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Green Cross Code

From a local wind farm to London’s 2012 Olympic sites, an increasing number of schemes are choosing to demonstrate and improve sustainability criteria using CEEQUAL. Bernadette Redfern reports.

At the last count, projects with a total construction value of almost £15bn were going through, or had been assessed with CEEQUAL, the environmental and social assessment scheme for civil engineering and the public realm. The system, which is designed to improve and demonstrate the sustainability of civil engineering and public realm projects currently has 175 schemes under assessment. This shows how far it has come since 1999 when the idea of such a scheme was first discussed at the ICE and since 2004 when the assessments began.

By design the CEEQUAL system serves two key purposes. Firstly it allows projects to demonstrate the measures being taken to ensure that schemes are following environmental and social best practice.
Secondly it ensures that project teams are assessing sustainability issues at the right time, and therefore maximising the potential to address the issues most effectively. This is done by answering questions spanning 12 key sustainability areas and demonstrating with evidence, that the questions have been addressed (see box).

Planning ahead

CEEQUAL chief executive Roger Venables says that this has led to some assessors planning when issues should be tackled in advance.

“Some assessors will now plot on the project programme when the questions are likely to be addressed and also when the evidence is likely to be generated. The effect of that is to maximise the chances of gathering the evidence and therefore of making sure you get the score your actions and decisions deserve,” he explains.

Addressing the question can mean making changes to the design, or it can mean doing nothing. “The team decides what is appropriate to do, and they don’t always select the highest scoring action. They decide what is appropriate in relation to money, the constraints on the projects, the policies of the client….all these types of things. What the assessors, who do this very robustly, tell us is that their projects end up in a different place than they would have done had they not been through that process.”

One scheme that has certainly ended up in a different place is Winwick Wind Farm, a 17.5MW development planned in Northamptonshire. A planning application is currently with Daventry District Council and public information sessions were held in May. The CEEQUAL questions which have been used for a client and design assessment, have encouraged the team to give greater consideration to the landscaping, maximising the aesthetics of the scheme and reducing the total land take of the site.

By interrogating the site layout the team decided to reduce the footprint by scaling back the number of turbines, bringing site capacity from 20MW to 17.5MW. “Changing the rated capacity was a very big business decision because it ultimately means less income, but we are a responsible developer and don’t automatically just offer the maximum number of turbines, we want the right number of turbines,” says E.On project developer Daniel Badcock.

The reduction from eight to seven turbines ensured the optimum design alignment of masts and ensures that from all viewpoints there will be no overlapping of turbines. “It gave us a neat, well spaced array,” says Badcock.
A key challenge and opportunity for the Winwick team was the fact that CEEQUAL had not been used for a wind farm before. So E.On decided to use an experienced assessor and chose consultant Aecom. To date CEEQUAL has held 60 assessor training courses which have created more than 650 assessors, so there was no shortage of firms for E.On to work with.

The next step was for the project team with Aecom to work through the 12 categories of assessment and select which of the 200 questions applied to this project. “We found that roughly 85% of the questions would apply,” says Badcock.


For the team many of the questions overlapped existing procedures instigated for example through the use of the ISO 14001 environmental management system, but it also pushed the team to go further. According to Badcock, using CEEQUAL provided extra motivation for the design team which knew that its efforts were being recognised. “It tested our systems and procedures and is something we can use to look at how to improve and encourage us to consider new criteria. To be told that it is very good through external assessment is very reassuring,” he says.

Other schemes report similar benefits. The largest project to use CEEQUAL to date is the £15.9bn Crossrail scheme, set to link east and west London from Shenfield and Abbey Wood across to Heathrow and Maidenhead. According to Crossrail head of environment planning and transport, Rob Paris, using CEEQUAL on the project confirmed a lot of good things that were already happening. But the systematic approach CEEQUAL encourages also allowed the team to see where potential gaps might be so they could be addressed. “For example in the planning stages we hadn’t really looked at material use. We naturally want to minimise embodied energy requirements and encourage recycled materials but we recognised that there was no clear strategy or policy in place to do this,” says Paris.

