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CEEQUAL: green gets seen

Ten years after it was first proposed, the CEEQUAL scheme for assessing and rating the environmental quality of civil engineering projects is becoming mainstream, reports Adrian Greeman.

A decade ago, the Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Awards Scheme (CEEQUAL) was nothing but a small item of “any other business” on the agenda at an ICE Environment and Sustainability Board meeting, followed by a short discussion.

Ten years later and after a lot of hard development work, the scheme is not only finding wide acceptance in the industry but its assessments are increasingly becoming an essential benchmark for many civil engineering projects large and small.

It is now possible to assess and index the environmental and social performance of civil engineering and public realm projects as they take place, during conceptual development, design and construction.

The process of engineering and constructing projects, and their anticipated environmental impact as finished schemes, can be assessed objectively as they are carried out in practice.

Rewarding sustainability

The projects assessed do not have to be overtly environmentally positive in their outcome (such as a wastewater treatment plant) but can be any civil engineering or public realm project. Awards recognise and reward high and even exemplary standards in the way the projects are conceived, designed and implemented.

Social factors, from maintaining relationships with the local population during construction, through to sensitivity to the local area and creative and innovative enhancements to it during and after the project, are examined and assessed too. Taken with environmental factors this gives a broad assessment which is intended to reward and to further encourage sustainability in civil engineering.

“Currently nearly 40 assessments of projects have been completed. The amount underway is growing on an extremely steep curve by value.”

Roger Venables, Crane Environmental

What CEEQUAL does not do is second guess a client’s decision to proceed, nor the granting of permissions. It does not measure the economic viability of projects, nor its social acceptability, which is in the planning and political arena. What it does assess are all of the environmental and many of the social factors in design and implementation.

It comes in a variety of options according to participation of the parties on a project. If all are involved from the client, designer and principal contractor it will be a Whole Project Award.

Alternatively there are various partial assessment categories for: client and design, design only, construction only, and design and construction. There is also an interim client and design award en route to a whole project award.

Overall, the scheme has been making good headway and take up is growing by leaps and bounds, says Crane Environmental managing director Roger Venables.

Take up growing

Crane Environmental has been at the heart of developing the scheme, led by the ICE. The Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) is now joint scheme manager working together with CEEQUAL, the company through which the scheme is now run and which is partly owned by the ICE and chaired by ICE-nominated director Eric Hughes. A host of project partners from major consultants, contractors and others across the industry were involved in the development of CEEQUAL, and remain involved in coordinating its implementation and further development.

Venables is the scheme’s chief executive, a role he carries out alongside other consultancy work and his role as visiting professor in engineering for sustainable development at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is also, some might be aware, the husband of the incumbent ICE president.

The M60 junction 5-8 widening

The M60 junction 5-8 widening earned an excellent Ceequal grade

“Currently nearly 40 assessments of projects have been completed,” Venables says about CEEQUAL. “This is alongside about 15 interim assessments.

“The amount underway is growing on an extremely steep curve by value. In the first two and a half years after the scheme launch in 2004 we got to £1bn worth of schemes, and by the end of 2008 that was £5bn.”

Right now, the cumulative value of all projects that have been or are being assessed is close to £9bn, including several internationally significant projects, including one which Venables does not name but which is obvious enough to those on the east side of London.

“Take up on smaller scale schemes is also important but rather more limited,” he says. “But that is anticipated to change as the profile of the award becomes more visible.

Increasing visibility

Banners indicating project participation are now appearing on assessed sites, modelled on the ‘Considerate Constructors’ Scheme banners,” he says. And knowledge that the scheme applies to all scales of project from the mega-schemes to small bridge renovations, and includes public realm projects, will also increasingly filter through.

“Many government, public and utility clients do want to be seen to deliver − and be seen to deliver − improved environmental and social performance standards.”

Roger Venables, Crane Environmental

Client pressure to be in the scheme has been growing and is expected to grow further, in the way that developers have increasingly asked for the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) accreditation for building projects. The BRE’s environmental assessment of buildings can confer commercial advantage with greener buildings seen as publicly more acceptable, easier to manage and perhaps lower in energy costs.

“In civil engineering, the motivations are different − it is not possible for a water company client to charge its customers more for its water because it has CEEQUAL Awards for its water treatment works,” says Venables.

“So the advantage is not the same, but many government, public and utility clients do want to deliver − and be seen to deliver − improved environmental and social performance standards in the way their schemes are done, and some way to measure them.”

Key Clients

Client users include the Ministry of Defence, the Environment Agency and the Highways Agency, and are typical driving forces for others, as government increasingly presses for sustainability in procurement.

