Pollution Prevention, Control And Remediation

By: Nina Novak, P. Biol., P.Eng.

Pollution prevention is referred to as "the use of processes, practices, or material and energy that avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants and wastes" (CSA Z754-94). A pollution-prevention program is one component of a corporate environmental protection system. Once generated, contaminants are addressed through pollution control measures, which allow capture, through various technical efforts, of pollutants that have already been created before they are released to the environment (CSA Z754-94). If control measures are not implemented or are ineffective, then remedial actions are necessary. These are "actions taken to lessen or repair the damage and impact of pollutants on the surrounding environment after the pollutants have been released to the environment" (CSA Z754-94). Implementing all these measures ensures that activities are undertaken in a manner conducive to sustainable development. Ensuring future generations a lifestyle comparable or better than ours, without comprising resources or the environment, is becoming a primary goal of many guidelines and political initiatives, in addition to being ethically correct. Consequently, this should become a much stronger focus in corporate environmental management systems.

4.1 pollution prevention

The most effective method for minimizing the effects associated with environmental contamination is to prevent the contaminants from ever forming. A shift in approach is necessary, from the reactive methods that focus on site clean-ups, to the proactive, anticipatory approach that emphasizes prevention. This proactive approach has proven very successful in the health and safety fields. Numerous governmental and industry agencies have prepared guidelines or documents specifying pollution-prevention activities. These agencies include:

Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy;
Environment Canada;
Industry, Science and Technology Canada;
The Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association;
United States Environmental Protection Agency;
Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment; and
Mining Association of Canada

The critical steps as identified by CSA in developing, implementing and monitoring a pollution-prevention plan are:

· secure senior level commitment;
· establish pollution-prevention guidelines;
· establish a pollution-prevention team;
· develop employee awareness about program initiatives and goals;
· collect data and gather information;
· identify pollution-prevention opportunities;
· determine the feasibility of the opportunities;
· establish targets and rank action items by priority;
· establish a schedule for implementing action items;
· define the financial commitment;
· train employees in the new procedures;
· implement the new procedures;
· monitor the effectiveness of the new procedures for pollution prevention; and
· provide for on-going reviews and improvements.

The magnitude of the improvements increases from maintenance of current processes, to improvements of current processes, and ultimately to effective design of new processes that minimize or eliminate the contaminent concerns. The benefits of implementing a pollution prevention program include any of the following:

· reduce raw materials;
· improve staff safety;
· increase operation efficiency;
· improve environmental performance;
· minimize costs associated with contamination, i.e. fines and reclamation costs; · improve facility energy efficiency; and
· reduce waste and associated costs.

Pollution prevention is an effective method for managing environmental risk and liability, and for improving facility operations, financial performance and public perception of the site activities.

The ideal time for implementing a pollution-prevention program is when the facility is being designed. Many major facilities currently undergo hazard and operability studies ("hazops") during various phases of the design process. Hazops commonly address operation considerations and employee health and safety. It is a simple task to incorporate environmental considerations in these assessments, thereby ensuring that appropriate mitigative measures are implemented. Ideally, this exercise would also raise questions about waste generating processes and identify alternatives having less potential for waste generation. This approach is comparable to process redesign, without the financial encumbrances associated with having to upgrade process equipment.

In most cases, pollution-prevention programs are initiated on existing facilities. In this case, the most effective starting point of a technical review is to perform an assessment of options for minimizing waste. A comprehensive protocol for minimizing waste has been prepared by the U.S. EPA and is presented in their publication EPA/625/7-88/003 (July 1988) "Waste Minimization Opportunity Assessment Manual". The major phases of this assessment are planning and organization, assessment, feasibility analysis and implementation. The assessment phase identifies a comprehensive list of options for minimizing waste. A detailed understanding of the plant’s operations and waste generation activities is required to develop this list. The collection of data would focus on identifying the following:

· waste types and quantities generated (a waste inventory);
· sources of these wastes;
· classification of the wastes, e.g. hazard and contaminants;
· raw materials (type and quantity) that contribute to waste generation;
· process efficiency;
· mixing of waste types;
· in-place practices for minimizing waste; and
· process controls used to manage process efficiency.

Once these items are fully characterized, the assessment team identifies possible alternatives for minimizing waste for the various waste streams. This requires expertise in the areas of available waste management alternatives, as well as an understanding of process and site constraints. The most common waste minimization techniques are summarized below:


(on-site and off-site)

- use and reuse - return to original process

- use waste as a raw material substitute for another process

  - reclamation - processed for resource recovery
    - processed as a by-product
Source reduction: - product changes - product substitution
    - product conservation
    - change in product composition
  - source control - input material changes (material purification, material substitution, ‘Green Procurement’)
    - technology changes (process changes; equipment, piping or layout changes; additional automation; changes in operational conditions)
    - good operating practices (preventative maintenance, procedural measures; loss prevention; management practices; waste stream segregation; materials handling improvements; production scheduling).

