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.