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Jeff Burdick

Global Director for Environmental Restoration

The future of remediation

It’s a dynamic time for the restoration industry, with a projected worldwide growth of USD 158.8 billion by 2026, up from USD 104.6 billion in 2021. New technologies are emerging, environmental initiatives and concerns are racing up government agendas, and the pressure of an ageing population coupled with the escalating effects of climate change only adds to the urgency. But what characterizes this growth and what changes can we expect to see in the restoration industry over the coming years? We examine some key trends.

So how far has the industry come today?

In the 1960s, land remediation was typically focused on waste removal. Over the years, the industry expanded to consider more intensive treatment processes, but it’s only been in the last 20 years that more sustainable and resilient restoration methods have really come to the fore. “Our slogans today are ‘bio-degrade’, ‘transform’ and ‘recycle,” shares Jessica Gattenby, Principal Environmental Engineer at Arcadis. “We need to ensure that sustainability is being integrated as a core part of any site evaluation, remediation and subsequent development plan. And that means thinking about remediation as part of a wider, interdependent ecosystem, and the (positive or negative) impacts it may have on the environment.”

This holistic, systems-based approach is integral to how the remediation industry will continue to evolve towards greener restoration. Jessica brings this to life with a real-world example. “We’re not just treating groundwater and then discharging it into sewage systems. Instead, we’re looking at how that treated groundwater could be used in cooling towers or process water. And we’re looking at the impact on the local community and how we can simultaneously create benefits for local people. For example, rather than covering a site with asphalt, we can treat onsite and reuse treated soil to create open spaces for community access or to support biodiversity and the reintroduction of native species?”


Role of multinationals

Taking a holistic approach to remediation is even more important when you consider that different countries are at different stages in their remediation journey, and that the businesses operating in those countries are bound by different levels of compliance. But if there is no one-size-fits-all solution, where does this leave multi-national corporations (MNCs) operating in multiple geographies?

Karen Van Geert, who leads Arcadis’ environmental restoration department in Belgium, acknowledges that even in her country for example, there are noticeable regional differences.

But there is of course a cost consideration as well. Nature based solutions are particularly sensitive to energy usage and, with fewer available resources, this is another concern that needs to be addressed. One answer may be to apply solutions that address a multitude of issues.

As Jessica goes on to explain: “MNC’s really understand the benefits of land management. And this in turn feeds into the development of a wider, holistic approach. For example, if they are already having to manage stormwater on site, could we also add some vegetation to help mitigate water run-off? And can solutions created for difficult sites with energy, resource and access challenges be applied across other sites, resulting in more beneficial management?”

Multi-national corporations are in a strong position when it comes to driving global change. Identifying solutions that not only address multiple challenges, but also help in meeting wider corporate sustainability and ESG targets.

Clients see holistic remediation as a moral as well as business obligation

The community factor is an excellent example of shifting the way we think about remediation to more holistic patterns of restoration. Truly sustainable remediation strategies should integrate both social and economic sustainability components along with environmental analysis, and this naturally leads to the concept of environmental justice. Many disadvantaged communities are also those most burdened by pollution, and so it’s important that we focus on drawing local communities into the conversation in a way that makes remediation more beneficial for all stakeholders.

Innovative tools and technologies are key. Arcadis’ Green Metrics Analytics tool, for example, calculates the carbon emission equivalent generated in each phase of a project, with the results then visualized in an interactive dashboard so that gaps and opportunities for more sustainable alternatives can be identified. This realization can be used to drive a strategy that simultaneously helps to limit environmental impacts and maximizes the social and economic benefits of any remediation program.

The role of research and technological next steps

The remediation market is ever evolving and, even in the most mature markets, there is still more that can be done.

One such contaminant is PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are a widely used group of chemicals which do not break down in the environment and are therefore difficult to treat, meaning they are one of the biggest remediation challenges of today.

PFAS and other emerging contaminants are a big issue, as it takes time to grow our understanding of their impact on the environment and human health, as well as the best ways to contain or treat them to minimize future harm.

Research is essential if we are to move forward with confidence. In the U.S., we are working with the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), a research agency under the Department of Defense engaged in a range of studies with the ultimate aim of optimizing remediation approaches.



But PFAS is just one of several focus areas. It takes a lot of energy to create these compounds, and it can therefore take a lot of energy to destroy them. A primary concern for Arcadis is therefore how we can help our clients minimize the volumes of PFAS before they are even removed from the site for high temperature/high-cost incineration, or before they take up space in a landfill. We do this by applying waste concentration technologies - like fractionation, and by deploying alternatives to offsite incineration, such as innovative on site, small-batch destruction technologies.

For other contaminants, Tessa also notes an increasing commitment to finding less invasive technologies, many of which work by speeding up natural processes already occurring in the soil to break down contaminants. One such example is In-Situ Sustainable Remediation (TISR). The system, created by an Arcadis team, heats up fluid using solar panels at the surface and then recirculates it through deep boreholes that are strategically placed to target the contaminant. The heat speeds up natural contaminant breakdown, shortening treatment cycles by years in some cases. What’s more, the system uses very little energy and is moveable and reusable. This system can also be used to capture waste heat from a factory or active remediation system and redirect the heat into the ground where it can be used to increase remedial efficiency and shorten project lifecycles, with no new net energy needs.

The impact of digital innovation


The last few years have witnessed a surge in the use of digital tools to improve efficiency, facilitate remote or automatic sampling, and track data in real time. These innovative tools can tackle major challenges facing the industry, from dealing with emerging contaminants and the increasing scale of pollution, to intensifying scrutiny and rapidly evolving regulations.

Sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) have revolutionized the collection of data, removing the need for site visits, as well as increasing the quantities of data it is possible to collect. By feeding such information through to a central dashboard or database – accessible to all stakeholders – decisions about any modifications can be made much faster than before. In some cases, this approach has been shaving months off programs.

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and assisted reality, are enhancing collaboration by allowing virtual meetings between multiple parties with the same advantages of being on site – but with participants potentially scattered across the globe. AR also enhances onsite meetings by blending the real-life environment with digital information. Arcadis was in fact, back in 2016, the first to develop an AR environment for a project in the remediation industry.

Another piece of the puzzle is the use of digital twins. With the explosion of readily available quality data, there comes the challenge of collating, storing, analyzing, and sharing it to exploit its full potential. Digital twins are a powerful way to harmonize multiple streams of data and draw faster insight. They can blend BIM models, GIS information, photos, sensor inputs, databases and more, creating a cohesive, user-friendly, single interface.

A greener future has remediation built in

It’s clear there’s much to be excited about in this industry – both for those markets that may be a few steps ahead, and those grappling with early moves. The emergence of new contaminants means that the challenge is constantly shifting, so we cannot let momentum slide. It is essential to embrace nature-positive solutions and digital innovations that are already transforming the industry, embedding resilience into the design of remediation projects in a way that provides both sustainable and social benefits to the local community. To truly stand the test of time, we must continue to work hard at weaving sustainability into entire remediation operations and invest in our planet for the future.


Rachelle Verburg

Rachelle Verburg

Expert Leader Site Evaluation and Restoration