SURF White Paper in the News (on EcoLog.com)

EcoLog, Erika Beauchesne, August 14, 2009

EcoLog, Canada's leading publisher of print and electronic environmental, OH&S, and workers' compensation news, has published an article about SURF, excerpted here...

The very industry that cleans up other businesses' environmental messes is taking a closer look at its own ecological footprint.

The Sustainable Remediation Forum (SURF) - a coalition of industry, government and other stakeholders - has put together a vision for sustainable remediation across the globe. The vision is contained in SURF's recent white paper "Integrating Sustainable Principles, Practices, and Metrics into Remediation projects."

SURF conducted a survey to gauge stakeholder response to cleaning up the industry. While 92 per cent of environmental regulators agreed that sustainability should be an evaluation criteria in the remediation assessment stage, only 57 per cent of SURF member organizations said it should.

The survey also asked organizations if they had any guidance, policy or programs in place to address sustainable remediation practices. Only a quarter said that they had a program and more than half replied that they had nothing at all in place.

Some of the obstacles standing in their way included educational challenges and an incompatibility with client or business goals. The lack of any regulatory driver was the most commonly cited barrier.

"There's no established long-term process that specifically includes sustainability in evaluating clean-ups," said Dr. Dave Ellis, SURF member and principal engineering consultant. "Let's say a site clean-up is proposing one remedy with a lower environmental impact than another, how do you validate that claim?" Dr. Ellis asked. He said that there's a need for a framework, similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. Such a framework could be applied internationally to "everything from small sites to mega sites," he said.

While SURF is based in the United States, the forum has members from across the globe, including Canada. Dr. Ellis said that the paper's findings are applicable in Canada, where there is still no standardized method to validate sustainability in the remediation process.

"A number of states are working on it, a number of international regulators are too," he said, noting that the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia are leading in that area. Until then, Dr. Ellis said that "we need a lot of examples that we can look to as models for the right behaviour - we need guidance."

The paper offered some examples of sustainable remediation tools and practices already in use. Sometimes, all it takes are simple operational changes, Dr. Ellis said. He pointed to one SURF member who reviewed how it was using trucks to transport materials to and from the clean-up site. Previously, the diesel trucks were left running while drivers waited to enter and exit because it was more convenient. Just by turning off the engines, the SURF member was able to cut back on emissions.  "It's not big but it adds up," Dr. Ellis said, noting that "in some cases, it can lead to a lot of savings."

Other practices were more complex. The British Electric National Grid is reworking a spreadsheet tool that incorporates sustainability when appraising remedial options. Analysis considers off-site facilities, transportation distances, and treatment volumes. The tool then generates data on potential impacts like local odour or noise issues, worker injuries, and regional emissions associated with each operation.

Dr. Ellis said that mitigating effects on nearby communities is a key aspect of sustainable remediation, which should involve practices that benefit not only the environment. "Other industries are thinking about global warming, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but with remediation it's different," he said. "The big picture goes way beyond GHGs. If you're looking at really big sites, they can have the potential to have national or global impacts," he said, adding that "we're becoming much more interested in the number of jobs that remediation projects can produce, for example, in third world countries."

The paper acknowledged that there's a lot of work to do before laying down a framework for sustainable remediation. But it said that gathering stakeholders' thoughts and coming to a consensus is one of the first steps.