Green and Sustainable Remediation: A Decade Behind us With More to Come

| November 4, 2019

by Scott Anderson

Graphic by HRP Associates

The Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) is a collective of remediation practitioners focused on advancing the science and integration of sustainability into the design and construction industry. SURF promotes the use of sustainable practices during the investigation, construction, remediation, redevelopment, and monitoring of contaminated sites, with the objective of balancing economic viability, conserving natural resources and biodiversity, and enhancing the quality of life in surrounding communities. In 2009, SURF published the Sustainable Remediation White Paper (Ellis & Hadley, 2009) and in September 2019 SURF published a 10-year anniversary of the white paper entitled “Ten years later: The progress and future of integrating sustainable principles, practices, and metrics into remediation projects” (Favara, et al., 2019) which reviewed the past, present, and future of sustainable remediation. This article provides a summary of my key takeaways from SURF’s 10-year review.

When we review remediation over the past decade and consider the triple bottom line framework of sustainability (environmental, social, and economic), the major focus has been on the environmental component with multiple tools (publications, software, etc.) available to assist the practitioner. These tools have been developed and advanced over the past decade. Although positive advances have occurred on the environmental tier, advances within the social and economic components have not advanced at the same rate. With this concept in mind a distinction is made between “Green Remediation,” which focuses on reducing the environmental footprint of remediation, and “Sustainable Remediation,” which focuses on all three components of sustainability.

The challenge of developing Sustainable Remediation is complex. With the lack of government regulations requiring the inclusion of sustainability concepts, sustainable remediation will continue to be driven on a voluntary basis by individuals and corporations who understand the value. An example of this implementation is demonstrated by the corporate sustainability program developed by Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation (NSRC). NSRC recognized incorporating sustainable approaches into the remediation lifecycle would reduce impacts to the surrounding communities, minimize resource consumption, and minimize overall program costs. NSRC objectives outlined in their program include a tiered approach to provide flexibility based upon the project’s complexity, training and education for their business partners, and end-of-year reporting for documentation and accountability. This type of voluntary program is an example of what sustainable remediation programs could look like across many organizations with the support of environmental regulations. 

An additional component in furthering sustainable remediation across our community is developing an educational background focused on the three components of sustainability; in particular the social and economic pillars. Integrating these components into business, engineering, science, and policy curriculums is important. The good news is others share this opinion. The National Science Foundation recently awarded Bentley University a grant to combine STEM and Business Learning to help tomorrow’s business leaders think about sustainabity today. With these types of advancements towards interdisciplinary education the remediation industry should be poised to develop greater sustainable solutions in the future.

Although Sustainable Remediation is still largely in its infancy, the development of Green Remediation over the past decade is a step in the right direction. Most practitioners are familiar with the concepts of Green Remediation and many resources are available as guidance, including publications by the EPA and ITRC. As we continue to build upon the momentum of the past decade, our industry can look to the future by further developing Sustainable Remediation. This development will continue organically through organizations like SURF and volunteer efforts of individuals and corporations. However, with the support of advanced environmental regulations and an integrated sustainability educational program our industry can be positioned to achieve much more.

Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson is a project manager for the Site Investigation and Remediation Team in HRP Associates’ Greenville, S.C. office.

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Category: All, contributor, Green

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