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Moving with the market

Assessing sustainability in civil engineering requires constant assessment of your own methods, as Ceequal chief executive Roger Venables tells Olivia Gagan.

If keeping costs down has been a primary concern for the civil engineering industry in recent years, another has been sustainability. The two are not necessarily awkward bedfellows. Increasingly it has been realised that using sustainable methods leads to longer life cycles, and lower overall costs for products and projects. But assessing, measuring and celebrating sustainability is a challenge in itself.

One such programme is the Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment & Award Scheme (Ceequal). Ceequal has its genesis in talks led by the ICE in 1999 to promote sustainability in civil engineering and the public realm.

By 2004, the government, ICE and industry funded initiative had proved the concept and made its first awards.

£20bn of projects

Today, Ceequal is on the cusp of having appraised £20bn worth of projects, and the figure is set to rise rapidly following the expansion of the scheme to cover international and term maintenance projects.

“We’re making the new methodology reflect the way clients, designers and contractors are now managing their resource flows”

Roger Venables

Assessments involve the awarding of points to a project to rate its sustainability. In all, 200 questions are applied to assessed project. These cover the environmental and social impact of a project, with water, energy and waste use considered alongside community relations, ecology and biodiversity.

Projects that successfully satisfy Ceequal’s criteria are then eligible for awards, ranging from those for whole projects to more specific client, design and construction accolades.

Range of projects

Projects that have submitted themselves to Ceequal’s gaze range from sub-£1M projects to the £15.9bn Crossrail scheme. Central to Ceequal assessments are Ceequal-trained assessors.

Ceequal chief executive Roger Venables notes that the scale of some projects makes it impossible for assessors to investigate every single detail of a project to assess its sustainability.

But what Ceequal aims to do, he says, is to provide a solid framework that enables assessors “to be able to provide a robust judgement of the score a project deserves”.

Seven years after it was launched, the scheme is entering a phase of revision and expansion. The manual, for example, which provides the benchmarks against which all projects are assessed, is undergoing a full revision.

New version

Currently at version 4.1, version five of the assessment tool will, for example, see marine and offshore projects eligible for assessment alongside traditional land-based projects.

Venables says that the changes reflect the current dynamic state of the civil engineering market, with the Crown Estate’s Round Three wind farm programme a case in point. Seven years ago the project was very much a government theory.

Today the programme is confirmed, with 25GW of output slated for 2020. Says Venables, “We’ve had a lot of interest from offshore wind project teams. There will be tweaks to make it [the manual] just as usable for marine engineering.”

“People say, ‘are you mandatory?’. No, we’re voluntary, but people want us on their projects”

Roger Venables

Ensuring a sound process is also key to keeping the scheme relevant and useful.

Of the revision, Venables says that “we’re upgrading our methodology. The question set and external verifiers will stay the same - we’re reviewing the scope and coverage of the scheme.

“We’re asking ourselves, “do the questions need changing? Has something in practice changed? Is something no longer relevant?”

Ease of use is essential to the success of the product, he adds.

“There’s been a lot of consolidation, re-arranging it to make the process easier for users.”

And changes in civil engineering processes have been observed and acted on too, he stresses. “We’re making the new methodology reflect the way clients, designers and contractors are now managing their resource flows - by bringing together questions on resource use and management of water, energy and waste.”

Client demands

Venables is keen to stress that participation in Ceequal is voluntary. There is, however, a growing trend for clients to urge designers and contractors bidding for their work to seek a Ceequal assessment, he notes.

“People say, ‘are you mandatory?’. The answer is ‘no, we’re voluntary’. But clients are saying that they want us on their projects. It’s a trend that’s helpful to us, and it spreads the benefits of Ceequal to more projects.”

This February saw the launch of Ceequal International, a version of the assessment specifically tailored to overseas projects. There is an emphasis on Scandinavia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South East Asia, where clients, contractors and consultants have shown increasing interest in independently verified sustainability ratings for projects.

With Ceequal International, blanket use of the UK criteria and weightings would be inappropriate, because of differences in physical environmental conditions and culture-based views on the relative importance of issues covered by the scheme. So project teams undertaking an assessment with Ceequal International will use a weightings exercise specific to the local area of the project, with the local regulations and practice also taken into consideration.

International spread

Venables is pleased with its progress so far, and suggests that the scheme’s usefulness means that other countries are beginning to come up with their own versions. Companies in Australia and the United States are currently developing similar schemes.

Venables says that Ceequal is working with these similar schemes in a collaborative way, “exporting our know-how” to the new ventures. In the case of Australia, Ceequal and the Australian Green Infrastructure Council have signed a memorandum of understanding which includes an agreement not to promote their scheme in the other’s native country.

Also new is the Ceequal for term contracts scheme. Together with the domestic and international project assessment processes, Venables hopes that this will offer a comprehensive portfolio of assessment techniques for civil engineering worldwide. Trialled earlier this year, it is now used by Skanska, Network Rail, the National Grid and Transport Scotland.

Term contract assessment

The separate assessment was developed in response to the unique challenges of term contract work, which is often spread out across wide geographical areas, with frequently small sets of package work.

Project-scale Ceequal assessments are inappropriate for this kind of work, so Ceequal devised a set of assessment questions that were broadly similar to the standard Ceequal project assessment, but which were characterised as either relevant to “contract management”, or “delivery on the ground”. “We really feel like we’ve cracked that [contract assessment]”, says Venables.

Looking to the future, Venables is confident that Ceequal will retain a place in the burgeoning domestic and international sustainability markets.

“We now have a tool for assessing all civil engineering in the UK and elsewhere.”

While there are other methods out there for looking at a specific project or contract’s sustainability, Venables says that Ceequal’s process is unique.

Changing benchmarks

And as the civil engineering industry learns to adapt to the mushrooming challenge of designing, building and maintaining projects in a sustainable way, it seems that Venables is keen to treat the growth of Ceequal in the same way.

The company’s sustainability benchmarks and advice must change with the changing about sustainability, he says. This challenge means that Ceequal appears destined to be constantly evolving. “It’s an interesting place to be,” he concludes. “There’s a lot going on.”

  • For further information visit or contact Roger Venables 020 3137 2379 or

How Ceequal works

These are the 12 criteria that must be met to win Ceequal status. Each is an evidence-based achievement award and can be applied for at any time.

  • Project Management
  • Land Use
  • Landscape Issues
  • Ecology and Biodiversity
  • The Historic Environment
  • Water Resources and the Water Environment
  • Energy and Carbon
  • Material Use
  • Waste Management
  • Transport
  • Effects on Neighbours
  • Relations with the Local Community and other Stakeholders

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