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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.