Due to the scale of Crossrail the application of CEEQUAL is being carried out individually for eight separate work packages. But these will be evaluated together as a whole project award at the end of the scheme. This means applying the system on works of a similar type such as the running tunnels, sprayed concrete linings and stand alone shafts, as well as individual sections such as the Paddington Integrated Project ramp, the Royal Oak portal, the Pudding Mill Lane portal, the Victoria Dock portal and the Plumstead & North Woolwich Portal. “Our interim assessment has just been completed and we have achieved ‘excellent’ on all sections,” says Paris.

“The biggest challenge we had was consistency of use. Arup was very useful as they had a common spreadsheet”

Rob Paris

Not surprisingly given the scale of the scheme, ensuring consistency of approach was a key challenge.
This is where the expertise of consultant Arup came in. “We selected them as they had done the East London Line and advised the Olympic Delivery Authority. The biggest challenge we had was consistency of use. Arup was very useful here as they had a common spreadsheet that has been applied to all the different consultants.”

Arup is managing the CEEQUAL process and has carried out the client part of the assessment as well as overseeing the efforts of the various consultants who are carrying out the designer led assessments. By issuing the same spreadsheet to each of the eight projects, the team ensured consistency in how the assessment was approached.

A development that could benefit projects such as Crossrail in the future is a new online tool to capture scores and evidence that the CEEQUAL team is working on with the aim of improving functionality and bypassing some of the technical limitations of the spreadsheet system. “For example assessors want to include hyperlinks to evidence but a spreadsheet cell can only hold one link,” says Venables.

Extending CEEQUAL

Along with the new tool other developments are also being pursued to extend and improve on the CEEQUAL system, including the potential to take into account a wider range of sustainability criteria. “Although the tool does assess sustainability it does not cover the full scope of sustainable development. We are conscious that we are not assessing the wisdom of the client in going ahead with the project.

“We are conscious that we are not assessing the wisdom of the planning system in approving it. So there are financial and social considerations that are currently not assessed. What we are currently engaged in is thinking how we can move closer to taking these things into account without a full financial audit being required or telling planners that they have got it wrong.”

This philosophy is behind initiatives to develop sustainability rating systems for infrastructure in the US and Australia. In both cases CEEQUAL has been asked to collaborate and advise and Venables says that the outcomes of such a collaboration will be considered for incorporation into the next version (v.5) of CEEQUAL due in 2011.

“There is an increasing number of funding bodies requiring projects to go through the CEEQUAL process”

Roger Venables

There has also been interest from overseas organisations and UK firms which want to use the system in overseas markets. “We are considering options for further international exploitation of the methodology and we would be pleased to hear from anyone who is actively interested in that possibility,” says Venables.

Another development, which it is hoped will be rolled out later this year, is a term maintenance contracts version of CEEQUAL. There are currently seven schemes piloting the new system and reports from the users are about to be submitted before the project steering group meets in early July. The main difference concerns the way the system is set up. “The current questions set scores separately for clients, designers and contractors. With term contracts we have said this is much more of a team affair. The dividing line of who does what matters less,” says Venables.

So instead of aiming the various questions at the various parties (client, designer, contractor) the term contract has just two question streams; contract management questions and delivery on the ground. Because of the nature of term frameworks the delivery on the ground section is designed to be applied separately to groups of projects of the same nature, for example road repairs. Then these will all be weighted according to the value of the contracts and an aggregate score calculated.

This philosophy of applying the assessment separately to works of the same nature and then taking a weighted average is similar to that applied to very large scale projects such as Crossrail and the Olympic Games infrastructure work.

