Thursday, 25 July 2013

Environmental Permit Regulations: 10 facts to know

     Environmental Permitting Regulations (2010) bring into England and Wales one permit and a common procedure to replace separate controls (mostly 2007 regulations) on waste, pollution, water discharge, groundwater activity, radioactive substances, and various directives including on mining.
2.   Those running ‘regulated facilities’, typically industrial, waste, intensive farming..., are required to hold a valid permit to legally conduct their business.

3.   By bringing a multitude of controls together EPRs aim for more efficient and effective organisation, cutting complexity, reducing rigidity, cutting ambiguousness and getting rid of unneeded bureaucracy, resulting in a more economic system that encourages best practice, centring on medium and high environmental risks.

4.   EPRs are enforced by sending out enforcement, suspension or revocation notices and ultimately criminal prosecution can be pursued.

5.   If a regulated facility has no permit, has breached conditions on a permit or has not responded as required to a previous notice an enforcement notice may be sent stating: the regulators view, describing the breach, what has to be done and by when (enforcement notices may be withdrawn and/or other notices sent as appropriate).

6.   The regulators  are the relevant local authority, such as Bristol City Council (pictured above) or the Environment Agency.
7.   If in the regulators view there is a risk of serious pollution then a suspension notice is sent out, suspending the permit, spelling out what the risks of serious pollution are, what steps need to be taken and the timescale of action (suspension notices may be withdrawn and indeed have to be when the regulator is confident that the steps spelled out have been taken).

8.   If the sending out of notices alone is insufficient then criminal prosecution can be pursued (though those operating/owning a regulated facility can appeal to the Secretary of State).

9.   Being found guilty in a Magistrates Court can result in a fine of up to £50,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 12 months, whilst being found guilty in a Crown Court can result in an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

10. Defences possible in court include: emergency action was needed; all reasonable steps were taken; the owner/operator is someone else. 

Further information:

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Best practice sustainable construction

What are the methods that could be used by the construction industry to mitigate and adapt to climate change? The construction sector at its best is adapting to climate change by making the adjustments required due to the impacts of carbon already emitted. It is also contributing to the mitigation of climate change by cutting emissions to reduce future climate change. The construction sector is a big user of energy and thus emitter of carbon, in its own offices and other buildings, on its construction sites and through the total impacts of what is constructed - it therefore needs to act in a wide range of areas.

Firstly to deal with mitigation of climate change. Best sustainability practice in the UK construction industry currently means: helping to implement UK Strategy for Sustainable Construction 2008; liaising with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) over its environmental assessment method (the BREEAM Standard) for refurbishment and BRE's Green Guide to construction materials and components; liaising with the Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CORE). The best construction companies are assisting fully in the implementation of the Code for Sustainable Homes 2006, supporting the UK government target that all new homes will be zero carbon from 2016 and all new non-domestic buildings by 2019 and the contents of Building Regulations Part L 2008 leading to these.
Existing buildings are the vast majority of buildings, therefore best practice means: refurbishing to improve all insulation; reduce energy use through use of natural light; use low-energy lighting; use more efficient appliances; change to CHP and renewable energy sources; and reduce water use. Best practice sustainable construction means using one’s own buildings and sites sustainably eg ensuring energy and water are conserved well(working with the Carbon Trust and Energy Saving Trust on this helps). See the Carillion example here.
Secondly to deal with adaptation to climate change, so far as it allows us to do so. It’s important that there is a wide ranging contribution to industry forums, working groups, workshops and so on, to identify best practice and opportunities for adaptation in the built environment. This helps in achieving a full, concerted response to Defra's  Climate Change Risk Assessment 2012 the first official report on the risks of climate change specifically to the UK (see BBC report here).

Getting wide involvement of stakeholders in the built environment in the process of adapting to climate change helps generate more and better solutions. Increased summer temperatures, such as those recently experienced in the UK, can mean overheating inside buildings and around them, so to avoid adverse effects on people’s health, concentration and productivity appropriate measures to cool and shade buildings and spaces are required, such as: judicious placement and use of trees; covered areas with open sides.

