Project Sustainability Impact Assessment

Project Sustainability Impact Assessment

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2371-0.ch006
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Following discussion of the meaning of project sustainability, this chapter serves to provide project managers with concepts and tools for conducting a project sustainability impact assessment (PSIA). Sustainability assessment is often described as a process for assessing and evaluating the implications of a project or other initiatives on sustainability. The concept of impact assessment is not new. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many types of impact assessments and related assessment methodologies (OECD, 2010) are in use at the international and national levels. For instance, member countries use regulatory impact analysis (RIA), environmental impact assessment (EIA), strategic environmental assessment (SEA), and poverty impact assessment to assess proposed policies or projects. Some country-level assessments of environmental impacts can be directed toward different perspectives:

  • An industrial production perspective, to look at which production processes contribute most to environmental pressures and impacts;

  • A final consumption perspective, to look at which product and consumption categories have the greatest impacts across their life cycle; and

  • A material use perspective, to look at which materials have the greatest impacts across their life cycle (UNEP, 2010).

Life cycle assessment is frequently used in analysis. For example, identifying and analyzing which part of material used in product can be replaced, or for which can substitutes be used, would contribute to a wise choice of materials for reducing environmental impact. Some of these sustainability impact assessment tools can be used directly in project-level assessment (e.g., EIA), while others can be adapted to meet some needs as required.

Today, EIA is a basic requirement of certain kinds of project. Road construction is a good example. Without the EIA, funding and approval of the project cannot be obtained. As the project is mainly in the form of economic activity in the natural world, it requires consumption of natural resources such as materials, energy, and land, inevitably generating material residuals, waste, and pollution. A typical EIA report on a project (e.g., the riverside project in Chapter 5) would focus on issues such as presenting the background and history of the project, and providing information on its purpose, objectives, and benefits. Moreover, scenarios with and without the project must be presented. The report provides a description highlighting the key project design, construction arrangement, operational activities, and timeline for implementing the project. Technical assessments may include air quality, noise, and water quality impact; waste management implications; impacts related to land contamination, ecology, fisheries, landscape and visual elements, cultural heritage, and health; hazard to human life; and environmental monitoring and auditing requirements. Of course, assessment methodology and criteria are included, as well as mitigation measures and residual impacts. One may find that the contents of a proper EIA involve some of the social issues that fall within the social sustainability pillar.

Sustainability assessment is not just assessing the elements within each of the pillars (economic, environmental, and social) in terms of its project-specific and local circumstances, its priorities, and their various interrelations over time. The central objective is to derive decisions that move the project toward greater and fuller sustainability. Sustainability assessment is also a tool for integrating a pillar’s objectives. The integrated assessment should be more than the sum of the separate economic, environmental, and social assessments. Therefore, the three-pillars approach requires consideration of the implications both within a pillar and between pillars. Sustainability assessment criteria must be designed to drive positive steps toward building a greater effort, leading to a sustainable society in a pragmatic manner. Absence of expertise, data, and support in a project or organizational context may hinder the implementation of such a sustainability assessment. However, the real obstacles lie in the tendency to neglect the profound interdependence of pillar factors, and to see them as conflicting rather than potentially complementary.

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