The success of BREEAM and its impact not only commercially but in feeding back into and influencing building design was one of the triggers for first mooting the development of “a civil engineering equivalent of BREEAM” in the late 1990s.

“It was becoming clear that the BREEAM scheme was producing out-turns significantly different to what might have been designed otherwise, feeding into and informing design,” says Venables. “That effect is now at least as clear on CEEQUAL-assessed projects, because the assessment questions are used by CEEQUAL assessors to influence project team decisions.”

It was not possible just to take the building assessment methods over lock stock and barrel, because civil engineering is very different to architecture and building structures, and because from project to project there are major differences in what is being done.

Something more flexible was needed that could be matched to the type of project being assessed, balancing out the various factors to be examined.

Something more flexible

BREEAM has a family of versions for different building types and includes a bespoke option for other schemes, but that assessment model was still not applicable to the variety and extent of civil engineering projects.

What the ICE-led CEEQUAL development project team devised was a set of over-arching categories of assessment that cover any type of civil engineering or public realm project, and the factors that are significant in conceiving, designing and constructing them. Twelve major categories are examined from the way the project is managed generally, to how it deals with various ecological factors such as land use, landscape, biodiversity and water resources.

The twelve categories of CEEQUAL

ceequal logo

CEEQUAL in consultation with an advisory group has built up a set of 12 categories for making an assessment. They are weighted in significance, and the overall points scorable are distributed across them to reflect the relative importance of the section subjects and of the questions. The categories and their weightings are:


Project management (weighting 10.9%) Environmental risk assessments and active environmental management, training, the influence of contractual and procurement processes, delivering environmental and social performance, construction issues, minimising emissions


Land use (weighting 7.9%) Design for minimum land-take, legal requirements, flood risk, previous use of the site, land contamination and remediation measures


Landscape (weighting 7.4%) Consideration of landscape issues in design, amenity features, local character, loss and compensation or mitigation of landscape features, implementation and management, and completion and aftercare


Ecology and biodiversity (weighting 8.8%) Impact on sites of high ecological value, protected species, conservation and enhancement, habitat creation measures, monitoring and maintenance


The historic environment (weighting 6.7%) Baseline studies and surveys, conservation and enhancement measures if features are found, and information and public access


Water resources & water environment (weighting 8.5%) Control of a project’s impacts on, and protection of, the water environment, legal requirements, minimising water usage, and enhancement of the water environment


Energy and carbon (weighting 9.5%) Life-cycle energy and carbon analysis, energy and carbon emissions in use, and energy and carbon performance on site, but not embodied energy, which is in section 8


Material use (weighting 9.4%) Minimising environmental impact of materials used, minimising material use and waste, responsible sourcing of materials including selection of timber, using re-used and/or recycled material, minimising use and impacts of hazardous materials, durability and maintenance, and future de-construction or disassembly


Waste management (weighting 8.4%) Design for waste minimisation, legal requirements, waste from site preparation and on-site waste management


Transport (weighting8.1%) Location of a project in relation to transport infrastructure, minimising traffic impacts of a project, construction transport and minimising workforce travel


Effects on Neighbours (weighting 7.0%) Minimising operation and constructionrelated nuisances, legal requirements, nuisance from construction noise and vibration and from air and light pollution and visual impact, including site tidiness


Relations with local community & stakeholders (weighting 7.4%) Which covers community relations programmes and their effectiveness, engagement with relevant local groups, and human environment, aesthetics and employment


Modern sustainability and global warming issues are now covered in the latest version by sections on energy and carbon, the materials used and their footprints, transport needs and waste. Finally social impact is covered, by those last two categories and others looking at effects of a project on site neighbours, local community relations and sensitivity to archaeology and historic context.

The 208 questions, used to award a maximum of 2,000 scheme points across these categories, are designed for all eventualities. Many are core questions for all projects and therefore compulsory but others only apply on some. The extent of cut and fill balancing to reduce energy consumption and disruption might be central to a road or rail scheme but inappropriate on schemes with little or no major earthmoving.

Scoping for pertinence

A so-called scoping exercise is used at the start of project assessments therefore to decide which measures and questions are pertinent and which are irrelevant and can be excluded.

Scoping is done in a joint exercise between the CEEQUAL assessor for the project, who is part of the project team and is to monitor and measure the scheme during its design and construction, and the CEEQUAL verifier who oversees the process and performs what is effectively an independent audit of the assessment at the end of the project, before it is sent for final ratification.

The two roles are central to the assessment and governance of the CEEQUAL scheme, resulting in an independently verified self-assessment.

“This methodology,” says Venables “also greatly helps with the continuing professional development of not only the assessor but also their project colleagues if the assessment is embedded in the project process.”

