Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Value of Independence

Robert Slatcher

Principal Consultant

The provision of environmental and sustainability services is dominated by large multi-disciplinary consultancies who offer clients a ‘one-stop shop’ for all of their consultancy requirements from design to environmental assessment. The one tender, one contract, one organisation, system from a client procurement and management perspective is obviously an enticing one. A question remains, however, over the extent to which many organisations procurement teams fully understand and quantify the value of employing independent environmental assessment service providers, separately from those providing the main design services. There are benefits that can be achieved through an independent environmental and sustainability team that at present may not be considered when developing procurement mechanisms for major projects or consultancy frameworks.

The value of using an independent environmental consultant is the ability to critically review and challenge design development to ensure a robust final scheme design. Much emphasis is placed on collaborative teamwork, which has many benefits, but what is perhaps not considered is the value of intra-project challenge. Differing perspectives, opinions and ways of doing things, don’t have to be seen as a negative; it can be the driver for improved performance, the push to go beyond the norm and can be the difference between a good and a great project. What is the likelihood of all stakeholders sharing the same opinion and solutions as the team designing a project? Major innovations and forward leaps in thinking are very rarely the outcome of a business as usual mentality. An independent voice within a project can shake up that mentality.

Major infrastructure projects are often challenged on environmental grounds and as such a robust project development phase should enable a project to minimise the risk of a successful challenge to consent approval. As a minimum, a robust scheme development and environmental assessment undertaken prior to a consent application would reduce any delays to programme that may arise from retrospective rework required to defend challenges. The ability to challenge and push a design team could be difficult to achieve internally within a single organisation as infrastructure projects tend to be led by the engineering division of the organisation, who then manage all elements of the project with the environment and sustainability work often internally procured as an additional service. With engineering teams acting as an internal client, it can be difficult for environment and sustainability teams to challenge work their organisation has undertaken especially when it would then necessitate additional work to investigate or change.

An independent environment team introduces an interface between organisations that otherwise would not exist. This interface between environment and engineering provides a transparency of communication to the client, which is unlikely to be easily evidenced when occurring within a single organisation. This should give the client peace of mind that sustainability and environmental rigour is being implemented into the project without the need to develop key performance indicators (which in reality would be unlikely to provide the detail they require) or other methods to gain visibility of the internal processes within the supplier organisation. It also provides the client with the opportunity to input into the process, where necessary, in a timely manner rather than after the decision or work has been implemented.

Through the management of the interface, which can be undertaken by either of the teams or collaboratively, a clear evidence base of the sustainability and environment work implemented in the design can be captured. This evidence can be essential when defending scheme decisions under challenge, writing the scheme justification and alternatives sections of Environmental Statements and supporting CEEQUAL applications.

The onus on driving the sustainability agenda within the project can also be taken on by the independent environment and sustainability team relieving the client of the need to undertake this role. This is especially useful if the client team does not have the resource or an individual with the environmental expertise to undertake this task.

It is noted that for those in procurement, the issuing and management of two contracts would appear to be more onerous upon the client and perhaps this has been an obstacle to more projects being undertaken in this manner. It is also likely that it is considered that communication within an organisation would be much more effective than that between two separate organisations. However the additional effort in managing two contracts can be more than compensated in the following ways:
  • through a reduction in the client management requirement to implement and drive environment and sustainability in the project;
  • the increased likelihood of achieving a final scheme design that is not only feasible from an engineering perspective but environmentally and socially acceptable to stakeholders;
  • the ability for the client to easily track performance and progress;
  • through the proactive management and reduction in project risk; and
  • reduced risk for retrospective re-work.

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