With a foreseen increase in maritime activities, and driven by new policies and conventions aiming at sustainable management of the marine ecosystem, spatial management at sea is of growing importance. Spatial management should ensure that the collective pressures caused by anthropogenic activities on the marine ecosystem are kept within acceptable levels. A multitude of approaches to environmental assessment are available to provide insight for sustainable management, and there is a need for a harmonized and integrated environmental assessment approach that can be used for different purposes and variable levels of detail. This article first provides an overview of the main types of environmental assessments: “environmental impact assessment” (EIA), “strategic environmental assessment” (SEA), “cumulative effect assessment” (CEA), and “environmental (or ecological) risk assessment” (ERA). Addressing the need for a conceptual “umbrella” for the fragmented approaches, a generic framework for environmental assessment is proposed: cumulative effects of offshore activities (CUMULEO). CUMULEO builds on the principle that activities cause pressures that may lead to adverse effects on the ecosystem. Basic elements and variables are defined that can be used consistently throughout sequential decision‐making levels and diverse methodological implementations. This enables environmental assessment to start at a high strategic level (i.e., plan and/or program level), resulting in early environmental awareness and subsequently more informed, efficient, and focused project‐level assessments, which has clear benefits for both industry and government. Its main strengths are simplicity, transparency, flexibility (allowing the use of both qualitative and quantitative data), and visualization, making it a powerful framework to support discussions with experts, stakeholders, and policymakers.