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Tiered Approach to Sustainability Analysis in Sediment Remediation Decision Making
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Active remediation results in desirable and undesirable environmental, economic, and social impacts. Balancing such impacts through a sustainability assessment poses normative questions–not just objective and science-based, but those rooted in societal values, requiring engagement and careful consideration of diverse stakeholders' priorities. These priorities should be integrated into site evaluations and cleanup approaches.  Applications of sustainability concepts to sediment remediation are limited but increasing; the complexity and level of detail needed for such analyses will depend upon the site and scenarios being evaluated. How do we match assessment approach to the site under consideration, to ensure maximum utility?


We explored how broad analyses of environmental, social, and economic aspects could be tailored for different tiers of assessment for sediment remediation projects, ranging from simple to complex. Tiers (1, 2 and 3) can be used to categorize sediment projects across a range of complexity. Site size and complexity, availability of data, time, resources, expertise and the level of engagement of various stakeholder groups may dictate the appropriate complexity, tools and metrics to be used in a sustainability assessment. Assessment approaches in each pillar of sustainability (environmental, economic, social), listed in order of increasing complexity (i.e., Tier 1 to 3) include:

  • Environmental: best management practices (BMPs); green footprint assessment; and life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • Economic: incremental cost-effectiveness analysis; economic impact analysis with detailed (e.g., IMPLAN) or complex (e.g., REMI) modeling of economic impacts; and
  • Social: establishment of a sustainability-focused conceptual site model; qualitative inference of stakeholder values; quantification of metrics in a multi-criteria analysis (MCA); and targeted engagement with elicited values from a broad group of stakeholders.

Results/Lessons Learned.

Sustainability assessment tools add value for a project; they can effectively provide context and trade-offs for stakeholders and decision-makers. The approach is adaptable; availability of data, time, resources, expertise, and the level of stakeholder engagement may dictate the appropriate complexity of a sustainability assessment applied to given project. As new data are collected and/or level of stakeholder engagement changes, new assessment tools may be evaluated for their project value. 

In reality, sites will have differing levels of information and resources for different pillars, and indicators within an assessment may come from different "tiers." Sustainability assessments are thus tailored for the site at hand; applying resources where they are needed to reduce uncertainty–a continuum rather than distinct tiers.

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Amanda McNally, Anne Fitzpatrick
  • All Authors: Amanda McNally, Sabine E. Apitz (SEA Environmental Decisions Ltd, Little Hadham, England), Anne Fitzpatrick (Geosyntec Consultants, Seattle, WA, USA), David Harrison, Andrew Busey (NERA Economic Consulting, Boston, MA, USA)
  • Title: 2023 Battelle Sediments Conference
  • Event or Publication: Sediment assessment and remediation, Contaminated site assessment and clean up
  • Practice Areas: Sediment assessment and remediation, Contaminated site assessment and clean up
  • Citation: Battelle's International Conference on the Remediation and Management of Contaminated Sediments at the JW Marriott in Austin, Texas, on January 9 through 12, 2023
  • Date: January 9 through 12, 2023
  • Location: JW Marriott in Austin, Texas
  • Publication Type: Platform Presentation