(Source: H. Freeman, ‘Hazardous Waste Minimization’, 1990)

After specific options have been identified for minimizing waste associated with a particular process, they must be evaluated as to their technical, environmental and economic feasibility. Economic considerations should include standard economic components and indicators, e.g. capital costs, rates of return, etc., as well as hidden costs (monitoring, reporting, permitting), future liability costs (remediation, personal injury, property damage), and intangible costs (customer responses, corporate image, employee relations).

A substantial number of waste reduction programs have been introduced since 1981-1982, largely as a result of government guidelines and industry association initiatives. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has established a number of guiding principles for pollution prevention, encouraging harmonized individual efforts that emphasize voluntary actions undertaken at the earliest development stages which are effective throughout the product life cycle. CSA has developed guidelines (CSA Z760-94 and Plus 1107) on life cycle assessment, where a life cycle assessment is defined as:

"a concept and a method to evaluate the environmental effects of a product or activity holistically, by analyzing its entire life cycle. This includes identifying and quantifying energy and materials used and wastes released to the environment, assessing their environmental impact, and evaluating opportunities for improvement. The life cycle assessment consists of four complementary components - initiation, inventory, impact and improvement."

After the scoping process in the initiating phase, the data-gathering inventory then occurs. It is necessary to quantify energy, water, material requirements, air emissions, liquid effluents, solid wastes and other environmental releases. The quantitative and qualitative assessment of the resulting environmental burdens then addresses ecosystem and human health, resource depletion and socio-economic considerations. Numerous models are available for assessing environmental impact. The choice of assessment approach should be determined, keeping the overall management goals in mind, as well as the specific project or process considerations. Some of the less complex approaches are:

· "less than better", which is useful for comparing two or more products/processes to identify the one using less of a quantifiable parameter, e.g. resource use, energy consumption. There is no indication, however, of associated environmental impact.

· "yes/no checklist," in which predetermined consequences are listed, referring to emissions or resources used and a yes/no answer provided.

· "relative magnitude," which is similar to the "yes/no checklist," but a range answer is given, enabling impact severity to be determined to some extent.

· "resource consumption ratio," which provides a comparison of resource and energy use to the natural reserves, available supplies, or the environment’s assimilative capacity.

· "consequences network," in which an "assessment tree" identifies various cause/effect relationships, their impacts and an objectively based weighting factor, enabling a single numerical index value to be determined for each impact component.

· "hazard ranking," which is used primarily for human health risk assessment. Hazard values are assigned to the various pollutants, which are then ranked according to established toxicological values.

· "hazard matrix," in which a matrix is developed consisting of the contaminant concerns (e.g.. human health, mutagenicity, etc.) on one axis and exposure media on the other axis. Each matrix cell then has a specific hazard score.

· "willingness to pay," in which product/process environmental impacts with a socio-economic value are subjectively assigned.

Improvements to reduce the impacts over a product’s life cycle are then identified in areas such as product design, optimal raw material use, industrial processing techniques, consumer use guidelines and waste management practices. Possible areas of improvement include:

· extend product life;
· substitute materials;
· improve distribution;
· enhance use/maintainability of product;
· reduce energy consumption;
· improve process efficiencies;
· improve collection efficiencies; and
· improve waste management.

Life cycle assessments are iterative, with initial reviews being based primarily on qualitative information. As more quantitative data are obtained, the process is repeated. Ultimately a comprehensive understanding of process resource demand and process/product impacts is obtained. The general objectives unique to a life cycle assessment are:

· establish a baseline of overall resource use, energy consumption and environmental loadings;

· identify the points in a product or process life cycle where resource use and environmental emissions can be reduced;

· provide a basis of comparison with other processes or products; and

· assist in developing new products or processes capable of net reductions or resource requirements or emissions.

4.2 pollution control

Once contaminants have been created by a process, attempts must be made to prevent them from entering the environment. These efforts are technically based and should be thoroughly identified during the design phase of a project. Generally, these methods can include any combination of the following:

· automated controllers and computerized monitoring and regulation of controllers;

· contaminant segregation through methods using adsorption, absorption, or phase separation;

· containment of the contaminant stream;

· storage of the waste stream; and

· treatment of the waste stream to acceptable contaminant levels prior to release.

