Element 4 is the largest element within ED1; it officially requires 14 hours of tuition time. This element covers environmental risk evaluation and control over four learning outcomes, most of which you are required to explain. Bearing in mind the size of the module and the ‘Explain’ learning outcomes it is an important element in context of the course.
Aspects and impacts
The first learning outcome of Element 4 requires an understanding of the principles of environmental aspect and impact assessment. I think this is a topic where I can add some value. There is a three stage process that can be followed to determine aspects and impacts. However, it is sometimes a little confusing working out what is an activity, environmental aspect and impact. Let’s take a look at each of these terms and I’ll describe them in an easy to understand way:
- Activity – This is an action that is undertaken. It is determined by looking at how tasks are completed in the workplace, so task analysis or process flow can be used. Examples of activities include transporting product to a customer or storing diesel on a site or maybe processing invoices in an office.
- Aspect – Activities give rise to environmental aspects. These are either inputs or outputs from an activity. On the input side we have the use of energy, water or raw materials. On the output side pollution and waste related issues are present. Examples for our transport would be the use of diesel (input) or the emissions of exhaust gases to the atmosphere (output).
- Impact – This is the effect that the aspect has on the environment. Each aspect will have a positive or negative effect on some part of the environment. They will harm it in some way or be beneficial in some way (rare). For our example, aspect of exhaust emissions, there are numerous potential impacts such as contribution to climate change and direct effects on people’s health.
For the exam make sure you understand the difference between an activity, aspect and impact!
Life cycle analysis (LCA)
This is a very important concept that there is more and more focus on as the years progress. Basically, LCA is a complex, quantitative aspects and impacts analysis looking at a product from cradle to grave. We therefore need to understand all the stages that occur from the extraction of raw materials of a product (cradle), all the way to the end of the product’s life (grave). Traditionally, aspect and impact assessments consider the manufacturing phase of a product. However, LCA goes much further than this. It consider the aspects and impacts along the full life cycle. At each phase there is an attempt to understand the input and outputs (as above). Then the impacts are usually quantified in some way. The approach that is often used to complete an LCA is described in the ISO 14040.
Planning an environmental impact assessment (EIA)
In most countries, the only occasion when an environmental impact assessment is legally required is for the planning of developments. This form of EIA is often a little different to others as it covers the risks associated with activities that have not yet been undertaken. Essentially it is an assessment of the planning phase of a development. Therefore, for certain listed developments the law dictates that an EIA should be undertaken to a high standard. The risks of the future project are assessed. Then mitigation measures are proposed such that the development is constructed and operated in a way that is stated in the EIA that has a relatively low risk to the environment.
The EIA is assessed by a regulator who will decide whether a development should proceed. Planning EIA is a good form of risk management as it is considering environmental risk at an earlier phase rather than waiting for a development to be built and then implementing measures (much more costly and time consuming).
Element 4 – Final Note
There are several key learning points in Element 4, but due to its size I think it is one that you should spend a considerable amount of time revising. Next we will take a look at Element 5 environmental performance evaluation.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.