Assessment process

Assessors are trained by CEEQUAL in a concentrated two-day course to understand their role and the tasks they have to do, backed up by detailed information in the CEEQUAL manual which carefully details how to assess and score each question.

“But although you have had training initially, the role very much entails learning on the job as you go,” says Byrne Looby Partners geotechnical engineer and director Danny Glynn who has participated in the programme since early on, first as an assessor himself and now as a CEEQUAL verifier.

Information on how to carry through the task is publicly available, with the manual downloadable freely. “It is available whether or not you decide to run the formal, verified assessment and seek an award,” says Venables. “I think this is an important factor in the scheme being taken up. People can see what is involved without having to commit to a formal verified assessment beforehand.”

Very importantly, the manual details what evidence is required for each question as well as providing guidance on the issue covered by each question.

Based on crucial evidence

Virtually every item needs appropriately-documented backup, a crucial aspect of the whole CEEQUAL process that gives it weight and authority − it is based on evidence, not just assertions or expressions of intent.

Evidence might be maps of areas treated to control invasive plant species for example and evidence of treatments being applied. Percentage of materials recycled would be proved by specification requirements and documentation to back up the percentages claimed to have been used. In other cases photographic and design drawing evidence might be appropriate, for showing site improvements or innovative design features, or archaeological work.

“It is a job of coordination and communication to an extent, perhaps requiring some time every day during the project.”

Danny Glynn, Byrne Looby Partners

The assessment of the different elements required and accumulation of evidence is best done as the project proceeds. It is possible to gather everything together after construction completion − what CEEQUAL calls a retrospective assessment − but obviously this may be more difficult or lead to a lower score because evidence has not been captured at the right time. A semi-automated spreadsheet is provided to record the scores as they are decided for each question, and in which evidence can be entered electronically as well.

“We do not expect the assessors necessarily to be expert in every field either,” says Venables.“So doing the assessment as the project unfolds allows them to find and communicate with the right people.”

Assessors are drawn from a variety of roles, not necessarily in civil engineering. “They could be environmental managers, contract personnel or from other areas. But we do have a code of conduct they must abide by, based on the ICE code, and including importantly provisions about confidentiality of the information they gather.”

“It is a job of coordination and communication to an extent,” says Glynn “perhaps requiring some time every day during the project, sometimes up to an hour, and then two or three days at the end to draw it together for the verifier and agree the final score.”

Project verification

Verifiers are either experienced personnel who were part of the development project that led to CEEQUAL and grew into the role, or have been formally trained by CEEQUAL after completing a verified assessment.

The assessor passes the completed spreadsheet to the verifier who reviews in a structured way the assessor’s scores and the quoted evidence and prepares for a verification meeting.

That meeting takes place on site to discuss the assessment and for the verifier to view evidence that he or she has chosen to view. The assessor and verifier discuss the reasons for any changes that the verifier seeks, so that there is a robust argument to support the final result.

Reputation and commitment

Four grades of award can be achieved − pass, good, very good and excellent − with the higher grades appealing to public relations departments who are beginning to make significant publicity out of the Awards, which are normally made by CEEQUAL at appropriate industry events or specially arranged presentation ceremonies.

“The process is important for team building and reputation and for demonstrating a commitment to tackling environmental questions.”

Roger Venables, Crane Environmental

“But even where the higher award is not reached the process is important for team building and reputation and for demonstrating a commitment to tackling environmental questions,” says Venables. Its effect will feed back into design and construction processes to push forward civil engineering’s sustainability agenda.

Applications for project assessments are continuing to grow, and CEEQUAL is working on an extension of the scheme to cover term and maintenance types of contract.

Venables concludes: “The CEEQUAL board and scheme management team are of course delighted with the uptake of the scheme by our industry colleagues working on civil engineering and public realm projects. We look forward to growing CEEQUAL’s positive influence on project performance, and therefore its contribution to improving sustainability in civil engineering and the public realm.”

CEEQUAL development

Four grades of award can be achieved − pass, good, very good and excellent − with the higher grades appealing to public relations departments, who are beginning to make significant publicity out of the awards, which are normally made by CEEQUAL at appropriate industry events or specially arranged presentation ceremonies.

A590 Newton bypass

  • A590 Newton bypass: Pell Frischmann, Laing O’Rourke and Golder Associates celebrate their excellent award for their road through the Lakes

Rugeley bypass

  • Rugeley bypass: Staffordshire County Council, Birse Civils and Birse Rail won an excellent award for a scheme to divert traffic

T5 Twin Rivers

  • T5 Twin Rivers: An excellent award for BAA, Laing O’Rourke, Black & Veatch, KBR, Hyland Edge Driver and TPS Consult

CEEQUAL: green gets seen

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