Automated technology has advanced immensely over the last two decades, providing innumerable options for monitoring and controlling process streams. Monitoring of process or stream parameters and contaminants can be effectively connected into the facility interlock controls, so that specified exceedances result in redirection or shutdown of the flow stream, thereby minimizing the possibilities of contaminant release.

Generated contaminants must be contained somehow so as to eliminate their dispersion into environmental media. Examples of these methods include numerous air pollution control processes (e.g. scrubbers, filters, precipitators, impingers, and incinerators); wastewater flocculators, separators, or containment ponds. The contaminant isolation methods generally focus on processes providing contaminant adsorption, absorption, or phase separation.

Once the contaminated waste stream is segregated, the stream may be contained, pending treatment. An example is connecting tank or vessel vents to an incinerator or flare for combusion of organic contaminants. It also addresses interim storage of liquid wastes, such as sumps and drains, which are ultimately directed to longer term storage or treatment areas.

Longer term containment of certain waste streams, primarily liquids or solids, can occur in storage tanks (e.g. contaminated water or spent solvents), lined ponds, or in containers such as bins and drums. An additional method of long-term storage for solids or sludges is burial in appropriately designed landfills. In this case, some form of solidification or stabilization may be required prior to landfilling to immobilize the contaminants for long-term storage.

A final method of contaminant control involves treatment prior to release, resulting in destruction or detoxification of the contaminants. Treatment may consist of any combination of physical, chemical, biological, or thermal processes. These methods are similar to those subsequently discussed under site remediation methods. Pollution control methods, however, are incorporated into the overall facility process operations.

4.3 site remediation

As discussed in a previous chapter, site remediation is one component of the multi-phased approach directed at addressing a site’s environmental issues. This includes determining contaminant type, quantity and location; subsequent development of a remedial investigation and feasibility review; and site remediation and follow-up monitoring.

Numerous methods of hazardous waste treatment are available. A brief list is provided below:

Physical Treatment  
- sedimentation - chelation
- centrifugation - liquid/liquid extraction
- flocculation - superficial extraction
- oil/water separation - filtration
- dissolved air flotation - carbon absorption
- heavy media separation - reverse osmosis
- evaporation - ion exchange
- air stripping - electrodialysis
- steam stripping - distillation
- soil flushing/soil washing  
Chemical Treatment  
- neutralization - alkaline chlorination
- chemical precipitation - electrolytic oxidation
- chemical hydrolysis - catalytic dehydrochlorination
- U.V. photolysis - alkali metal dechlorination
- chemical oxidation/reduction - alkali metal/polyethylene glycol treatment
- ozonation  
Biological Treatment  
- aerobic degradation - bioreclamation
- activated sludge - anaerobic degradation
- rotating biological contactors  
Thermal Destruction  
- liquid injection incineration - circulating bed combustors
- rotary kiln incineration - supercritical water oxidation
- fluidized bed incineration - advanced electric reactor
- pyrolysis - molten salt destruction - wet air oxidation - molten glass
- industrial boilers/kilns - plasma torch
- infrared incineration  
- lime-based Pozzolan processes - vitrification
- Portland cement Pozzolan processes - asphalt-based (thermoplastic)
- sorption microencapsulation - vitrification - polymerization

The above technologies have been used to treat hazardous wastes. All methods may extend to site remediation programs, but it is critical that technology selection be based on considerations of government regulations, economics, public relations, process capabilities and constraints, and specific site considerations. Depending on the chosen technology, bench-scale and pilot-scale treatability studies may be necessary to design the field process effectively. Site characterization surveys may be necessary to identify the site-specific properties affecting the overall reclamation. Typical site characterization activities could include a geophysical survey, soil-gas survey, site surficial geology testing, site groundwater monitoring, well installation, geohydraulic testing (pump tests and tracer studies) and soil analysis tests (total organic carbon, grain size, moisture and clay contents), in addition to the full contaminent characterization that is normally part of a site contaminant delineation study. A number of materials-handling considerations must be included in a complete remediation program. Plans should include proper and safe removal of contaminated materials, safe containment and transportation to the treatment location, preparing it for treatment, and replacing removed materials in an environmentally sound and economic manner. Some additional considerations include surface run-on and run-off, precipitation redirection, vapour release, contaminated dust, treatment emissions, soil heterogeneities, buried surprises, and excavation safety.

In addition to the contaminant remediation technologies, some site control technologies may also be implemented to control contaminant dispersion. These could include hydraulic down-gradient positioning of impermeable barriers or filtration/treatment media walls. Contaminant plume control may also be implemented.

