There are several tools available to manage environmental and social impacts and risks in projects. These tools include Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, Environmental and Social Management Frameworks, Environmental and Social Management Systems and Risk-based Assessments.
What do all of those tools have in common? They define specific indicators to track and manage environmental and social performance of projects over time. The more I visited projects in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, the more I realized that having adequate performance indicators is key to successful implementation of operations.
But how do you obtain and manage these indicators? Here are three simple steps and some examples.
STEP 1 – Risks and Impacts
The first step is to determine what are the risks and impacts you need to monitor over time to track performance.
- For waste water management, you should track water quality using indicators such as Biochemical Oxygen Demand (DBO), Chemical Oxygen Demand (DQO), coliforms and also air quality (mainly for odors to limit disturbance to the communities).
- Noise should be monitored in construction, since its impact may disturb communities.
- Other indicators include the number of complaints and incidents in your project, such as accidents.
STEP 2 – Baseline
The second step is to have a good baseline for your indicators. Without a good baseline you will not be able to compare the values you measure over-time.
- A great example of baseline is air quality. Let’s say the project is located right next to a coal power plant and a chemical plant; these plants will have emissions such as Particulate Matter (PM emission), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) that will affect the quality of the air in a negative way. Therefore, it’s important to demonstrate that your project’s emissions don’t cause harm (and if applicable, the emissions come from surrounding plants, not your plant).
- Another example is water quality. Knowing the quality of the river where your treated waste water will go is important to be able to explain to the communities how the waste water treatment is impacting the water. If the river has already poor water quality, for instance, you can demonstrate that it is not your effluents that are polluting the river but potentially other factors upstream from your wastewater treatment plant.
STEP 3 – Tools
The third step is to have the tools to measure performance indicators over-time and to be able to share that information with the relevant stakeholders.
- For example, you need to have adequate instruments such as sondes and sensors to measure water quality (i.e. pH, conductivity, turbidity, DBO, DQO, total suspended solids) at the “end-of-pipe” process of your wastewater treatment plant. You should also have this equipment to be able to measure the quality of the river upstream and downstream from your discharge point (ideally in a participatory manner).
- For air quality you can use dust monitors (for particulate matter) and combustion analyzers (for sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides) which can provide accurate emissions measures. These tools can demonstrate that your plant is meeting or exceeding international standards.
Without good indicators, good baseline data and the means to track those indicators over time, it will be very challenging to manage your environmental and social risks and impacts in projects.
Are you following these steps or have other inputs and advice? Let us know in your comments!