Do EIA professionals need a Professional Order?

As a student member in Institute for Environmental Management (IEMA) and Assessment and the German Environmental Impact Assessment Society I have gained an insight into voluntary professional organizations that promote best practices, professional development and professional ethics amongst its members.

EIA is sometimes portrayed as a biased regulatory process that allows proponents and consultants to hide or minimize the significance of a project’s environmental impacts. Comparing EIA professionals to Charted Professional Accountants, I will explore, if the work of EIA professionals needs to be regulated and organized in a professional order to ensure impartiality, scientific rigour and professional ethics.

The Adversarial Nature of EIA

In most jurisdictions EIA frameworks, the proponent has the responsibility to describe the project’s potential environmental impacts during the preparation of the environmental impact statement (EIS). This responsibility is often contracted to environmental consultancies or engineering consulting firms who prepare these documents for the proponent [1].

This arrangement has an inherent conflict of interest. The proponent prefers the EIA to find minimal environmental impacts to facilitate the development process and to avoid the imposing of potentially costly mitigation measures. The consultants preparing the EIS are contracted and paid by the proponent to find and assess environmental impacts [2]. The consultants work with uncertain project data provided by the proponent and have to work on a fixed schedule and budget, which prevents them from doing their job properly [2; 1].

Beder [3] notes that EIA professionals generally would not risk their reputation by publishing false date or by omitting negative impacts in their report. By using uncertainties in the results or using their expert judgment, an EIA professional can interpret his or her results with a certain level of subjectivity. While some argue that these biases in impact statements can be resolved during project review, evidence shows that this is often difficult because of uncertainty and a lack of data [4].

Chartered Professional Accountants

In order to reduce the potential for bias in the preparation of EIA documentation and to ensure that professionals have the right qualifications, the EIA profession should be organized and regulated with a professional order like accountants, doctors, lawyers or engineers.

Accountants are similar to EIA professionals. The public and the government trust in accountants to be impartial and unbiased when preparing financial audits, even through they are paid by the audited entity. In Quebec, accountants must be members of the Order of Chartered Professional Accountants of Quebec to work in the profession. The order was established by provincial legislation. CPAs must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics, have professional conduct rules, must complete an annual minimum of professional development courses and their compliance is regularly inspected by the Order [5].

An Order for EIA Professionals

An EIA Order would work similarly: The government and the public trust EIA professionals to give a scientifically sound and unbiased study of a projects impacts, while being paid by the proponent.

In Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, organizations already exist that unify environmental professionals [6]. In the UK, IEMA has a register of EIA Practitioners. Applicants wishing to join must fulfill a strict set of criteria. IEMA also offers other environmental professional designations that are not specific to EIA, such the Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) designation [7]. In Canada, an EIA professional can achieve the Environmental Professional (EP) or Environmental Professional in training (EPt) designation. While EP is open to all environmental professionals, there is a specific sub-qualification for EIA specialists. [8]

In both examples, a professional must adhere to the respective Codes of Practice or Conduct (see Canadian code in Box 1 below; for UK code, click here) and engage in continued professional development to keep their designation. Both organizations facilitate or organize training courses for its members and they require the payment of an annual membership fee. [7; 8].

As we have seen, the general framework for a professional order for EIA practitioners, with similar features to the Order of CPAs, is already in place:

  • Public Trust in Profession
  • Qualification to Join
  • Code of Ethics and Professional Practice
  • Continued Professional Development
  • Enforcement and Penalties

EIA legislation would need to be amended to make membership in the Order mandatory for all involved in preparing environmental impact statements. This would ensure that EIS authors follow strict codes of ethics and best practice and that they are qualified for the task. At the same time, it is important that the codes of ethics and professional deontology are followed; thus strict penalties must be in place and enforce to ensure that members of the order are fulfilling their duties and responsibilities to the client, the government, the public and the environment. Overall a professional order could improve the public’s trust and confidence in EIA practitioners and more importantly, their environmental assessment work.

This blog post, presents an initial idea to inspire thought about the topic and to encourage discussion about the EIA profession and the way it is organized in Canada. If you would like to share your thoughts and ideas on this topic, I invite you to comment below or to e-mail me at n_ahn@live.concordia.ca.

Box 1. EP Code of Ethics

References

[1] Wood, G. (2008). Thresholds and criteria for evaluating and communicating impact significance in environmental statements: ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’? Environmental Impact Assessment Review , 28, 22-38.

[2] Noble, B., & Storey, K. (2005). Towards increasing the utility of follow-up in Canadian EIA. Environmental Impact Assessment Review , 25, 163-180.

[3] Beder, S. (1993, February). Bias and Credibility in Environmental Impact Assessment. Chain Reaction (68), pp. 28-30.

[4] Hollick, M. (1984). Who Should Prepare Environmental Impact Assessments? Environmental Management , 8 (3), 191-196.

[5] CPA Québec. (2014). The Profession and the Order. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from CPA Québec: http://cpa-quebec.com/the-profession-and-the-order

[6] McKenzie, V. (2010). The comparative benefits of the Certified Environmental Practitioner Program in Australia and New Zealand. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management , 17 (3), 176-186.

[7] IEMA. (2014). EIA Practitioners Code of Practice. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment: http://www.iema.net/membership-eia-practitioners-code-of-conduct

[8] ECO Canada. (2014). Become an EP. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from ECO Canada: http://www.eco.ca/certification/become-an-ep/

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