Common site remediation methods currently in use include the following:

· soil vapour extraction;
· chemical extraction/soil washing;
· solidification/stabilization;
· chemical (contaminent)destruction, eg. hydrolysis,
dechlorination, and oxidation;
· bioremediation; and
· thermal processess.

These include a combination of in-situ and ex-situ remediation methods. Extensive theoretical chemical destruction, contaminant transport, engineering process design and process modelling are necessary in many site remediation projects. It is also important to consider regulatory permitting, employee occupational health and safety, and public communication issued during reclamation activities.

4.4 compliance monitoring

Compliance monitoring can either be:

· regular and periodic monitoring of emissions for specified contaminants to ensure regulatory and possibly other corporate emission criteria are met;

· monitoring of reclaimed sites to verify that successful reclamation activities were undertaken;

· an internal assessment of operations, maintenance and management systems to verify that corporate requirements and standards are being met; or

· assessments of external groups, e.g. laboratories, or waste management facilities providing support or consultative services to ensure that applicable standards are being met.

Compliance monitoring is an essential component of any corporate environmental management system. It is useful for evaluating internal environmental management systems, external services provided, activities undertaken, or reclamation performed. It is also a useful method for exercising due diligence, assuming that an appropriate response is made once the monitoring results are known.



Designing for the Environment

By: Daniel W. Smith

The concept of designing for the environment must become one of the fundamentals of engineering. In the past, the list of fundamental principles for engineering design included:

· protection of public health;
· safety;
· functionality; and
· costs (both capital and operating).

Being aware of the effects that design decisions had on the environment led to the need for assessing impacts on all aspects of the environment. Although engineers were often aware of the impacts that various projects had on the environment, the importance of impact evaluation took time to reach the level of a fundamental design principle.

Today, environmental impact evaluation is a fundamental principle of engineering design. It is essential that the meaning, responsibility and implementation steps of each part of this relatively new engineering design principle be understood.

Environmental Impact

The term "environmental impact" has a wide range of meanings depending on the scope of each project. The concept "environmental" encompasses the entire physical existence, both living and non-living, and requires that changes be observed and evaluated over a reasonable period of time. For many design efforts, boundaries are established for the breadth of the physical region to be considered and the length of time of reasonable significant impact. Boundaries for impact on surface soil are likely to be quite small and restricted to the footprint of the development while some factors such as CO2 emissions may involve much wider boundaries for consideration.

The concept of "impact" also challenges the design process. All activities, from birth to death to decay; from concept to exploration, design, construction, operation, removal, and ultimately to disposal, have impacts. The boundary conditions to be considered must encompass the significant impacts at each step of the life of a project.

"Evaluation" is the most challenging aspect of this fundamental aspect of design. The evaluation process must include such a broad scope of professional expertise that many well-trained people must be involved. Such evaluation must involve all aspects of the physical existence, both living and non-living, within the region of acceptable impact, but must also include all significant types of impacts.

The professional engineer involved in design activities must acknowledge the responsibility for designing for the environment. By accepting this responsibility, the engineer needs to suggest boundaries for the physical and time ranges, and take the responsibility for seeking professional interaction with appropriate disciplines to ensure the design meets the needs of the environment.

Criteria, Risk Evaluation and Cost-Benefit Analysis

The relationship among criteria, risk evaluation and cost-benefit analysis is so interlocked that these individual items cannot be separated in the design process. Although individual engineers or groups of engineers may be involved in specific activities related to one or more of these factors, the project as a whole must have a manager who can deal with them while giving full consideration of the five fundamental principles for engineering design. These principles are:

· protection of public health;
· safety;
· functionality;
· costs; and
· environmental impact.

The relative importance of these five fundamentals may change from project to project.


For each project, a "criteria set" must be developed, and for each component of the "criteria set," a set of boundary conditions must be identified. Listed below are some of the components of a "criteria set" for project development which includes design considerations:

Level 1: Evaluation Envelope criteria:

· physical boundary for evaluation; and
· time period for evaluation

Level 2: Professional criteria:

· professional Code of Ethics; and
· environmental Code of Ethics

Level 3: Conventional design-related criteria:

· client requirements;
· site or physical setting limitation;
· design codes for structural components;
· provincial guidelines and standards for physical construction;
·access limitations;
· environmental regulations, guidelines and standards; and
· total available funding.

4: Influencing factors:

· information availability and retrieval;
· knowledge of materials and analysis techniques; and
· support personnel.

