Centre for Water, Environment, Sustainability & Public Health

Environmental assessment

Environmental assessment is the process of identifying, evaluating, and mitigating the biophysical, social, health, cultural and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made. The emphasis is on prevention.

We have expertise in the assessment of impacts both at strategic and project level. There are strong links with climate change research. Our research work focuses on the use of environmental assessment as a design tool and contributing to improvements.

Our research projects

Strategic environmental assessment

Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a process for identifying and assessing the environmental impacts of policies, plans and programmes. European legislation covers the following sectors: agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste, water, telecommunications, tourism and land use planning.

Dr Elsa João has provided the most SEA training in the UK (more than 500 people from more than 60 different organisations). Our research work linked to SEA has also covered environmental justice. 

Environmental assessment as a design tool

It’s very important that environmental assessment is considered early and forms an integral part of project design. For example, wind turbines can be located where they minimise visual impact.

Our current research includes the role of green infrastructure in meeting the infrastructure needs of new development and in the design and engineering of solutions to environmental problems such as river and rainwater flooding.


The term ‘enhancement’ refers to ‘deliberate attempts taken in the design and subsequent phases of projects, programmes, plans and policies to ensure the success of a wider range of direct and indirect positive outcomes to communities and/or the biophysical environment’. This definition is from a collaborative work between Dr João and Professor Frank Vanclay and Lea den Broeder, both from The Netherlands.

How to measure improvement remains a challenge and current research is investigating the use of sustainability reporting methods and their effectiveness in aiding the development of a green economy.

Climate change

The ability to model and influence different stakeholder responses to climate change requires understanding people’s risk perceptions and the factors (such as trust, costs and benefits, control) that influence those perceptions.

Our research (together with Aberdeen University and the James Hutton Institute) will support policy by analysing how perceptions of risk and uncertainty are formed and communicated. It will suggest ways in which behaviour by experts, policy makers and stakeholders can be changed to take risk and uncertainty into account. This work is part of ClimateXChange - the Scottish Government-sponsored Centre of Expertise for Climate Change.

Resilience and water management remain critical issues related to climate change. We’re investigating for the first time the scope for the adoption of the soft path approach for water management in the UK food and drink industry.