Segments of 4-quadrant ES

The Four-Quadrant EIA is the EnvAid flagship approach for carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In addition to managing your issues in a very focused and effective way, a Four-Quadrant EIA results in a significantly more positive presentation of your project.

An EIA is usually prepared in support of a permit application, and its scope dictated by the applicable regulatory framework. This limits the scope of an EIA to the impacts directly associated with a development project, i.e.: those that fall under the jurisdiction of the approving authority. Being required by law, EIAs are compliance driven and this often results in an attempt to justify the proposed activities. With its focus on impacts, the message of a traditional EIA is rather negative; even if all impacts are mitigated and/or given a PR spin (“this is what we will expose you to”).

The most positive contributions of a development project are its benefits to society. Not only the benefits to the local economy but also, and mainly, the benefits associated with the use of the manufactured goods or products. The latter benefits are what drives a project and what is good about it. A traditional EIA makes it impossible to offset project impacts against these benefits. A Four-Quadrant EIA changes that and is significantly more positive as a result (“this is who we are”). Every traditional EIA is another lost public relations opportunity.

Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi

As an industry, we should be celebrating the fact that nations are built on energy derived from fossil fuels and get better at explaining the vital importance of these precious natural resources. We should not be apologizing. And we must not ignore the misguided campaign to keep it in the ground and hope it will go away.

A Four-Quadrant EIA is issue driven, rather than compliance driven. A Four-Quadrant EIA aims to address all of the environmental questions that stakeholders may have; not just the ones that are asked by the regulators. A Four-Quadrant EIA covers more ground, but is less bulky nonetheless. Instead of responding to symptoms it responds to underlying issues.

I have found the following structure for A Four-Quadrant EIA particularly effective:

  • Description of the development project.
  • Description of the environmental sensitivities.
  • Issue Identification and Issue Characterization™.
  • Issue Management™.

Development description

The aim of the development description is to describe the proposed activities so that these can be understood by those that may be concerned about them. The description should be detailed enough to allow for the understanding of the mitigating measures.

The societal benefits of the proposed activities are also described, even though these are beyond the legal scope of the environmental impact assessment.

Environmental description

The aim of describing the environmental (and socioeconomic) sensitivities is to acknowledge these sensitivities and more importantly to describe if and how these could be influenced. Only those sensitivities that can be impacted need to be described in detail.

Issue Characterization™

The purpose of identifying and characterizing specific environmental concerns associated with the development is to focus the environmental impact assessment and to ensure that the mitigating measures and communication strategy are appropriate and effective. My page on the identification of environmental management strategies describes the EnvAid methodology for achieving this.

Issue Management™

The Issue Management part of a Four-Quadrant EIA™ communicates how the environmental impacts of the project are being managed. I suggest that this is done on an-issue-by-issue basis in the following manner:

First, a description is provided of the developer’s understanding of the environmental issue so that the various parties can agree that it is the issue that needs to be managed. By doing this, the stakeholder that expressed the concern is acknowledged and this in itself will reduce polarization. Very often this first step is overlooked and concerns are accepted at face value, sometimes providing legitimacy to trivial concerns that conceal deeper, underlying concerns.

Secondly, a description is provided of all the (developer’s) activities that relate to the concern. This step helps to further clarify the scope of, and hence responsibility for the environmental issue. If the concern is, for instance, about air quality, then all potential sources of atmospheric emissions should be described.

Thirdly, any gaps in understanding are highlighted. It is wise, rather than foolish, to identify any gaps in your understanding because each gap presents an opportunity for engagement. There is a strong tendency to avoid naming such gaps as naming them implies that the developer is not in control of the environmental issue. It is often more comfortable to brush them aside. Ignoring what we don’t know does, however, tend to backfire. An unfortunate technique that is used quite often is to present vast amounts of scientific data to mask a knowledge gap.

Finally, a summary is presented of the measures which have been implemented to reduce project environmental impacts as well as an explanation of how any gaps in understanding are managed. This basically describes how the environmental issue is being managed and opens it to criticism. The description does not draw conclusions, such as that the issue is insignificant, or acceptable. Significance is a matter of personal opinion. Instead, the description provides the reader with enough information to allow him to make his own judgment. If you undertook all reasonable steps to mitigate the concerns, there is nothing more that could reasonably be expected of you.

Four-Quadrant EIA™ is an EnvAid trademark. Copyright Jos Tissen 2001 – All rights reserved.

Abraham Lincoln

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.