Olympics work

“We have a contract from the Olympic Delivery Authority for all of the civil engineering and public realm works to be assessed under CEEQUAL with 16 sub-divisions and we will be scoring them individually as well as giving an overall score on a construction value weighted basis,” says Venables.
Despite the downturn, the numbers of projects being assessed under CEEQUAL is continuing to grow (see chart).

“We have noticed a very modest increase in the number of projects that are stalled and waiting for funding but overlaying any downturn in civil engineering workload is an increasing number of funding bodies requiring projects to go through the CEEQUAL process,” says Venables. He says there are several reasons that agencies and clients are pursuing an award. These range from reputational and public relations advantages to improving projects’ sustainability criteria and motivating teams. “What they seem to be telling us is that they recognise that the scheme is pretty rigorous and wide ranging and that by going through the process, better projects result,” he says.

Of course going through the CEEQUAL process carries a price tag, but some projects have offset this by the advantages gained, for example by reducing a project’s land take or minimising waste. The fees of going through the process can be as little as £3,500 on a project worth less than £1M, to a six figure sum for a multi-billion pound scheme.

Venables and the CEEQUAL team are seeing a growth in applications with a record high of 13 in May. Since the system began doing assessments in June 2004, 255 applications have been received. “This growth in the number of projects is a healthy indicator that we are moving in the right direction and becoming more mainstream,” says Venables. With applications up and some of the country’s largest and most high profile schemes also using CEEQUAL, Venables and the team are looking forward to building on the past decade with another busy 10 years.


What is CEEQUAL?

CEEQUAL is an assessment and awards scheme for improving sustainability in civil engineering and public realm projects. It assesses performance across 12 areas of environmental and social concern including project management, water resources, land use and landscaping, energy and carbon, materials use, waste management and transport.

A total of 200 questions are arranged into the 12 areas but the first part of carrying out the assessment involves filtering the questions to calculate which should not apply. This process, described by CEEQUAL as “scoping out” means removing from the standard question set those that are irrelevant to the project. “So if you are doing a flood defence bank there is no energy in use so you can scope out the energy in use questions,” explains CEEQUAL chief executive Roger Venables. This means that all of the energy consumption on the project is embodied in the materials and in work on site.

“If you want to drive up energy performance on such a flood defence project then you must concentrate on the construction phase as that is where all the energy is consumed.”

Following the scoping exercise a maximum number of applicable questions is determined and a consequent maximum achievable score. By demonstrating - with evidence - that the questions have been addressed, the project scores points and the percentage of points achieved against the maximum gives the CEEQUAL rating. The merit of a CEEQUAL score can be considered as follows:

  • more than 25% - Pass
  • more than 40% - Good
  • more than 60% - Very Good
  • more than 75% - Excellent

“The idea of that is that CEEQUAL is assessing how far beyond legal compliance you have got, says Venables. ” Basic legal compliance is around 5%. If you accept that 100% is not achievable and 5% constitutes legal compliance thena score of 25% means you are a fifth of the way towards pinnacle best practice which might be 93% or 94%.”

Although Venables confirms that some assessors have told him that a number of projects have done everything possible to maximise their CEEQUAL score, he maintains that a score of 100% is unachievable due to the fact that some actions are mutually incompatible. “A classic example is a refurbishment project where the client wants facing stone to match the local surroundings. This is good practice for aesthetics (landscaping) and scores points under the historic environment questions [another one of the 12 areas]. But if the quarry from which local stone was originally sourced is exhausted and stone has to be brought in, the project can’t score maximum points for minimising transport of construction materials.”

Venables says CEEQUAL is intended to be used on a whole project basis, but it is structured so that assessments can be carried out at various stages including design only, client and design, design and build and construction only. This ensures that assessments can still be done even if all project parties do not participate. It also means that some clients choose to carry out assessments before reaching the construction phase, for example in the case where planning approval has yet to be awarded. “But the idea is that the norm is a whole project award that everyone participates in, including the client.”

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