Envisioning a clean water future

 

There have been large improvements in the quality of the world’s water resources over the last 25 years. Since 1990, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation. The UN estimate that 91% of the global population uses an improved drinking water source, compared to 76% in 1990.1 That’s the good news. Now for the challenges.

Agricultural and coastal development and inadequate sanitation near river catchments still cause significant amounts of sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides to be washed into the world’s seas. Nitrate concentrations continue to climb and recently the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported 169 coastal dead zones across the globe with only 13 recovering and 415 coastal areas suffering a reduction in dissolved oxygen.2  The association with coral bleaching and polluted run off is well known.3

In 2012, 288 million tons of plastic were manufactured globally and 8 million tonnes of this was dumped into the world’s oceans.5 Almost 90% of the marine debris found on Sydney’s beaches is plastic, mostly bottles, caps and straws.6 Ocean plastic has been found in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice. It has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife. The plastic doesn’t break down completely and some of it ends up in the seafood we eat.

A clear role for business

As 80% of marine pollution comes directly from sources on land 2, improved practices by factories, farms, transport operations, mines, construction sites, oil and gas facilities and power generation plants can make a significant difference to the state of the world’s oceans, rivers and ground water quality.

1 Develop an understanding of water quality issues relevant to each facility

Identify all types of effluent and pollution leaving the company’s operations as surface or groundwater in a typical year. Record the total number and volume of significants spills, their location, volume and the specific contaminant. Find out the total water discharged by quality and destination and whether these were planned or unplanned; the water treated or untreated and the amount that was used by another organisation, meaning it was diverted from release into the environment.

2 Determine the level of associated threats, risks and impacts

Consider potential risks associated with the effluent and pollutant discharges you’ve identified. These may include fines, legal costs, loss of licence to operate, clean up costs, negative media, harm to flora and fauna, human health impacts and economic impacts on farms and fisheries.

3 Seek out ways to achieve zero water pollution leaving the facility

Go through a process of identifying and assessing improvement ideas. Aim to eliminate the discharge of oils/fuel, chemicals, sediment and solid waste into stormwater drains or areas where rivers and groundwater could be adversely affected. 100% of runoff should meet ANZECC water quality guidelines for the concentration of nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, acidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity and turbidity. Investigate whether there are ways to treat waste water for re-use in another process. If there is an EPA licence or trade waste agreement (TWA) set an objective that all water quality samples will meet the required parameters.

4 Use your company’s influence to have a positive impact elsewhere

There may be opportunities to improve water quality by undertaking remedial works outside the company’s operations. Some performance indicators around this might be:

  • The number of or Km2 of local creeks or rivers rehabilitated
  • The no. of, kilolitres or percentage of spills cleaned up and the specific contamination eliminated
  • Kilolitres and percentage of total sewage or effluent treated for re-use by another organisation
  • The Kg or number of pieces of litter cleaned up from local streams, river or beaches, for example on “Clean Up Australia Day”

Your company may be able to improve water quality indirectly through the purchase of resources, provision of products and services, R & D processes and supply chain collaboration. For example, researchers at Flinders University have developed a new polymer that cleans up mercury from waterways, soil and groundwater using waste sulphur from the petroleum industry and waste limonene from the citrus industry. 4

Health and Beauty multinationals, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble are phasing out the use of microplastic ingredients in their facial scrubs and other cosmetic and toiletry products. 7

How the Enviroease team can help you

We have a range of services to help you improve the way that water discharges and spills are managed across your company’s operations.

  • Assessment of risks and the effectiveness of current operational control measures
  • Identification of process control improvements
  • Life cycle assessment of products and packaging
  • Compliance audit against legislation, licences and Trade Waste Agreements
  • Water quality testing and analysis by a NATA accredited laboratory
  • Pollution Incident Response Management Plans
  • Spill response training, drill and report

Feel free to call me, Suzy, on 0418 862899 to discuss your particular needs.


References

1 http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/mdg_goals/mdg7/

2 http://www.unep.org/geo/pdfs/geo5/Measuring_progress.pdf

3 https://theconversation.com/cloudy-issue-we-need-to-fix-the-barrier-reefs-murky-waters-39380

4 https://theconversation.com/we-created-a-new-material-from-orange-peel-that-can-clean-up-mercury-pollution-49355

5 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/

6 http://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/plastic-pollution.html

7 http://www.fauna-flora.org/initiatives/the-good-scrub-guide/

 

A view from the inside

Successful audits are a win-win for the community and for businesses wanting to prove to themselves and others that they do what they say they do . By examining a business from the inside out an auditor confirms that the company is meeting the expectations of all interested parties.

Let’s think of the analogy of clothing.

When garments are viewed from the outside in there may be a glossy brand image, attractive packaging, convenience features.  Only when the clothes are turned inside out do the seams, patterns and structure become visible and understood.

