The merit of environmental impact assessment for civil engineers in South Africa
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been successfully adopted in South Africa in line with international trends. A number of international scholars found that EIA offers distinct advantages to a proposed project (Bartik, 1988; Porter & van der Linde, 1995; Annandale & Taplin, 2003). The widespread successful adoption of EIA could be an indication that the benefits of conducting EIAs outweigh the potential economic loss due to delays and costs related to the EIA. However, there are negative perceptions about EIA and its influence on development. But the question is whether South African engineers are experiencing these benefits at project level? South African civil engineers are faced with the legislative requirements of EIAs on a daily basis. Through a survey of professionally registered civil engineers this research examined the merits that EIA has for civil engineers. It was found that EIA helps engineers to ensure that they have all the legal aspects of the development in place before the development starts. Furthermore EIA creates the opportunity for the engineers to design out the most significant adverse environmental impacts. It was found that since the implementation of EIA engineers are observing a shift towards more environmentally sound design alternatives. Therefore, if the EIA process is influencing engineers to review their designs from an environmental point of view, it could significantly minimise environmental impacts. According to engineers it was found that, EIA is assisting them in taking all the potential impacts of a new development into account during the design process. The engineering design normally determines the true environmental impact of a development. According to the respondents, the majority were aware of projects where the design was changed as a result of potential impacts highlighted by the EIA. It was found that for the majority of the respondents the environmental review of the design was a key component of the design process. According to the engineers that took part in the survey, they were aware of projects where the EIA improved the sustainability of the design by effecting a change to the design or to the construction materials. Since the implementation of EIA they have become more aware of, not only the life cycle, but also the sustainability of the development. EIA is therefore creating awareness about sustainability in the engineering fraternity. The engineers experienced EIA as a useful tool for improving the sustainability of the design. However, it was found that EIA also caused a significant delay in the majority of the projects where the respondents were involved. The delays were sometimes so severe that it jeopardised the economic feasibility of the projects in question. According to the respondents, the delays are mainly due to slow decision making by the competent authority. Due to this slow decision making process, the engineers blame the competent authority if they start with the construction of the project before authorisation. However, in spite of these delays, the engineers are still of the opinion that EIA is doing more good to the environment than harm to the economy. It was found that what the majority of the engineers knew about the EIA process was what they had learned from their own experience. They agreed that there was very little focus on environmental sustainability during their undergraduate studies and that EIA training during their undergraduate study would have been useful. But in spite of this, the majority of respondents did not complete any environmental short courses or post graduate studies. It was found that EIA does in fact have a positive influence on the work of civil engineers and that they experience these benefits at project level. The engineers have a positive attitude towards EIA and it is increasingly influencing their work positively.