes a significant difference. Reducing water consumption also reduces your costs directly. Reducing waste can also make a significant difference. Trivial habits like cutting down the amount of paper you thrash can instantly reduce costs. Another method of enhancing savings is to think about waste implications when you create new products and production processes.

Also, you can increase revenue by caring about the environment. Most often, customers will prefer to buy from responsible companies.

Reducing the environmental impact of your company

There exist numerous ways to reduce/eliminate the environmental impact of your business. For instance:

  • sourcing responsibly (for instance, using sustainable timber and recycled materials)
  • designing recyclable products
  • reducing packaging
  • purchasing locally to save on  fuel costs
  • establishing an efficient distribution network (also consider fuel efficiency)
  • collaborating  with distributors and suppliers who take initiatives to reduce their environmental impact

You could also minimize the environmental impact of your company by utilizing environmental assessment strategies such as setting up an environmental management system and undertaking an environmental review of your business.

Does an EIA address only ecological issues?

The European Commission reports the purpose of an EIA in the directive EC 1985/97-The environmental impact assessment shall describe, identify and assess in an adequate manner, in the light of each individual issue, the indirect and direct effects of a project on the following elements:

  • Water, soil, air, climate and the landscape;
  • Fauna, flora and human beings;
  • the cultural heritage and material assets;
  • The interaction between the elements mentioned in the first three indents.

This clearly demonstrates that the environment has become a much wider concept than simply ecology. EIAs now go beyond assessing only possible contamination, and now incorporate political, social and cultural heritage and assessing material assets. This wider scope of the environment can be regarded as part of the new “sustainability movement”.

Alternative terms used to narrate this concept are the 3 Ps (planet, people, profit), implying that environmental, social and financial aspects must all be incorporated in decision making processes. Most key dredging companies have already adopted this socially responsible way of operating.

 What are the main steps of an EIA?

An environmental impact definition is a data management procedure with three elements: First, the adequate information must be distinguished and collated. Secondly, alterations in environmental factors arising from the proposed project must be forecasted and compared with the baseline conditions. Lastly, the effects of the eventual changes, with and without existing control measures, must be appraised and communicated to the decision-makers. An EIA should provide answer to the question: Is the project planned project environmentally friendly and acceptable? If not, can adjustments be made to reduce impacts, or to ameliorate the overall project acceptability?

Conducting and implementing an EIA

Ultimately, the owner of the project hires independent consultants after a transparent and fair tender procedure. These consultants are environmental engineers, who should provide a fair and unbiased appraisal which should consist of planning support, an accurate sustainability assessment and ecological risk appraisal. Care should be taken when considering the choice of a competent consultant, this step is crucial. In some situations the project owner demands contractors to take part in the application process for a dredging permit or license. Whoever carries out the EIA, the owner of the project is responsible with regards to the authorities for the adherence to and implementing the EIA. On the other hand, the contractor will have to vow in the final contract that the implementation of the project will be commensurate to the standards detailed in the EMP, which is based on the EIA.

An EIA provides a summary of the environmental problems that became evident, for example, the risks and/or the benefits, the scope of the environmental impacts; the meaning of these risks and/or benefits and impacts, and the likely control measures demanded; and the actions to be taken and by whom. A series of actions then need to be implemented to heighten the environmental benefits of the proposed project (could be the re-utilization of the dredged material); to consider alternatives; to make sure compliance with relevant regulations and international; to pinpoint relevant adverse environmental effects and identify action; to define the data assembly needs and necessary survey activities; to provide for public consultation and input and to determine the predictive methods that are to be employed. If this boils down to the conclusion that (control) measures are required, these measures should be used during the planning & design phase and/or the construction phase. In the first scenario, the control measures will definitely have to be taken by the owner of the project, in the second scenario by the contractor.

Predicting the impacts of a project

Impacts can be predicted using physical, logical, biological or mathematical modelling. These may pinpoint potential negative impacts, and also provide options for augmentation of positive impacts (for instance, the re-utilization of dredged material). When the possible impacts are pinpointed, the project structure must be reviewed to try to maximize the beneficial impacts and minimize the negative impacts. When the project design is updated, the effects must be predicted in different fashions: The affected feature, the resource and/or population, the duration of the effect, the magnitude the action causing the effect and the proposed mitigation measures. Forecasted effects can be divided into long-term (more than a week) or short-term (less than a week) effects and near-field (less than one kilometer) or far-field (more than one kilometer) effects, for both the placement and dredging site and along the transport route. Generally, the effects created by the construction works are short term and near field, whereas impacts caused by the overall project can be far field and long term.

 

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