What you see is the other side of the same thing. The garment hasn’t been deconstructed – just viewed in a different light, in all its reality, worts and all. The strengths and positives are seen and admired – the reinforced seams and new, unfaded materials and the creative effort gone into its design. But a closer look reveals some weaknesses – the fraying hems, broken stitching, worn fabric and repaired holes.

Just like a jumper that looks OK when its being worn, the deterioration of a company’s standards relating to environmental protection are not immediately apparent to key stakeholders – senior management, customers, the community, financial institutions and government regulators. Not until something unfortunate happens.

Like a loose button or pulled thread there’s been a deterioration – a few people left untrained, a couple of procedures not followed, a key piece of pollution control equipment not maintained. And so forth.

The loose thread may be spotted and repaired in time but when left unattended, things begin to unravel. In time the loose button will fall off  – there’s a major pollution incident or regulatory breach along with the high price of clean up, medical costs, fines, legal fees and loss of company reputation.  Ouch!

All elements of an Environmental Management System – like the level of training and competence and the effectiveness of operational controls – need to be rigorously checked by a program of regular internal and external audits.

The close scrutiny of a good auditor will warn the business owner(s) of weaknesses and threats so that corrective action can be taken before it is too late.

If your company’s management system does not adequately cover environmental issues at present we recommend an Initial Environmental Review. This is the first step towards developing an Environmental Management System (EMS). In many cases an EMS can be most simply and effectively implemented by integrating Quality and/or Workplace Health and Safety.

How we can help

Enviroease consultants have years of experience in both auditing and system design. Please feel free to contact me (Suzy) by email at suzanne@enviroease.com.au to discuss your needs for independent EMS, EMP or environmental compliance audits.

 

 

Get ready for risk based licensing

Failure to develop and implement an Environmental Management System (EMS) at each site could become a costly exercise in 2014 as the NSW EPA progresses towards its risk based licencing system.

The EPA will change the calculation of licence administration fees by introducing an Environmental Management Category – either A, B, C, D or E. The Category will act as a multiplier to the fee, resulting in either an increase, decrease (or no change). For example any sites classified as “E” will have their fee doubled, those classed as an “A” will be recognised as having the highest level of performance and receive a 5% reduction.

New approach under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (Licensing Fees) Regulation 2013

  • Each licence will be allocated an overall risk level of 1, 2 or 3. A higher risk level may result in more intensive monitoring and reporting obligations on the licensee.
  • Each site will be allocated an environmental management category considering the site’s enforcement history and regulatory actions, if any.  Answering “yes” to the question “Does the licensee have an EMS certified to ISO14001?” provides an automatic reduction of 40 points.  If the EMS is not certified, certain elements of a system such as records of regulator training earn points.

Two things to do right now

1 Arrange for an independent initial environmental review (IER) of air/odour, water, noise and waste.  This will identify environmental aspects and residual risks after controls; legal requirements related to the environmental aspects; pollution incidents and spills; the concerns of stakeholders and the community plus any other issues of note.

2 Use this information to inform the development or enhancement of an existing EMS.  I recommend building on Quality and Workplace Health and Safety Systems to integrate the management of environmental risks within the company’s existing risk framework.

For further information on the changes to the licencing system and how we can help please contact Suzy Orme.

Don’t just survive….thrive!

People often ask “what is sustainability?” It means maintaining the quality or condition of something into the future. But  this begs the question – “what is it we are trying to sustain?”

Economists may focus on maintaining economic growth and place a high value on GDP and jobs. Conservationists may desire to maintain environmental quality and place a high value on species and ecosystem biodiversity.  Social justice advocates may desire to maintain social systems and place a high value on human rights, equality and the eradication of poverty. So in recent years the word “sustainability” has come to mean a basic level of economic AND social AND environmental sustainability.

What does this mean for Australian businesses?

Business owners may desire to sustain an income to retirement, pass a viable business onto family members or protect shareholders’ investments and value. So it follows that, as a minimum, businesses must be economically sustainable to simply survive.

But businesses that embrace social sustainability tend to thrive. They maintain mutually beneficial relationships with employees, contractors, suppliers, customers and the local community. These relationships often have the financial benefit of increasing sales and the environmental benefit of a green supply chain. They create a positive company profile and customer and community support.

Businesses that embrace environmental sustainability  tend to thrive even more. They minimise their use of resources such as energy, raw materials and water.  They eliminate or reduce the amount of hazardous materials, emissions and waste. They in turn, reap financial benefits from reducing input costs and waste disposal fees through to eliminating the high cost of clean up, lost time, rehabilitation, fines, legal fees and customer backlash.

Increasingly business owners and shareholders are taking a broader view of risks by considering the effect that a business may have on the environment and people.   They aim to continually improve their performance in order to thrive in today’s complex and demanding world.