Increased flood risk, increased risk of drought and more severe storms means making greater use of sustainable drainage systems such as: green roofs; rainwater harvesting; permeable pavements; infiltration trenches; filter drains; swales; basins; ponds and wetlands. Increased pressure on water supplies means water conservation and efficiency at all levels. It’s important to design and construct buildings with adaptation to climate change as a planned high priority.
Good advice on more sustainable construction from the Environment Agency here.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Urban Heat Islands

Given that the Met Office has issued a heatwave "Level3" warning for the south-east of England it is appropriate to give some thought to how and why the conditions are particularly hot in cities, like London. Heatwaves are prolonged periods of excessively hot weather compared to the usual weather in the area and to temperatures normal for the season, so they are relative phenomenon.

Cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside due to human activities: the Urban Heat Island Effect (see the temperature map of London below to see why the term island is used). This effect happens because:

       Vertical structures behave like canyons, cooling winds and convection are reduced, slowing the heat transfer away from built-up areas.
       Heat absorbed during the day by concrete buildings, road surfaces…is released during the night, in the same way a storage heater does its job
       Heat is emitted directly from the large numbers of homes, workplaces and vehicles into comparatively small areas

Urban areas also dry very quickly, with drainage rapidly taking water away. This and having few green areas means less heat is lost by evaporation or transpiration by plants than in the countryside. Note Richmond Park’s effect in the images below (below, bottom left is a cooler purple area corresponding to the park, whereas the pattern either side is a belt of warmer area colour coded green).

We can observe that the bigger the city generally the bigger the urban heat island effect.  It is most apparent on clear and calm days and nights, particularly at night This is exactly the conditions that occur in hot weather.  A clear, calm summer London night is typically 6 °C warmer than in the surrounding countryside.

Air pollution factors compound problems. These days urban air pollution is associated with dry, hot sunny days in spring and summer (see image of LA below), rather than in winter (like the old London smogs were).

The main pollutants are now ozone, nitrogen dioxides and particulates and the main cause is now emissions from cars, lorries and other forms of transport that burn fossil fuels.Ground-level ozone is produced when the chemical emissions react in sunlight and in warm weather over several hours (see image below).
Ground-level ozone can be blown across large areas of the country and is not just in cities. Today, the most damaging pollution episodes occur during hot, dry, sunny weather and often accompany heatwaves. Pollution health impacts make heatwave health impacts much worse – and the biggest impacts are on the elderly and those with existing heart, lung and other health problems.

You can find advice on staying safe in the sun here.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Environmental Impact Assessment and sustainability

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can be used to increase environmental sustainability by marking out all larger developments and those likely to have bigger impacts. Size of development, however one measures that, may well not be the same as the size of the environmental impact though. Where the authorities set the boundary between where a development has impacts that are accounted for and impacts that are not accounted for can often have no basis in reason. For example the planning process in Bristol took little or no account of where the fuel for a proposed biofuel power station came from and really only considered very local impacts (see here and the palm oil plantation that replaced a forest in the image).

Developers have by law to make key information publicly available. Best practice says this should be done at an early stage, with good quantity and quality information and plenty of opportunities for consequent broad-based public participation. This is often not what happens in practice, with developers and councils much more in the know, at both earlier and later stages, than the general public.  For instance raising with planners the relevance of the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, in relation to the biofuel power station proposed for Bristol in the end did little more than cause some slightly confused discussion at the planning meeting (see here).
EIA predicts possible impacts rather than waiting for them to happen, acting as a preventive mechanism, identifying and requiring the avoidance, reduction of or compensation for high impacts. This can be a stimulus to good design. This is a very good thing, though if you don’t re-examine and reassess periodically you may remain unaware of physical, biological and socio-economic changes. Narrow definition of impacts might also mean that designers are not fully informed and thus designs may be deficient.

The environmental impact statement from the EIA process is there to be scrutinised and accounted for in the planning process. Public participation is facilitated at several stages and ideally results in cooperative working and ‘ownership’ of developments - a good contribution to social sustainability. Opportunities for public participation often come too late though and lack of early availability of information impedes participation.