Design is a process of evaluating alternative methods for meeting the boundary conditions established by the "criteria set." This is done within professional and environmental limitations, and is also a function of the more fundamental responsibilities of knowledge and information acquisition, creation and use.

Risk Evaluation

Risk is the possibility of suffering harm. The source of the harm may be an action, an activity, a condition or a substance. The term "risk assessment" refers to a technical examination of the nature and magnitude of the risk. The expressions "risk analysis" and "risk evaluation" are used to include the assessment methods, as well as the methods for using the information.

The implementation of "risk management" activities necessarily involves assessing and evaluating, along with knowledge about resources, environment, economic, social and political values. The process also includes the use of control options to reduce the risk. The term "management" refers to the process of weighing or evaluating all the criteria for the purpose of making a decision.

Unfortunately, the activity of risk assessment is limited by the boundaries of existing knowledge. Furthermore, the interpretation of knowledge is influenced by individual perceptions. Each person perceives risk differently, and this will influence the assessment. Perceptions are also influenced by a number of factors (Cohrssen and Covello, 1989) as listed below:

· likelihood of an adverse effect;
· who is affected;
· how widespread the effects;
· the familiarity of the effects;
· the degree of fear of the effects;
· how the individual is affected; and
· the degree of voluntary involvement in decisions related to the exposure.

Risk evaluation can be applied in some fashion to almost all activities.

The definition of risk evaluation involves all the boundary conditions and related factors of design. When a design is constructed, there is always some risk it will cause some aspect of the environment impacted.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The issues related to evaluation extend to the analysis of project costs and benefits. Traditionally, costs have included all components related to design, construction and commissioning, as well as the cost of capital, and both operating and maintenance costs. As the need for environmental impact assessment has grown, assessments have also been made part of the costs of impact evaluation and impact mitigation. More recently, a greater recognition of monetary intangibles has further complicated this type of analysis.

Many environmental intangibles are difficult to be expressed in monetary terms alone, if at all. The challenge for the project manager then becomes one of forming a team of experts to evaluate and pass judgment on the importance of intangibles. As a result, this type of evaluation, e.g. total cost accounting, has gained considerable importance, especially for larger projects, and must not be left to the unskilled person.

The Role of Standards

Standards have been developed to identify a minimum reference of performance. By designing to achieve at least the minimum reference performance (or better), the engineer exercises the initial requirements of practicing "due diligence".

In designing for the environment, the principle roles of standards are similar to those in other areas of engineering. However, the implementation of standards has been limited to public health protection and some aspects of environmental protection. This is largely caused by the changes occurring in the definition of minimum performance as the result of rapid changes in knowledge. As knowledge grows, the standards will be adjusted since these standards normally reflect a state of the practice that is well supported by knowledge and experience.

For many environmental issues, there is a wide range of problem areas that have, or need, a reference for expected performance. In some cases, an intermediate level of performance expectation has been developed using guidelines. Guidelines present a considered consensus of options regarding minimum design criteria. The expectation of guidelines is that a minimum level of performance will be achieved, but it is recognized that high expectations and better methods of design may lead to better systems. In some cases, guidelines reflect limits in the acceptance or vestment of responsibility or liability by those issuing the guidelines.

In some areas of design, such as water treatment or water distribution, the application of design fundamentals concerning public health protection has led to relatively well-defined boundary conditions for performance criteria. The standards and guidelines are well understood, and each revision contains relatively minor adjustments. In other areas, knowledge of parameters and interactions is so limited that definition of the minimum reference performance is being modified routinely. In the latter case, the design engineer must take a more active role in setting the boundary conditions for design. This means the current knowledge beyond the limits of standards must be incorporated into the design decision-making process.

"Due diligence" is a concept developed by the legal profession as one way to define responsibility. In matters of environmental design, the concept is important. This is because "due diligence" is defined as the best practice at the time. With few standards and a few more guidelines available to the designer, this concept is then tied to the knowledge of the profession at the time the design was created.

Furthermore, "due diligence" requires the project manager to be current with respect to knowledge that goes beyond the existing standards and guidelines.

Public Consultation

Several environmental acts and regulations call for public consultation as a project is being developed. It is critical that efforts for nurturing public involvement be included in a project. In some cases, however, there is little, if any, need for public involvement, and the potential response from the public can be inconsequential.

With major projects, the public consultation process should begin before the site selection or design has progressed to a point of commitment. This is because it is known that better project development can occur if the public is aware of the intent and scope of the project. Also, the public must be aware of the trade-offs in terms of impacts on their way of life.

Prevention and Remediation

Real risks mean that there are real potentials for hazards to occur. Risk evaluation is not a one-time activity, but is a continuous process. As risks are identified, options for reducing the risks of concern must be developed. This may involve significant design changes. Designing for remediation is another important component of design work. It requires the definition of risks and then an examination of options for dealing with problems that might occur.


Cohrssen, J.J. and Covello, V.T. 1989. Risk Analysis: A guide to Principles and Methods for Analyzing Health and Environmental Risks. U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President. NTIS Order No. PB 89-137772, Springfield, Virginia, 407p.



Continual Improvement

By: Joel R. Nodelman, P.Eng.


"Engineers are a pain to deal with when you are attempting an environmental negotiation. They speak a language that 99% of the human race cannot understand. They have two hemispheres in their brains, just like the rest of us, but they insist on using only one of them, the logical, analytical side. Engineers, for the most part, don't know anything about politics or human nature. They affect an attitude of being above it all, above politics, above people, above everything and everybody."

"No one doubts that engineers have designed artificial eco-systems that are of immediate benefit to today's human populations, but in the process, huge expanses of nature received no benefit at all. Rather, nature was demolished."

"Over recent decades individual members of APEGGA have endeavoured to better understand the concerns raised by competent core environmentalists. Meanwhile, they continue to respond to the public's desire for more efficient devices, even though many of these devices, like the automobile, seem to have a negative impact on the environment. Thus, it turns out that protecting the environment, a moral obligation to future generations, is often at odds with the demands of today's marketplace."

These quotations all reflect a view of the engineer's environmental responsibility and accountability in professional practice. They are not flattering views of individuals or the engineering profession, yet in many ways, they are correct.

Engineers are agents of change in society. They conceive, design and build. In the process, they change the ecology of the areas in which they build. Historically, this role has been viewed to be beneficial. Over the last two decades, however, society has become far more critical of the environmental impact of engineering activities, and is now demanding a balance between progress and environmental sensitivity. This concept of balance is the essence of the notion of Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development seems to have as many definitions as there are people who discuss it. However, common themes tend to emerge from discussions about Sustainable Development; themes of continuous improvement, and of activities and behaviour patterns which are not mandated by laws and regulations. Engineers, businesses and governments which adapt to this change will be successful.

Public Expectation and Societal Need

Public perception will define continuous improvement. The direction that society proceeds will be determined though ongoing public debates. The engineering profession has a significant role to play in these debates. To take on this role, engineers must understand what drives the environmental agenda. These matters should be considered an agenda rather than a single issue since professional engineering judgement must cover a broad range of considerations, including biological, technological, scientific, legal, social, moral and ethical factors.

The activities of humankind have managed to:

· threaten biodiversity on this planet;
· possibly change the climate;
· pollute the water, air, and soil;
· deplete the ozone layer;
· acidify lakes;
· deplete forests; and
· destroy arable land.

This is a short sampling of a very long list of issues.

Over the years, items on the list come and go, but the list grows no shorter and the level of societal environmental concern does not decrease. This leads to the conclusion that there are drivers behind the environmental agenda which must be considered if the agenda is to be properly addressed.

Professional engineers should understand these drivers to participate properly in the public debate.

One way to view the drivers of the environmental agenda is to consider three fundamental factors. In every item on the environmental agenda, one or more of these factors seem to be present, either as an obvious force or lurking in the background. These factors are:

· Population;
· Poverty; and
· Politics.


At the root of the environmental agenda is population, and the expansion and development required to sustain the rapidly growing number of humans on this planet. Each hour, the human population grows by approximately 10,000. To sustain this growth, humankind is forced to ever greater rates of consumption of energy and other resources. In many parts of the globe, this has resulted in degradation of air and water, deforestation, depletion of fish stocks, and species extinctions.

In an average Canadian city, the population density is over 2,000 individuals per square mile, and it is much higher in city cores. These sections of land could sustain only a fraction of the population if it weren’t for a sophisticated technological infrastructure. This infrastructure includes:

  • homes heated with fossil fuels that are extracted from the earth, refined and transported thousands of miles by pipeline and tanker truck;
  • power for lighting and appliances that is generated by fossil fuels, hydro, or nuclear power far removed from our comfortable homes;
  • food grown under intensive farming practices and transported thousands of miles in refrigerated vehicles over an extensive network of paved roads, rails, and bridges;
  • warm clothing made from synthetic fibres or natural fibres that is transported over the same transportation networks;
  • safe, clean water that comes directly from taps inside our homes, and is produced by a network of water treatment, pumping and transmission facilities; and
  • solid wastes collected at the door and treated at facilities far removed from population centres.

Our society is sustained by technology. As the population grows, the technological infrastructure must also grow simply to maintain the existing expected level of health, safety and comfort. Each element of the technological infrastructure that sustains society produces its own waste streams and has its own environmental impact.


The majority of the world's population lives in developing nations, and most of them are poor by our standards.

Two fundamental issues are raised by poverty. As the developing world's population grows, more and more of the earth's resources must be applied merely to sustain the population at its existing impoverished level. In addition, the world's poor see the quality of life enjoyed by the developed nations and are now demanding their share of the "good life".

While the developed nations are focusing on biodiversity and climate change, the developing nations are focused on food supply and clean water. A minimum per capita earning potential facilitates an appreciation of environmental issues and impacts.

As a result, proposed solutions to the world's most pressing problems are couched in economic terms.


Whenever social issues involve the expenditure of money, there will be politics.

Many times, the developed nations have spent billions of dollars on famine relief only to have local authorities prevent the distribution of food to those most in need. Control of the food supply translates into political power.

Even on local levels, politics dominates the environmental agenda. The siting of any new industrial facility can get bound up in political entanglements, resulting in delays in project construction or project cancellations.

It takes money to solve large social problems, and it takes political will to effectively spend the money.

The Environmental Agenda and the Professional Engineer

Professional engineers solve problems by applying rational scientific principles. Each environmental problem faced by the professional engineer can be segmented into four components:

· technical;
· legal;
· ethical; and
· social.

Environmental problems can only be solved if each component is properly addressed using appropriate tools. Simply stated, it is difficult to solve social problems by using regulations that are meant for solving technological problems.

It is the responsibility of professional engineers to understand the type of environmental problem they are facing and to apply appropriate elements to solving that problem. Where they lack the expertise, they must seek qualified assistance to help solve the problem.

Environmental problems are multi-disciplinary by nature and dominated by factors generally outside of technological control. To deal properly with environmental problems, the professional engineer must become conversant with other professions, and learn to work with social scientists, lawyers, politicians, home-makers, environmentalists and shop keepers.


Usually, the technical component of most environmental problems is small. This does not mean that technology is unimportant. It will always be an engineer’s responsibility to do the engineering correctly, meeting all relevant standards and with an eye to improving practices of the profession. Lives depend on this. However, projects do not generally arrive on the environmental agenda if they are not technically sound. Once the technology has been defined, the bulk of the social debate about the project remains to be completed.


Environmental laws are extensive and complex. Even so, it is the responsibility of professional engineers to be aware of all legal requirements in their jurisdiction, and when there is doubt, they must know who to ask for help.

Environmental laws and their associated regulations outline how engineering activities can be conducted in a legal manner. Compliance with legislation can be very time consuming and difficult. However, failure to comply can result in serious personal consequences.

Under many pieces of environmental legislation, officers and employees of a company can be held personally liable for non-compliance. This could result in stiff fines for individuals found guilty of offenses under these acts. Additionally, the legislation does not generally allow companies to indemnify employees. If found guilty, the professional engineer could be held personally liable for payment of fines. Beyond this, if the non-compliance was the result of non-professional or poor engineering practice, the provincial professional engineering association can take disciplinary action against the professional engineer.

The professional engineer's responsibilities go well beyond those of average individuals, and the legal and regulatory structures in Canada acknowledge this fact.


An activity can be technically sound and meet current legal requirements, but still be wrong. It is the responsibility of professional engineers to evaluate the ethics of their professional activities, and to understand that personal values and affiliations can bias decisions.

Professional engineers are in a unique and special position in society. They are more knowledgeable about the technology they apply than the average person, and they are more aware of the risks and side effects of that technology. It is the professional engineer's responsibility to evaluate and consider the implication of these side effects and take appropriate action.

Social Values

Environmental legislation defines legal requirements and protocols for conducting public consultation. Any engineering activity that has potential environmental impact can proceed only when the affected portion of society is in agreement.

Defining who are the affected parties is a major challenge. Failure to include all affected parties can be disastrous, resulting in ultimate failure of the engineering project. If certain segments of society feel left out of the discussion they can become very aggressive in their opposition.

Even after all reasonable segments of society have been identified, there is no guarantee of success. One of the most difficult challenges the professional engineer faces is that of communicating effectively. In general, professional engineers have difficulty communicating about technical matters with non-engineers. The professional engineer's language is couched in jargon, and replete with qualifiers and exceptions. This is especially true in the professional's area of technical expertise. Unfortunately, the average person responds to this form of communication with cynicism and distrust. When they do not understand what the professional is trying to tell them they believe that the professional is trying to cover up something. This can result in the paradoxical situation where the more knowledgable and qualified the professional is to speak on an issue, the less likely will that professional be believed.

Communicating well with all audiences is rapidly becoming a professional requirement. It is the professional engineer's responsibility to learn appropriate communication tools to explain adequately their professional work. The professional engineer's work loses all meaning if nobody understands what he has to say about the issue.

Emerging Technology

Professional engineers are in the forefront of new technology development. The profession develops new technical solutions as continuously more demanding problems are faced by society. The rate of technological change has been accelerating to the point where it is now almost impossible to read all the relevant printed material on any given technical issue. Standards development is lagging behind the rate of technological change, and current technical standards may be dated or irrelevant. The role of the professional engineer has become more important than ever.

The professional engineer is faced with difficult professional decisions. This is especially the case in environmental practice where legal standards may not be based on scientific fact, and where the issues can be driven by significant non-technical factors.

In the absence of written standards, or when written standards have become dated, professionals must rely on voluntary standards of the profession, their own professional judgement, and on accepted industry norms. This imposes a significant burden on professionals. It is no longer acceptable professional practice simply to accept written standards.

The only measure of acceptability may be Best Available Practiced Technology (BAPT). This means that in many cases the only acceptable technical standard will be the most advanced technology used. It will be the professional's responsibility to be knowledgable about these technologies, and present valid arguments for or against the use of these technologies in a particular application.

In environmental practice, written standards must be seen as a starting point for feasibility evaluation, rather than as an end point dictating technological choice. It is the professional engineer's responsibility to ensure that a thorough evaluation of emerging technical solutions is conducted.

Maintaining Competence

To maintain a credible level of professional competence, and to protect against liability, the professional must continuously update technical knowledge, be aware of the unwritten standard practices of the discipline and maintain contact with technological advancements at home and abroad. This is a tall order, since there is simply not enough time in the day to review all the information on any discipline. Nonetheless, it is the professional's responsibility to maintain competence and to be able to document continuing advancement in their discipline.

Although a great deal of information is currently available, much of it may not be high quality or relevant to the professional's area of practice. The professional must learn to screen information. There are many ways to do this. It is important for engineers to maintain membership in professional societies dedicated to their area of professional practice. These associations allow their membership the opportunity to network with other practitioners and maintain an understanding of the trends in their areas of professional practice. The organizations may also publish journals or other periodicals which monitor trends.

It is important to note that the professional engineering associations in Canada are not primarily responsible for providing this kind of information. Professional engineering associations are legally responsible for licensing and regulating the profession, whereas technical societies generally provide ongoing opportunities for technical advancement.

In the area of environmental practice, a number of other activities can help the professional maintain a better professional level of understanding. Since the environmental agenda is primarily driven by social issues, it is important to maintain a finger on the pulse of community opinion. Professionals can achieve this by involving themselves in their communities through service clubs, schools, church groups, charitable organizations, political parties and other community organizations. In this manner, the professional has ongoing interaction with people who are not knowledgeable about the professional's area of practice. This can provide great insight into the effectiveness of the profession's ability to communicate to the public, and also provide a non-engineer perspective of environmental issues. In this manner, professional understanding can be improved by pursuing personal interests.

The professional should also monitor the popular media to keep current with public concerns. Television, magazines, radio and local newspapers can provide significant insight into the community's opinions and expectations.

Sustainable Design

In the landmark 1987 report "Our Common Future - World Commission on Environment and Development," sustainable development is defined as:

"... development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Since that time, the expression "sustainable development" has become a catch phrase having as many definitions as there are people in the debate. Nonetheless, the concept of sustainability has become ingrained in the public conscience, and society is beginning to demand that sustainability be considered as one criterion in the evaluation of new development opportunities.

The lack of consensus on the meaning of sustainable design creates a significant challenge to the practicing professional engineer. Without an adequate definition, it is seemingly impossible to design in a sustainable manner. Fortunately, even though there is no consensus on a working definition, there is growing consensus on the process of sustainability.

Fundamentally, engineers act as agents of society, designing and building devices and structures to meet the demands of that society. In a sustainable design process, project proponents consult affected parties and ensure that new designs address their concerns rather than a very narrow set of technical criteria. In this way, it is argued, progress today will not impose unacceptable burdens on tomorrow.

Sustainable development is becoming a process rather than a fixed written standard. It will become the kind of voluntary standard discussed throughout this monograph. Successful professional engineers will become adept at understanding these unwritten standards, and applying this knowledge on behalf of their clients and employers to design and implement new and progressive developments.

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