How to manage environmental risk on construction projects

Managing environmental risk on construction sites can be a complicated business. Here we give a simple overview of what needs to be done to ensure environmental risks are effectively and efficiently managed.

Managing environmental risk on construction sites can be a complicated business. Here we give a simple overview of what needs to be done to ensure environmental risks are effectively and efficiently managed. Managing your projects environmental risk comes with many benefits, both commercial and social. Note, environmental management is a huge multi-faceted beast. Here we have kept it simple, to give you an idea of what we believe will set you up for successful environmental risk management on a typical construction project.

Before the project starts

Get to grips with what is required for the project in question. Environmental requirements manifest in a few different locations:

  • Legal and regulatory requirements, applicable to all projects.
  • Funding conditions, particularly true on public sector funded projects
  • Client requirements in project specific documentation such as the brief or contract. Often take the form of KPIs (such as 100% FSC certified timber only) or a requirement to meet a specific environmental assessment certification level (eg a Ska rating of Silver)

Formalise your plan, and check if you need to do anything before you begin (often ecology works and land remediation). Environmental Management Plans are a popular way of doing this, and basically describe what the environmental risks are, how they will be addressed and who is responsible for ensuring this. ISO 14001:2015 provides formal guidance on this.

During the project

Above is the theory, now for the practice. The trick to effectively managing environmental risk is simply knowing what is happening and stopping problems before they start. Easier said than done:

  • There is a lot of paperwork: waste transfer notes, waste carrier licences, waste facility permits, material delivery notes, certification evidences,
  • That paperwork varies enormously: everyone presents the same information (or more often than not, partial information) in different ways. Standardisation from the environmental agency would help here… but this hasn’t happened yet.
  • Digitised information may start off structured, but it is typically siloed and ends up being handled manually in Excel or an equivalent.

So, how do you know what is happening?

  • Put in a simple process and cyclically check on the data. Be clear on where you are storing and recording paper documents, if/when readings are taken for energy and water, and how digital data (such as vibration, noise and air quality) are accessed
  • Look for efficiencies. eTicketing for waste and materials, smart sensors, digitising data collection are all different ways of reducing bureaucracy

And stop it before it starts? Well:

  • People are everything. Win over hearts and minds, engage and educate through training and simply get their trust and buy-in to take environmental management seriously.
  • Spot patterns and trends between projects to try not repeat the same mistake twice
  • Learn from others; stay on top of best practice


Wrap up all your data and paperwork safely and neatly. Hopefully it won’t be required again, however it can be used in legal cases and audited by the regulator retrospectively.

What we’re doing to make this all easier

At Qflow we use Artificial Intelligence technologies and the latest software methodologies to create tools for environmental professionals. In regard to the strategies mentioned above, we can:

  • Capture, instantly digitise and extract data from paper notes at the site gate
  • Harmonise and combine disparate data sets, such as air quality sensors from different suppliers
  • Instant notifications when something is wrong to allow you to rectify errors before there are any consequences to the project

We are also working on predicting environmental incidents (particularly air quality exceedances and waste non-compliances) before they happen to allow you to take an even more proactive approach to managing your projects environmental risk.

As mentioned earlier in the article, this is a big, multi-faceted problem with lots of intricacies and variables. However, it is an exceptionally important issue to tackle and if done right, managing environmental risk can reward your construction projects handsomely. If you are struggling with implementing clear processes to manage your projects environmental risk, let this serve as a guiding foundation. To learn more about how we are making the process of environmental risk management easier for construction teams, read more about us here or book a free demo of Qflow here.

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