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This Secret Can Get Your Project Plan Approved!

cumulative effects environmental impact assessment land use project planning / approval Jun 26, 2017

When I talk with people in big business, they often tell me the biggest threat to future investment and creating more jobs is the ‘risk and uncertainty of land use approvals’. Here’s how to tip the scale back in favour of jobs and development.

First, take out your smartphone and look at it.  That little marvel in your hand might be the most influential human innovation of our time. Never have we had such easy access to so much information, convenience, productivity aids and endless entertainment! 

Recently I was in Davis California as an invited guest speaker.  It was my first time in northern Cali and I wanted to take advantage and see the area.  Not so long ago a paper map bought at the gas station would have been critical.  But, armed with my IPhone on roam and Google Maps – my wife Karen and I took off on the backroads to explore Folsom, Napa, and Muir Woods aided by on-demand and free access to GPS satellites that cost $12 billion just to put into orbit.[1]  This was unthinkable 20 years ago.

Rockville Hills Regional Park, Solano County, California

Mobile devices are changing our economy, culture and our environment - its undeniable.

And our growing demand for info on-the-go also guarantees a steady stream of resource extraction GDP.  Trucost, an analytics company recently calculated that the average footprint of a single cell phone is 18m2 of land (about the size of a 1 car garage) and 12,760 litres of water.  In 2015 1.4 billion cellphones were sold worldwide.  You do the math.  According to a report by, a total of 62 different types of metals go into the average mobile device.  Under current practices this requires significant industrial land use because only 10% of our mobile products are recycled.

The Cumulative Effects of mobile device technology advancement brings undeniable and maybe unprecedented benefit to the individual person.  Yes, I said they are good.  Cumulative Effects are also a vital economic driver for the manufacturing and natural resource extraction sectors. This production also creates increasing environmental liability in order to supply the metals, plastics and ceramics needed.

What has this got to do with project planning approvals?

As a practitioner you know that the project review/approval processes for major new mines, energy or manufacturing defines Cumulative Effects narrowly as a negative thing to be mitigated or avoided. While it seems expedient - this negative regulatory perspective is in fact crushing your project’s chances to be approved and developed.

"While it seems expedient - this negative regulatory perspective is in fact crushing your project’s chances to be approved and developed."

The regulatory guidelines instruct us planners to isolate our project from the systems they will exist in – for example a watershed.  Environmental Impact Assessments often mean risking millions of dollars hiring staff or consultants to develop narrow baselines confined by the fence line around our proposed project and dreaming up mitigation measures for negative cumulative effects – essentially planning to minimize the pain. 

But you and I know that this approach often leads to an argument with other watershed users about how effective that pain relief will be.  Arguments lead to protests, injunctions, court battles – delay and uncertainty – investor confidence killers that make economies contract. And yet we continue to thrust ourselves upon this sword, project by project.

Umm, stop it!!  Just because that’s the paradigm, doesn’t mean you need to follow and make it a ‘paradumb’.  Breakthroughs in science, technology and opportunity come from thinking differently – not repeating Business As Usual.

Here’s the secret…focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. 

Understanding Cumulative Effects is the secret to project planning success because it gives us the opportunity to put in place the system components that will lead to the future outcomes we want. 

Here’s an example from a cumulative effects project I recently led.  We found that Business As Usual in our watershed study area would bring increasing and unacceptable risk for grizzly bears and mountain caribou – two important and threatened values. Rather than thinking “no net loss”, “don’t make it worse” or “minimize the pain” we explored and found ways to change our land use plan that will reduce the risk to bears and caribou - improving the situation.  We were able to do that by understanding the cumulative effects of a range of strategies and using that knowledge to have our cake and eat it too.

"Just because that’s the paradigm, doesn’t mean you need to follow and make it a ‘paradumb’."

Those worried about grizzlies and caribou want our project to be implemented because it moves the landscape towards a cure for their pain rather than having to accept more.  Our positive approach has made them our partners – not our opponents.  That’s good for investors and critters.

How will you use cumulative effects understanding to increase your project’s success?

If you want to see a a real life project example of using cumulative effects to plan for what you want, click here and get access to a video overview I created to share with you.
And if you want to get a personalized tour of the world'd leading edge spatial cumulative effects simulators and how I use it, click here and get exclusive access for free!