Sustainable remediation practices operate with a triple bottom line — the social, economic and environmental impact of a cleanup project.
Contaminated site cleanups focus on reducing potential human health risks. While health and safety remain the most critical considerations with respect to environmental remediation, sustainable practices require a more holistic approach. Many remediation projects fail to take into account the long-term consequences, including economic factors and community impact.
In the last decade, industry leaders, scientists and policymakers worldwide have worked together to establish additional sustainability standards for remediation. Site-specific environmental remediation requires the examination of ecological, economic and social aspects. Green and Sustainable Remediation, also known as GSR, is a targeted approach that aims to optimise all stages of remediation.
Working within a GSR framework minimises many of the known issues, specifically the environmental footprint of cleanup. In the process of removing pollutants, many remediation projects come with a vast amount of negative environmental consequences, including accidental contamination and toxin exposure. Reducing the negative impact of the project itself plays a key role in green and sustainable remediation.
The social component of GSR sets it apart from standard remediation projects. By emphasising community and stakeholder engagement, remediation projects analyse possible impacts, including cultural heritage and potential land use issues. Meeting with residents creates a space to discuss potential options and provide alternatives. Local participation within the community affected by the site starts a conversation about long-term consequences.
The social element of sustainable remediation also acknowledges the impact of hazardous sites on future generations. In addition to health and safety concerns, GSR works to understand the potential implications of having unusable or dangerous areas in a community. The incorporation of social impact issues may increase the environmental benefits of GSR. Optimising sustainable remediation practices to pay attention to issues like poverty, unemployment or housing costs allows stakeholders to be aware of long-term impacts.
The economic aspect of GSR works to reduce the immediate and future costs of the project. For example, while it may be cost-effective to focus on pollutant disposal at the start of a project, weighing any options for potential reuse or revitalisation should also be considered. If land reuse is not possible, the project should work to decrease the negative effect of the site on the surrounding community, including real estate values and quality of life.
Reducing resource use also plays an economic role in the project’s viability. Sustainable remediation practices can also benefit the developers by lowering costs and long-term liabilities. Cost-effective solutions work to reduce the overall environmental footprint of the project as well as financial investments. Many cost-benefit analyses now take into account socioeconomic impacts such as community viability and potential redevelopment strategies.
A More Sustainable Cleanup
The main benefits of successful contamination site management projects include reduced environmental footprints, higher community involvement and improved cost savings. Rather than focusing solely on reducing contamination levels at a site, GSR works to provide a path forward in post-remediation.
Policymakers, scientists and industry leaders support efforts to incorporate GSR into projects all around the world. The leading examples of GSR include organisations such as the EU Common Forum and the Sustainable Remediation Forum. While standard remediation efforts focus solely on reducing the “bad,” the most sustainable remediation practices work to create something “good” out of a toxic situation. Removing pollutants and revitalising land use are two of the main benefits of green and sustainable remediation.
The incorporation of sustainable development principles into remediation projects benefits the local community by considering the long-term impacts right from the project’s conception. Analysing social and economic effects allows stakeholders to establish a remediation plan that helps the community.