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The future of construction phase environmental management and the changing role of the Environmental Clerk of Works

The evolving landscape of Environmental Policy

Post-Brexit, there's a shift in regulatory frameworks and a rise in stakeholder expectations. The industry is demanding increased carbon reduction measures, and although the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) has been postponed, it remains a prerequisite for environmentally conscious developers and certain Local Planning Authorities (LPAs). This is in addition to the ongoing challenge of balancing contractual obligations, consent procedures, and general legal compliance, all while staying within budget and schedule.

As it becomes clear that current performance levels may not be up to par, both the industry and regulatory bodies are advocating for more rigorous reporting and monitoring during the construction phase. As management guru Peter Drucker once said, "You can't improve what you can't measure." Consequently, environmental assessments are moving towards results-oriented frameworks, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting has become as essential to annual reports as financial metrics.


Upcoming Changes: What to Expect in the Next 5-10 Years

The next decade promises to be a whirlwind of change and opportunity. As private and public sector finance responds to the need for a cleaner, carbon neutral economy, the infrastructure required to support this, and general growth will support the multibillion-pound construction sector. But there is also a realisation that the construction sector cannot continue its “business as usual” path. Stakeholders from the developers to the public wish to see greener development. For construction companies that embrace the change there are clear commercial benefits.


Environmental assessments are becoming outcome-focused

Should we transition to outcome-based assessments, the responsibility will sit squarely with the developer and their construction partners to not only meet the specified outcomes but also to provide evidence of having done so. This goes beyond simply avoiding penalties; it's about creating a narrative of environmental stewardship that aligns with your organisation's long-term goals. Additionally, the rise of social media and a more knowledgeable public have intensified scrutiny on the industry. The stakes are high, and the margin for error is thin.


Shining a light on construction phase performance

With a substantial number of construction projects scheduled for development over the next decade, the environments in which these projects are built face potential risks from subpar environmental performance. Achieving goals like Biodiversity or Environmental Net Gain becomes far easier to achieve if the impact on the receiving environment is minimised and developments adhere to legal requirements and associated consents. To date, the task of monitoring and reporting environmental performance during the construction phase has largely fallen to the projects themselves, especially as regulatory funding has seen significant cuts. The reality is that those crafting mitigation strategies in impact assessments have no way of knowing their effectiveness. Due to a lack of transparent reporting, the industry remains in the dark about whether a project's environmental impact is greater than initially theorised.

Change in action

To address this in Scotland, the Heads of Planning Scotland are in the process of drafting a guidance note aimed at advising Local Planning Authorities and the Energy Consents Unit on the effective engagement of an Environmental Clerk of Works (EnvCoW). The objective is to bring clarity to a confusing situation where the role of an EnvCoW has become a catch-all.

According to the Heads of Planning Scotland proposals, the EnvCoW will be appointed by the consenting body and will be tasked with monitoring and reporting on a project's compliance. These reports will be made publicly available on the planning portal, allowing for open scrutiny of environmental performance.



Annual ESG reporting requirements

The growing emphasis on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations is more than just a passing fad. Many companies are already adhering to required reporting standards, but these standards are becoming progressively stringent to counter allegations of greenwashing. While this is advantageous for those who are proactive in managing their environmental responsibilities, it can have a detrimental impact for those who aren't.

Initiatives like the Considerate Contractor Scheme, or accreditation systems like Achilles and Construction Line, are great for promoting environmental responsibility. However, this creates a double-edged sword: it levels the playing field to an extent that all contractors appear equal, making it difficult to stand out. The differentiator will be your ability to go beyond mere compliance and demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices.


Preparing for the future: Strategies for proactive adaptation

The first step in preparing for these changes is to stay informed. This is where we, at Naturally Compliant, can make a difference. We understand that you're not just looking for a quick fix. Our comprehensive support covers every aspect of your project from inception to completion. We focus on securing the necessary permits and implementing sustainable on-site strategies, allowing you to concentrate on what matters most.


Integrate environmental considerations early on

The key to successful adaptation is to integrate environmental considerations into the design phase and tender stage. This proactive approach not only ensures compliance but also opens up opportunities for innovation and cost-saving. Our team at Naturally Compliant can seamlessly integrate into your existing setup, providing the expertise you need, when you need it.


Robust reporting and monitoring

With the industry pushing for more robust reporting, it's crucial to have a system in place that not only collects data but also interprets it in a meaningful way. Our comprehensive support covers every aspect of your project, ensuring that you're not just collecting data but also deriving actionable insights from it.


Conclusion: The importance of staying informed

The future is not a distant horizon but a landscape that's being shaped by the decisions you make today. Staying informed is not a luxury; it's a necessity. And it's not just about keeping up with policy changes; it's about understanding how these changes intersect with your professional and personal aspirations.

At Naturally Compliant, we're here to guide you through these upcoming changes, helping you navigate the complexities while keeping your goals and objectives in focus. We're not just offering you a service; we're offering you a transformation, from being overwhelmed by regulatory complexities to confidently executing environmentally responsible projects.

The future doesn't just happen; it's created by the decisions we make today. So, if you're ready to step into a sustainable future, let's start a conversation. Reach out, and let's explore how we can collaborate to make your vision a reality.


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