International Association for Impact Assessment

2024 IAIA Institutional Award

  • Watch this interview with Alex Blood, representing the CEnvP scheme of EIANZ.

    IAIA's CEO Gary Baker recently sat down with Alex Blood, who represents the Certified Environmental Practitioner Scheme of Australia and New Zealand. Find the full transcript of the conversation below.
    Gary Baker, IAIA CEO: Let’s meet one of our award winners. The 2024 Institutional Award was awarded to the Certified Environmental Practitioner Scheme of Australia and New Zealand. I’m delighted to be joined by Alex Blood, who was very involved in the development of this scheme and sat on the EIANZ Board. She will explain a little bit more about the background and where we are. I think really this award represents a culmination of several years of efforts from general certificates to more specific and specialized areas. So can you talk a little bit about some of the highlights of that and how we've got where we are?

    Alex Blood, representing the CEnvP scheme of EIANZ: This certification scheme was set up by the Environment Institute for Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) back in 2004. It was at a time when there were a number of environmental incidents globally. It was recognized there needed to be a program that environmental specialists, who wanted to be known for quality and ethical practice, could demonstrate that independently. So the scheme was started. It's now 20 years later, so it's lovely to be picking up an award on the 20th anniversary, and I will share a couple of highlights.  0ne I think you have to start with the people.  So this program was developed by volunteers. It has had a small paid staff that's been built over time, but the heart and soul of it has always been the incredible commitment and technical contribution of volunteers. They touch on all parts of the program from when you set up a certification: establishing the criteria, and determining what competency and quality look like. Right through to past chairs and Board members, also all volunteers who built the guts of the operation itself. So your financial systems, your operating systems, your procedures, your policies. And I dread to think if you added that up, the number of hours, but I think that's been a real standout. Over time, those volunteers have come from more and more diversified backgrounds, but it started with EIANZ. It was originally members of the Institute, but if I look back at last year, we had regulators from different states, local government representatives from different areas in New Zealand, consultants, academic industry, and that real diversification of people participating, which reflects the maturing of the scheme and the reach. I've always believed that the more diversity you have, the more robust it is. I think the people piece is a highlight.

    We are now over 1200 certified persons using the scheme for their profession. We started out as a general environmental practice, but over time, found that specialties were needed. We took on a site contamination specialty very much driven by a couple environment protection authorities in Australia who require reports that are submitted as part of contaminated land management to be signed off by someone who is certified. CEnvP inherited, upgraded, and now continues to manage the scheme that provides that verification, and that's by far the largest specialty. You can imagine the significant technical competency tests that go into that because the EPA is very much driven by a need for quality and de-risking the reports when they get to the point for assessment.

    Over time that matured to impact assessment, heritage, and geomorphology. I think the youngest of the specializations is social impact assessment. I think what it has shown is a maturing of the field of environmental technical work to show that there are actually disciplines within that very broad term, and increasingly social is a specialty field that is becoming more and more high risk, whether it's through consultation or poor benefit sharing in developments all over the world. That was our most recent piece.

    To complement that, the other thing I find really interesting is that the pickup is very different. In New South Wales, which is where Sydney is, a couple of years ago in collaboration with their Department for Planning, which oversees assessment for new major projects (schools, mines, roads, rail, everything in New South Wales), decided that they, too, were having challenges with the question of quality and had realized there had been mistakes from a policy perspective in documents submitted by the private sector for assessment. They wanted to develop a scheme to de-risk it a bit for them and raise the idea of quality and reputation because development decisions can be challenged in New South Wales. So a couple of years ago, the CEnvP and the Planning Institute separately launched what's called the REAP scheme. And that is a specialist New South Wales impact assessment product, a certification. And now to be able to submit a major project assessment, you must be certified as a REAP-certified practitioner. So there's a real maturing.

    Gary: How important and how difficult was it to convince the external bodies, the authorities. that this was a legitimate certificate and a way of assessing or guaranteeing quality? I presume that was a major step at the same time as the internal dynamics of it, as well.

    Alex: I think in the most recent example for impact assessment, there was a maturing of CEnvP and a reputation of the Environment Institute, definitely in New South Wales, that they started a conversation that had been going on for some years with them on a constant networking and dialogue to understand their needs that led to that. I think back to site contamination and how that came to be even before CEnvP got involved, the government clearly had a need, and it was driven in the Australian context by the heads of EPA, where they meet across the country and talk about challenges. Already back then, site contamination was a huge risk to them as a government agency and a risk, if they got that wrong, of the flow-on effects being significant. So that's been around quite a while. Certainly, when I joined the Board, they were going through the update where CEnvP took over, and the growth since has been exponential. I must call out all the people who have contributed to the Advisory Committee for that and the registrars who go over the application. This is all about maintaining quality for the EPAs -- what's their value, what can you provide, their independence, the repeatability. They are always going to want to also see that you maintain people, that you are still checking in on people, because should they ever have a problem or a complaint, they are going to want to be able to liaise with you because some of these projects are quite high risk and dangerous in terms of the possible effects they could have on human health or receiving environment. So it's been really interesting.

    New Zealand’s and Australia's journeys are really similar and different. New Zealand has recognized certification, but it's not mandatory there with site contamination, for example. And in Australia, it's different state by state. South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales – those EPAs recognize the CEnvP site contamination. The others have not gone down that path. So government policies are quite different everywhere you go. The understanding of risk is there, but some seem more hesitant to only go with one program. They want to provide competition. Others are just not maturing there. I think what happened in New South Wales with impact assessment is a sign of great interest to see whether any other states follow. The riskier the public sphere is on outrage, the more sensitive regulators are. It is so varied – even language is varied. In New Zealand, an impact assessment person is called a planner. So an environmental planner in New Zealand is taking on the impact assessment portfolio in the way that I think a lot of IAIA people would think about that. But in Australia, a planner is not an impact assessment person but rather an interpreter of town policy. So it is more A must equal A, and B must equal B. That's been a really interesting thing, too – that all over the world, everybody's lingo can be different, and making sure you can pitch and find alignment of things that don't track ourselves on some of the lingo.

    Gary: Agreed! I have some experience with certification in other industries, and it's a constant process of quality control and upgrade and monitoring, and your reputation is everything. You cannot lose that. You start to default on that, and the whole thing falls apart.

    Alex: The other thing for me has always been, too, the obligation that the people who have chosen to become certified with that program are often driven by a professional need. So you almost have a responsibility that you need to be in business for in perpetuity is ideal, but we have all seen some programs come and go. I think that's quite a significant obligation or duty that is a really good driver. Certainly a lot of the volunteers I've seen, if you chat with them on the theory or the philosophy of certification programs, and you really delve down, there is this sense that although I'm a volunteer, what I'm doing matters because it matters to the people that are certified and the people that may not have certification. So it’s a significant role.

    Gary: Alex, thank you very much for explaining about this work. I know this was a very brief run-through, but it is a very richly deserved award to recognize this certification scheme and the way in which it's been put together in Australia and New Zealand. So thanks very much for sharing some of that today.

    Alex: Thanks, Gary. And on behalf of everybody involved with this scheme, the award means a lot. IAIA has certainly been a really strong supporter as we have developed.

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