Steve J. Bonnell

Decision-Making About Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA): Potential SEA Adoption and Application in Corporate Strategic Planning


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Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a systematic process for identifying and evaluating the potential environmental effects of proposed strategic initiatives - including policies, plans and programmes (PPPs) and their alternatives - in order to consider and attempt to address such issues early in planning and decision-making. SEA is currently a key aspect of environmental assessment (EA) thinking and practice, and it is being applied to an ever increasing number and variety of strategic initiatives and planning processes worldwide.

Almost all of the discussion around and experience with SEA to date has been with regard to its application by governments and other responsible authorities to “public-sector” PPPs, and there has been very limited evidence (or investigation) of its voluntary use by corporations as part of their strategic planning and decision-making processes. Important questions therefore remain around whether, why and how an SEA approach may be voluntarily adopted and applied by corporations, including the specific motivations and other factors which will influence decisions on whether or not to use SEA, and if so, the particular characteristics of that use.

Although existing theory and previous research have attempted to understand and explain the voluntary adoption of environmental strategies and practices by corporations, there are important differences in the nature, timing, potential outcomes (benefits / risks) and other factors  associated with SEA as compared to these other environmental initiatives, which necessitates an exploratory (inductive) approach to this research in order to address the various research objectives and questions outlined below.

The study will address the following research questions:

  1. Would corporations decide to voluntarily adopt and implement an SEA approach as part of their strategic planning and decision-making processes?
  2. What are the main considerations in, and determinants (motivations / deterrents) of, corporate decisions around whether or not to voluntarily adopt SEA, and how and to what degree do these factors influence such decisions?
  3. Are the various determinants of corporate decisions around SEA use derived from or influenced by particular contextual elements (including internal and/or external factors)?
  4. If a corporation were to decide to voluntarily adopt SEA, what factors then influence its decisions about the SEA approach to be applied, particularly in terms of the type, level and timing of any associated public and stakeholder engagement?

The research is being carried out through a series of interviews with representatives of select Electrical Utilities in Canada who are responsible for or involved in strategic planning activities, in order to seek to understand their decision-making about whether and how to voluntarily adopt and apply SEA.


I am a Senior Associate with AMEC Environment & Infrastructure, and lead the company’s Environmental Assessment (EA) and Regulatory Affairs practice in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. I have over 15 years experience in planning, managing and completing EAs and associated environmental studies, consultation programs and permitting for proposed development projects in the oil and gas, mining, electrical generation and transmission and transportation sectors.

My professional career has thus far included progressively senior roles in the environmental industry sector, primarily as an environmental consultant and project proponent. Prior to joining AMEC as part of its NL leadership team in September 2011, I worked for 6 years with Nalcor Energy – Lower Churchill Project, where I held senior positions related to the EAs and associated Aboriginal consultation and negotiation processes for the proposed Labrador-Island Transmission Link and Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project. Prior to this I worked with the then NL Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, and initially, commenced my career with another major environmental and engineering consultancy.

PhD Candidate, School of the Environment, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK, June 2009 – present (In progress, part-time)

Master of Arts, Geography, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, May 1998

Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Geography, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, May 1995