How to Bolster Sustainable Remediation through Stakeholder Collaboration
US organizations are increasingly putting sustainability center stage to guide business operations. Meanwhile, many of these same organizations are grappling with legacy sites with contaminated soils and water—which operated at a time when the implications of dangerous materials mismanagement were not well understood. Today’s corporations and community residents are paying the price.
Organizations with legacy sites typically work to clean up or “remediate” these problematic sites efficiently and cost-effectively, to mitigate risks to humans and the environment. This noble objective, however, may be challenging when using conventional remediation methods. Traditional approaches may produce their own polluting emissions, or may require relocating impacted materials and soils elsewhere (i.e. to a landfill site), which can upset communities or restrict the legacy site’s future use.
Comprehensive Stakeholder Management Key to Success
To address these challenges, some organizations are engaging with key stakeholders to bring about “sustainable remediation” that reduces environmental risks while also establishing former sites for productive reuse. These organizations have found that, without broad stakeholder involvement from project outset, problems can surface from many corners, for example from distressed community members and government officials. By factoring in all relevant input and expertise from the start, these organizations can mitigate short- and longer term problems, expedite projects and save costs, and dramatically up the odds of a successful outcome including the beneficial reuse of the former site.
Many industry leaders globally are taking positive steps to engage stakeholders for remediation efforts, and momentum is gaining steam. Other sectors, e.g. the green building industry, are successfully integrating sustainability into their work, in part through ongoing stakeholder and community engagement. Leaders in this sector are bringing together stakeholders that all have a different role to play in designing a sustainable remediation solution—architects, landscape architects, engineers, developers, interior designers and local community members. These are the same types of stakeholders that the remediation industry also strives to bring together for successful initiatives.
The stakeholder group should also include specialists who can help with the environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability. While many remediation practitioners are comfortable with the quantitative environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, they are not as adept at understanding the impact of the more nebulous social component. Remediation experts would benefit from working with social scientists with a background in education, communication, environmental justice, and sociology to ensure that the social impact of sustainability is considered along with the environmental and economic aspects.
Stakeholder collaboration should start at the remediation project’s beginning and continue throughout the remediation lifecycle and beyond. Before moving forward, the team should agree on the desired end-use of the site. Not all sites are optimal for conventional redevelopment, such as commercial or residential use, and some may be better suited to alternative reuse opportunities, e.g. for ecological purposes. However, regardless of the manner of reuse, early stakeholder alignment can promote a common vision and accelerate remediation both safely and effectively.
Sustainable Remediation Initiatives Expanding Globally
Industry and regulatory agencies are publishing guidance documents to help remediation practitioners apply a consistent framework for integrating sustainability holistically and iteratively within the wider remediation system. But applying the framework itself isn’t sufficient. Practitioners need to step back after a project and evaluate the sustainability performance based on this framework—to identify areas of high performance and less successful components where sustainability can be improved. This process can enable the highest-value, lowest-cost options. These agencies also provide insight into evaluation.
While the sustainable remediation movement is clearly taking place in the US, frameworks are also being developed across the globe. These frameworks tend to be region- or country-specific due to specific regulatory and political regimes. The way forward, however, requires greater international cooperation to achieve a truly global approach to sustainable remediation. In this vein, the Sustainable Remediation Forum (“SURF”) has brought the different global stakeholders involved in remediation to the table to collaborate, and to advance and develop consensus on the integration of sustainability into cleanup projects. The outcome from a groundbreaking meeting in Washington DC in December 2012 will be a White Paper discussing global perspectives on sustainable remediation for publication this year. With worldwide partners who will contribute country- and region-specific examples and best practices, this paper should further tip the balance for sustainable remediation.
Meanwhile, the International Standards Organization (ISO) also realizes the global implications of sustainable remediation. A dedicated ISO working group is focusing specifically on this topic. Both SURF’s and ISO’s work will be invaluable in laying out a common framework that can be customized to different countries, based the state of each region’s remediation practice and regulatory regimes.
This is only the beginning of the road for sustainable remediation. By bringing practitioners with different expertise together, and with thought leaders focusing more on global sustainability issues, organizations will increasingly act sustainably and ensure that their legacy sites are remediated in a holistic manner. This will maximize beneficial reuse opportunities while protecting the well-being of all project stakeholders and the ecosystem in which the project lies. A bright green future lies ahead.
Karin Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Karin is a senior sustainability specialist at Haley & Aldrich, where she applies sustainability thinking to the firm’s remediation services for public and private sector clients. Karin is currently the president of the Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF).
For over 50 years, Haley & Aldrich has been advising developers, major institutions and Fortune 100 clients on their geotechnical and environmental challenges. Established in 1957 with a focus on underground engineering and problem solving, today Haley & Aldrich has a resume of more than 25,000 engineering and environmental consulting projects and 25 offices nationwide. Haley & Aldrich serves clients in the aerospace, automotive, education, health care, property development, manufacturing, utility, and heavy infrastructure markets in the United States and abroad.
 For example, Holland, K., Lewis, R., Tipton, K., Karnis, S., Dona, C., Petrovskis, E., Bull, L., Taege, D., & Hook, C. (2011). Framework for integrating sustainability into remediation projects. Remediation, 21(3):7-38.
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