AECOM is #1 on ENR 2020 Top 200 Environmental Firms list for fifth year in a row

17 September 2020
AECOM, the world’s premier infrastructure consulting firm, has been ranked #1 in Engineering News Record’s (ENR’s) 2020 Top 200 Environmental Firms, marking the fifth year in a row that AECOM has topped the global analysis. “Our team is passionate about the environment as well as sustainable development, and awards such as these validate our view of and approach to both,” comments Elisabeth Nortje (Pri.Sci.Nat.), Market Sector Lead – Environment, Africa.
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PreviewElisabeth Nortje AECOM Market Sector Lead – Environment Africa1.14 MBDownload

The AECOM environmental team in Africa consists of a group of dedicated environmental scientists, social scientists and climate-change advisors. It provides services to both internal and external clients, addressing the need for environmental and social impact assessments to meet international funder requirements; waste, water and air emissions licences; compliance monitoring and auditing; sustainability and climate change assessments; and stakeholder engagement, integrated environmental planning and environmental advisory services throughout South Africa, Africa and the Middle East.

“Our focus is on integrating the needs of the biophysical and socio-economic environments with the vision of our clients,” notes Nortje. “Our services are well-integrated within the company structure. As a result of the multi-faceted nature of our discipline, we are well-positioned to provide guidance and input to the various business units and market sectors.”

Similarly, it engages with clients across various sectors, from power to transportation and water infrastructure to agriculture, mining and master-planning. “For us it is fundamental that the environment be considered an integral component of project execution from planning and design through to construction, operation and decommissioning,” stresses Nortje.

“Environmental issues or challenges in South Africa are a factor of both our history and our current developmental needs. As a nation and a continent, we face challenges related to food security, power generation, the supply of clean water, the legacy of pollution, infrastructure maintenance and job creation.

“Addressing any of these will impact our environment. Added to this is the dimension of climate change, which will drive the rate of change and increase the impact on especially our vulnerable communities,” points out Nortje. “Climate change and carbon tax should be on everybody’s radar. South Africa’s National Climate Change Bill is now at an advanced stage and is expected to be passed into law in the near future.”

In terms of the latest developments, on 9 September the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy published directions under the Disaster Management Act relating to environmental permits and licences. This extends the timeframes and amends the permitting directions promulgated on 5 June 2020 and the timeframes for decisions and processes under the repealed directions of 31 March 2020.

A recent 21 July 2020 landmark decision by the Water Tribunal confirms that water licensing authorities must consider the impacts of climate change when deciding whether or not to grant water-use licences to coal-fired power stations. Meanwhile the 31 October 2020 deadline for paying carbon tax, implemented on 1 June 2019, has been extended to 31 October 2020.

Looking at the latest trends, Nortje highlights that digital technology has the potential to actively engage South African citizens, particular the youth, with their surroundings by making environmental information accessible on social media. If done correctly, it becomes a conversation tool between scientists and citizens that empowers them to render sustainable development tangible.

Software-enabled management of spatial data is also becoming increasingly important, incorporating information from satellite images, databases from government authorities as well as NGOs, and even drone footage and information from citizen scientists to identify areas of potential sensitivity.

“It is imperative that we build polyvocality into sourcing our spatial information, to bring the environmental assessment process into the open and allow interested citizens to investigate and understand the environmental impacts of projects that affect them and, in turn, to understand the environmental footprint and cost of their daily lives,” elaborates Nortje.

The use of digital technology in community and stakeholder engagement is as important as the management of spatial data. Hence the environmental team always tries to innovate in terms of engaging people on projects. AECOM’s Digital NEPA Tool is the first-ever of its kind, providing an interactive, web-based environmental impact statement that is fully navigable for stakeholders.

“This is another example of how the collective effort of the larger team gives us a leading edge. The tool will allow us to hold virtual public meetings and engage with stakeholders across large geographic areas and with those who cannot attend in-person meetings during consultation periods due to social distancing measures related to the coronavirus outbreak,” points out Nortje.

“We recognise the challenges faced in terms of high-speed internet access, access to IT infrastructure and expertise or something as elementary as access to electricity. Despite this, our aim must be to build the mechanisms and processes that ensure broad input into environmental governance.”

In terms of Integrated Environmental Management, digital technology supports best practice through modern software, remote-sensing capability and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. In this context, it can transform the view of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from a snapshot to a more robust assessment that considers change over time in conjunction with any planned new activity.

“When used effectively, these technologies can add value to the entire lifecycle of a project, from planning to impact assessment and authorisation and finally compliance,” adds Nortje. The technological opportunities that may be realised by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in conjunction with the knowledge systems already available, can create the foundation of a liveable future for the current and next generation of South Africans.


Notes to the editor

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AECOM is the world’s premier infrastructure consulting firm, delivering professional services throughout the project lifecycle – from planning, design and engineering to consulting and construction management. We partner with our clients in the public and private sectors to solve their most complex challenges and build legacies for generations to come. On projects spanning transportation, buildings, water, governments, energy and the environment, our teams are driven by a common purpose to deliver a better world. AECOM is a Fortune 500 firm with revenue of approximately $20.2 billion during fiscal year 2019. See how we deliver what others can only imagine at and @AECOM.

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