Fighting for the planet

As the Ministry of Defence has become more open to scrutiny, it has grown more environmentally aware. Dr Trevor Perry reports on the environmental management of a major design and procurement project

Environmental issues have become increasingly important to both public- and private-sector companies. With public perception changing, environmentally damaging activities, which have historically been conducted, are no longer acceptable. Reputation damage can often be more costly than the legal and remediation costs associated with incidents.

EU and UK legislation and standards are also becoming more and more stringent,

particularly with regard to resource and energy use, restricted or hazardous materials, and final disposal of end-of-life products. These pressures have all resulted in the increasing need to identify these impacts and risks at concept stage, rather than waiting for a problem to emerge and fixing it.

Whole-life thinking

Frazer Nash’s systems approach is about designing out a problem before it occurs. It has been developed from experience working in the defence, aerospace and energy industries, where it is vital to assess a particular issue or product within the context of its whole life as well as the organisation’s operations and goals.

The consultancy is currently working with the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability Integrated Project Team (Mars IPT). With the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, and the loss of Crown Immunity, the MOD is now more susceptible to scrutiny, both environmentally and as part of greater concern over public spending. All of this, coupled with the opportunity for financial savings by reducing resource and energy costs, has led the MOD to embrace an environmentally aware culture.

Defence of the realm

With a budget to ensure the defence of the realm, the MOD is responsible for the development and procurement of a larger range of equipment than probably anyone else. And it is MOD policy that all procurement must now take due consideration of the through-life environmental implications of the available options.

Mars IPT is working on a major new design and procurement project. It is required to develop a capability to provide sustainability for the Royal Navy. That is to provide food and other dry stores, fuel, potable water and munitions. This comprises a number of ships that will be built in a period of about a decade.

The largest project within Mars is the fleet tanker, which will have the capability for provision of fuel, and forward aviation support to the naval fleet. The activities, which will be undertaken in the design, procurement, construction, and disposal of the vessel, are many and varied. And that is before consideration is given to the operational activities, and the crew-support functions required.

The commonly used and internationally recognised environmental management system ISO 14001 is focused on organisations and operations. It is difficult to apply to the design process. The outputs from ISO 14001 would not necessarily deliver the desired project improvements. And in some cases they have been known to be an over-long collection of fatuous documents, which ticks all the right boxes for certification to the recognised standard without delivering the up-front performance improvement.

Another option was life-cycle analysis. The technique, more suited to detailed product environmental assessment, is complex, far-reaching, and in-depth. And it can be expensive. For these reasons, the take-up of the international standard for life-cycle analysis ISO 14040 has been limited.

Pragmatic tool

What is needed to provide the assurance of sustainable development as required by the fundamental principle of environmental risk management, is a transparent, cost-effective and pragmatic tool focused on assessing and improving environmental issues associated with products and projects.

This must be founded on sound scientific environmental principles, involving early stakeholder engagement, identifying legislative and policy constraints, and resulting in a focused environmental assessment that considers appropriate project-specific criteria. By determining the most significant environmental issues, performance and design objectives can be developed that are central to the decision-making process, cutting across all of the business units requirements.

The principal role of Frazer Nash was to develop a methodology that would be appropriate to the scale of the project. Working closely with the team, the approach involved a number of key stages. The process started by identifying all activities envisaged through the whole of the life cycle of the project, breaking down complex processes and activities into tasks and sub tasks to ensure that no stone was left unturned. Intelligent grouping of these activities avoids repetition of effort when assessing similar activities, but must be done at the right level and with care. Cross referencing from one activity to another, without an understanding of the underlying tasks and sub tasks can result in key aspects being missed when assumptions are erroneously made about the similarity of activities.

The core of the assessment involved characterisation of environmental impacts and risks (ie unplanned events that could result in environmental harm). To support this, two sets of guide words were developed as prompts to aid in a brainstorming session, making best use of the experience and knowledge of Royal Fleet Auxiliary engineers, Royal Navy operators, and Mars Team personnel.

A danger in this type of exercise is becoming overwhelmed by relatively trivial issues. To overcome this risk, triviality criteria were established to allow exclusion of relatively benign impacts or risks.

Real power

The real power of the method lies in the evaluation of the identified impacts and risks. While risks are evaluated using established frequency and consequence estimation, impacts are evaluated using a set of specially devised impact-specific comparators. This technique provides a direct indication of the significance of both direct and indirect impacts (ie upstream secondary impacts associated with the energy or raw material use).

Key impacts

It was then a simple matter to identify key impacts and risks, which can then be eliminated or managed through the core business processes of design, operational procedures, contractor selection criteria, or contingency planning.

Frazer Nash has applied this approach to a variety of projects, providing a cost-effective environmental impact and risk identification. The work for Mars represents the current best practice within the MOD, and there is significant interest in the method.

The benefits of addressing environmental issues associated with projects or products are widely recognised but often overlooked as their assessment is thought to be highly involved and expensive. The approach developed by Frazer Nash overcomes these limitations and provides a pragmatic and cost-effective solution. In particular, the method is robust and scientifically justifiable, providing transparency and justification of decision-making, and cuts into core business processes rather than being a tick-box exercise.

It represents a usable tool for filling the gap between ISO 14001 and ISO 14040, being both front-end life-cycle analysis and providing a means of identifying and managing impacts and risks through life.

Dr Trevor Perry is a principal consultant within Frazer Nash’s environment division

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie