Let’s talk more about the environment

The ISO has published new free guidelines on environmental communication. Chair of the drafting committee, John Shideler of US consultancy Futurepast, says ISO 14063 will be particularly useful to civil engineers.

Early and effective communication of environmental initiatives, such as using goats to manage vegetation at an airport project, can make a big difference to success
Early and effective communication of environmental initiatives, such as using goats to manage vegetation at an airport project, can make a big difference to success

A civil engineering project manager’s worst nightmare; organised demonstrations, heated discussions at public meetings, impassioned and misinformed letters to newspaper editors. All these are hallmarks of a communications strategy that is either absent or has gone awry.

By now most civil engineering organisations have learnt hard lessons and built proactive communication strategies into their project planning procedures. For those newer to the profession, and for anyone seeking a refresher on best practices, the International Organization of Standardization has just released a second edition of ISO 14063 Environmental management—Environmental communication—Guidelines and examples (ISO, 2020).

Significantly updated from the original 2006 edition, ISO 14063:2002 walks an organisation through the steps of planning, audience identification, communication and post-communication evaluation. Intended for organisations that need to communicate about environmental issues, it is particularly suited to a civil engineering audience.

Opportunities for feedback

The communications approach advocated is two-way and participative. It suggests that organisations are best served when interested parties are invited to learn about environmental issues confronting an organisation or project and are offered meaningful opportunities to provide feedback and offer input.

The application of skillful communications strategies addresses public concerns, builds respect for an organisation’s response to its environmental challenges, and provides an alternative narrative to criticisms raised by opposing parties. As decades of experience in public communication has demonstrated, a well implemented environmental communication plan can attenuate interested party opposition even though it cannot guarantee the absence of controversies.

The construction phase of civil engineering projects may result in noise, air and water pollution, and landscape impacts. Outreach that is limited to adjacent landowners and residents may miss interested parties further away, who perceive themselves to be affected or who are influenced by stakeholder groups for whom the project offers an opportunity to advocate particular environmental points of view.

ISO 14063 suggests not only identifying interested external (and internal) interested parties, but also targeting groups that can be approached with specific environmental communication activities. These activities will be informed by ISO 14063’s five principles on environmental communication: transparency, appropriateness, credibility, clarity and regionality.

Innovative examples

Innovative approaches have helped abate environmental issues associated with construction projects such as noise and dust, heavy vehicle movements, road disruptions and wildlife disturbances. For example, recycling used concrete and making new concrete on-site during an airport runway expansion project reduced vehicle traffic to and from the project, winning the appreciation of residents living along the routes of access and egress.

Grazing goats on airport property to manage vegetation during the project likewise won wide acclaim. Maintaining a proactive communication strategy throughout the project pleased the community, enhanced the reputation of the airport sponsor, and gave the innovative contractor a positive publicity boost.

While applying the framework for communication of ISO 14063 early on cannot guarantee the absence of sustained opposition, the absence of an effective communication strategy almost certainly raises the risk of greater opposition, project delays and increased costs.

Civil engineers and their clients are tasked with planning, designing, building and commissioning projects that support a climate-adapted sustainable future. With the help of ISO 14063, an organisation can create and implement an environmental communication policy that takes into consideration the nature, scale, and the environmental impact of its activities, products and services.

This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (173 CE3) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal.

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