5 reasons environmental risk management will shape construction in 2020 and beyond

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For as long as most of us can remember, environmental risk management has been all about PR for the tree huggers. There is no real importance and no real value in taking it seriously right? Wrong. Times are changing and they are changing fast. Not only is environmental risk management more than a PR stunt, it is becoming a focal point for construction. There are several reasons to pay close attention to this area of the industry. Outlined below are 5 reasons why environmental risk management is more important than ever and how it has become a critical feature for programme success.

  1. There is a direct link between environmental performance and a project’s bottom line

We can’t fail to ignore how environmental requirements are featuring more heavily in project contracts. Aside from needing to meet these multiple certifications and demonstrating excellence, otherwise risk losing chunks of contract value, there is a more tangible link between environmental performance and the commercial success of a project. It starts with asking how often projects end up in financial disputes with waste carriers over incorrect classifications of hazardous vs. non-hazardous waste, contamination, frequency of removals, void space in skips, or perhaps spending more on worker health and historic claims, rather than making improvements to air quality management? How about disputes made with concrete suppliers over timing of deliveries and planned pours? We don’t typically see these as environmental problems, but environmental data captured in real-time and with greater accountability in the supply chain, can reduce the instances when this occurs and contribute to increasing those ever-elusive margins.

2. Where will all the waste go?

With significant infrastructure projects planned to commence in the UK, there is a question only few have thought to ask; where will all the waste actually go? We’re used to load after load of spoil being removed to far distant lands, tracked through our duty of care requirements, for either reuse or reclamation. The problem is, we’re not that far off reaching our capacity across the UK for placing this material. It’s becoming a common story, that of having to quickly find alternative sites to dispose of waste, the last-minute panic, the rising costs, the legal headache…

Understanding our capacity limits across the UK and being able to predict likely changes to allow us to plan accordingly, will be critical to ensuring projects are not delayed from waste backlogs.

3. The public are mobilizing
When it comes to engagement with the environmental impacts of construction, the public are more in the know than ever before. From concerns over carbon emissions, to local air quality and noise impacts, to ecological degradation, the public are not to be underestimated in their influence over working hours and mitigation measures. With several significant infrastructure projects in the public eye, HS2 and Heathrow to name a few, the environmental risks in construction cannot be as easily ignored.

4. Environmental fines are only on the increase

The 2017 record breaking fine to Thames Water has not been beaten in the last couple years, however this £20m slap on the wrist should be considered the start of a greater bite by enforcement agencies. The rate of fines has been growing at a pace previously seen in the lead up to the 2017 abomination. It might be a risk that contractors perceive lightly, however even an investigation by the Environment Agency can instigate countless hours and new management approaches to be adopted across the company, costing more than a fine ever could, not to mention the additional burdens placed on teams to keep this in check moving forwards.

5. The new environmental watchdog is on the hunt

The Draft Environment Bill has outlined plans for creating the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to uphold environmental standards as the UK moves away from the EU. This independent body will fulfil previous duties of various EU institutions for guidance and enforcement in environmental legislation. It should hold UK businesses and government bodies to account, and support existing actions taken by the Environment Agency and Natural England. Of particular interest, the OEP will be able to take businesses to court over breaches of environmental legislation. Whether the new watchdog’s bark will be worse than its bite is yet to be seen, but we should expect to see some more scrutiny with this enforcement capacity brought in-house.

These all come as part of the wider concern around hitting EU and UK targets for several key environmental areas in 2020, and who knows what this will look like in a post-Brexit world. One thing is for certain, we have the tools at our disposal to continue making progress in this industry, and the incentive to increase margins is greater now than ever before. So, let’s not forget the contribution our impact on the environment plays in project performance, and use this to reevaluate our strategies in good environmental and social governance for 2020 and beyond.

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Jade Cohen

Jade Cohen

Jade is the co-founder of Qualis Flow and the company CPO. As an environmental specialist, Jade is highly motivated to evolve the construction industry from a sustainability perspective.

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