The EIA process ideally involves a wide range of disciplines, organisations and individuals – and thus skills available for more effective and informed decision making. The range of involvement can at times be narrow however and inter-disciplinary working still has some way to go.
It will be very interesting to see the extent to which new and updated EIA regulations account for the need to: set boundaries on an informed, reasonable basis; make a good quality and quantity of relevant information available to the general public at an early stage; ensure plenty of opportunities for well informed and supported public participation; define impacts in a more broad-based, inclusive way; ensure that the practice of iteration is a very firm expectation; enable a wide range of people, organisations and disciplines to be involved in EIA; enhance interdisciplinary working.  

Saturday, 13 July 2013

EMS: environmental plus other benefits

Integrating an Environmental Management System (EMS) into your business gives you a structured framework for managing its significant environmental impacts. Other than improved environmental performance an EMS can provide a business with many other benefits too.
Improved health, safety and quality management are likely to result from implementing an EMS because of the plan, do, check and act process of seeking continual improvement one goes through and the similarity with health, safety and quality systems (see image above and links below).

General management and efficiency improvements cut waste of resources, save energy and improve transport logistics, with consequent financial savings and optimisation of time use.

A formal system ensures better compliance with the law, is backed up by regulators and cuts uncertainties – all of which cuts risks and so cuts insurance costs.
An EMS demonstrates organisational commitment and enables good relationships with stakeholders to be built, strengthened and maintained. This is good for the activities of the organisation as a whole eg in general relationships with the public, local authorities and the media, when seeking additional business, seeking funds, attracting staff.
See: Environment Agency, What makes an effective Environmental Management System,

Also see: IEMA, EMS Explained – ‘the basics’,  .

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cycling for prosperity

The concept of iteration/cycles is very important in both educational and environmental senses. The reflection stage in learning and environmental management cycles is particularly important because it can lead to highly beneficial re-exploration and ongoing progress. Cycles are found throughout the natural world of course: the carbon cycle; water cycle; nitrogen cycle; various geological cycles; and indeed life cycles. Cycles are less common in modern, industrialised societies but they are catching on: we recycle; we go through experiential learning cycles; we build iterative, cyclic approaches into laws, regulations and standards (see image of the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle, sometimes called the Deming or the Shewhart cycle).

Good teachers and good managers are sensitive to their experiences and adjust what they do accordingly. We’ll know we have made real progress towards a sustainable society when the idea of a cyclic economy is commonplace (see image below).

Iteration is about repeating stages in a process in a cyclic fashion and is a key concept in systems thinking. It is valued because of the opportunities provided for improvements to be made due to re-exploration, review and reflection…on environmental effects or learning needs and acting on feedback to revise what is proposed and done.

Experience can provoke thinking – and thinking can enable decisions. Taking decisions can lead to actions. Reflecting on feedback from actions generates further experience and so the cycle continues and goes forward with inputs altered (see image of the experiential learning cycle).  
Stages in human decision cycles may include: exploration; formulating problems, opportunities and systems of interest; identifying feasible and desirable changes; and taking action aimed at improving the situation; in addition reflecting, connecting, modelling, and use of a variety of conventional and innovative tools and techniques may occur at any stage.

ISO 14001, which lays out what is needed in an EMS (environmental management system), has iteration as a central feature (see image above): policy leads to planning; plans are put into effect and monitored against a standard, with appropriate corrective action; good management practices are sensitive to the state of play, respond to feedback, review the current system and make appropriate policy changes to spiral the environmental management system around and forwards.

Of course, what we are talking about here is best practice – and that is not always what happens. Best practice EIA  (environmental impact assessment) is cyclic/iterative. It is often much more of a straight line process than the ideal portrayed in the image below however and this is part of the reason why the European Commission are making substantial changes to their EIA Directive.

Systems thinking means seeing situations in total ie as a whole, accounting for interactions, interrelationships and interdependencies between parts. Its joined up thinking, recognising and forming networks, loops and cycles. It is the opposite of reductionist thinking, where an explanation or solution is sought by breaking situations down into smaller components. Systems thinking is constructivist or connectivist, attempting to shed light on events that appear to be distinct by mapping linkages. In this way complex events are understood better by seeing the whole, often establishing that a system in total is different from what one would expect by just looking at individual parts or by adding the parts together. It is often the case, as Aristotle said in Metaphysics, that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.