Are you responsible for writing an environmental report for an upcoming project? It’s essential to get this work done right the first time, or you could face rising costs, project delays, and more. We’ll cover what environmental reports are, why they are so important, and what paths you can take to keep costs down and projects on time.
What Are Environmental Reports?
“Environmental reports” is a catch-all phrase, or umbrella term, for several different types of reports that detail expected impact on an environment or sustainability practices. For example, if you are interested in building an offshore wind farm, you can expect to submit paperwork detailing environmental conditions. As part of the Site Assessment Plan (SAP), your organization would need to submit data on the seabed, currents, marine growth, waves, and more to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for your project to receive construction approval.
In the oil and gas industry, another example would be the environmental components of a Field Development Plan (FDP). These can provide details on the impact the intended actions will have on the environment as well as data on the area’s geophysics and geology.
Environmental reports, though, can refer to other requirements, too, and each type of report has its own data or information that it must include. Here are a couple of examples:
Environmental Impact Statements
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) if the federal government is at all involved in the project. The EIS requires organizations to “assess the potential impact of actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” These could include both positive and negative effects. Some states also have similar requirements, including California, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which asks for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
If you’re submitting an EIS to NEPA, it will go through six sequential administrative stages and should include:
- Introduction detailing the proposed project and its purpose or requirement
- A description of the environment in question (“Affected Environment”)
- A list of all reasonable alternatives as well as other identified alternatives (a “Range of Alternatives”)
- “No Action Alternative,” which details how the environment would “respond if no action were taken.” For example, would the environment suffer negative consequences if no action were taken?
- Analysis of the project and alternatives, which details the impact on
- Air quality
- Water quality
- Endangered species
- Cultural sites
- Historical sites
- Local communities, including social and economic impacts
- Cost and schedules
Although these aren’t required by NEPA, these environmental reports may also include
- Financial plans for funding
- Environmental Migration Plans
- Any documentation required by state or local policies
- Plans for informing the local area about development, impact, and the project in general
The EIR, although similar, may ask for slightly different documentation, including a Notice of Preparation. This notifies California that you are preparing an EIR and tends to include a description of the project, possible effects on the environment, and a map.
Why are Environmental Impact Statements Important?
Environmental Impact Statements are necessary to help cut down on the impact a project could have on an environment, but NEPA doesn’t actually require organizations to prevent all harm to an area. Rather, the intent is to increase awareness of what could happen if the project should continue, while outlining alternatives that would reduce negative impacts.
Who Writes Environmental Impact Statements?
Environmental Impact Statements are generally written by more than one person, including those with expertise in a particular area of the document, and can include technical writers, engineers, lawyers, and others.
A sustainability report outlines environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals and how your company is working toward them. The purpose is not just to detail data, but to ensure that your organization is moving toward more sustainable development and that you have realistic goals for your industry.
Why Are Sustainability Reports Important?
Sustainability Reports are essential to improving relations with customers as well as to maintaining your organization’s reputation. They can include plans for social responsibility programs, sustainable practices, education, long-term trend studies, plans for governance, and transparent risk management.
Sustainability reports help corporations see how they stack up against others around the globe, or help companies work to reassess their sustainability goals and impact through initiatives like EthicalQuote (CEQ) or the Global Reporting Initiative.
Who Writes Sustainability Reports?
Technical writers usually write sustainability reports, working with the corporation to ensure goals and proper procedures are in place from the beginning. Sustainability reports are primarily internal documents, with some details that the public might see (to increase transparency), and can be a mix of writing, infographics, visuals, and more.
Why Is It Important to Get Environmental Reports Right the First Time?
Not getting your environmental reports right on the first go-around can absolutely set your organization back. You could be dealing with…
Your organization already has to spend money to put together reports for federal, state, and local governments or internal practices. Collecting this data and information isn’t cheap. Mistakes or missing documentation when submitting materials to a government entity, for example, can mean you will need to redo parts or all of the report. And if you make a significant error on a sustainability report and your organization is following incorrect practices, it could cost you money in the long run.
There is also some debate about just how costly it is to follow guidelines set by NEPA even when you first complete your reports. With six stages and required supplemental environmental impact statements if new information is uncovered, it can be extremely expensive to make any mistake in the process at all.
With errors and increased costs, you’re also potentially facing project delays. Errors with your environmental impact statement can cause you to have to go back to collecting data, preventing any construction or action from being taken.
Poor Customer Confidence
A sustainability report that doesn’t have transparent components available to the public or that doesn’t focus on increasing customer confidence can mean you lose loyal customers. One of the main goals of environmental reports is to improve a corporation’s reputation, and failing to do that can have severe consequences for the business as a whole. Organizations could find it hard to increase profits, hold onto top employees, and expand their business if a community is opposed to their initiatives.
Loss of Approval
Too many errors in environmental reports can even result in the loss of government or community approval for your project. If your report has major gaps in necessary documentation or has serious mistakes even after several attempts, your organization could have a federal lease revoked, receive fines, or experience other severe consequences, potentially putting your entire company in jeopardy.
How Can You Get Your Environmental Reports Done Right the First Time?
So just how can you get your reports done right from the beginning? It’s essential to have a game plan going in and know exactly what is expected from each report. Technical writing is a must-have skill when it comes to environmental impact statements, environmental impact reports, sustainability reports, site assessment plans, and more.
But if your technical writing skills are lacking, you could be facing project delays, rising costs, and loss of approval. Here are two ways you can improve your efforts and avoid mistakes on your documentation.
Work with a Technical Writer
If your team doesn’t have time to properly devote to environmental reports or doesn’t know how to best complete these reports or what’s required, it may be beneficial to work with a technical writing team. Shea Writing & Training Services understands what organizations need to consider when writing a range of environmental reports, statements, and plans. Our team includes experts in a number of industries ranging from energy to aviation and construction to finance, with the experience you need to complete required government and internal reports correctly the first time around, saving your organization time, money, and stress.
Environmental reports, whether for the federal or state government, or internal needs, are essential in a number of industries. Not only can they ensure you’re not accruing fines by failing to meet government requirements, they can also increase customer loyalty and confidence, save you money as you follow sustainable practices, and minimize your negative impact on any given environment.
If you’re struggling to complete an environmental report, whether for NEPA or for your internal sustainability practices, we can help. Contact us to learn more about our workshops, services, and experience.
Sign up for A Technical Writing Workshop
Shea Writing & Training Services offers technical writing workshops, both to the public and in-house.
The public technical training writing workshop is dedicated to engineers and is open to the public twice a year. This course will help you learn fundamental techniques, practice your technical writing skills, and improve your business writing. Engineers can even bring their environmental reports and other work-related documents to the workshop to directly apply what they learn. The next online public workshop is March 1 and 2, 2022, from 9am to 4pm.
Shea also offers in-house workshops with similar course work, designed for engineers, auditors, business managers, IT professionals, documentation specialists, operations specialists, and project managers. These workshops accommodate10 to 20 participants, and can be customized to your organization’s specific needs, such as learning how to produce improved environmental reports.