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IGS Sustainability Committee – Championing Geosynthetics For A Better World

Since its launch two years ago, the IGS Sustainability Committee has been laser-focused on championing the role of geosynthetics to build a greener future.

It is driven to educate and inform, disseminate information across a range of channels, promote IGS members’ green initiatives, work with government and other public bodies to advise and guide, and cultivate a community that can support and advance the IGS’s sustainability aims.

Boyd Ramsey and Preston Kendall, co-chairs of the IGS Sustainability Committee, acknowledge there is still work to be done, but they are clear on why spreading the sustainability message is vital.

“The world is in a critical position where we cannot continue to consume the resources of the planet in the way we’re doing. In a short period of time these resources will be gone or limited, so we need to do a better job of getting more out of our resources and recycling those we have,” said Mr Ramsey.

“Geosynthetics have a significant part to play in addressing these problems because they offer many sustainability benefits. For example, they support the environment, they use fewer resources, conserve energy and emit less CO2. We need to expand usage to support this problem, support the UN Sustainable Development Goals – which is the human population’s roadmap to sustainability – and help promote our industry.”

Mending misconceptions

Setting the record straight on geosynthetics’ impact on the environment has its challenges, including a lack of awareness or education, misconceptions about plastic, and disinformation skewing public and government perception of geosynthetics.

Mr Ramsey said: “Geosynthetics are made out of plastic so a lot of people throw them in the bin with everything that is plastic and say plastic is bad. However, society needs plastic to protect our food, medical items and other important resources. Geosynthetics are different because their usage period is very long, with a design life of 10, 20, 100+ years. That’s a key differentiation. People need to balance the benefits against the impact.”

Mr Kendall continued: “Geosynthetics perform engineering functions and these can relate to many different aspects of sustainability. For example, take living conditions and public health; surviving in harsh environments means you need to engineer the environment around you and there are geosynthetics tools to do that. Geosynthetics can also help prevent or mitigate the negative impacts of waste and landfill, and offer a more efficient, less environmentally-impactful engineering solution compared to traditional alternatives. For example, rather than quarrying rock for drainage aggregate, the alternative would be using drainage geocomposites as a geosynthetic alternative. This not only reduces the visible impact on the landscape, it also minimises the use of fuel and transport infrastructure.”

Growing activity

The IGS Sustainability Committee currently has around 19 members with eclectic expertise. Its initiatives have included:

  • IGS Corporate Member survey to get a picture of sustainability initiatives and performance and where improvements can be made.
  • IGS Sustainability eBook – based on former IGS Vice President Nathalie Touze’s Giroud Lecture that has so far been translated into nine languages.
  • Did You Know…? series – bitesize facts on the green credentials of geosynthetics, shareable as a graphic and video clip, supported by a longer form information sheet.

  • IGS Sustainability Case Study series – handy one-page pdfs showcasing member projects where geosynthetics have positively benefited the environment.
  • Special IGS Sustainability Session at EuroGeo 7.

The Committee has also emphasised the importance of companies having a sustainability statement.

Mr Ramsey said: “If you don’t have a plan you’re not going to succeed. As an industry we must work together to demonstrate a united approach to building a more sustainable future and ensuring your company has a sustainability statement is a statement of intent both internally and to the wider public.”

He continued: “There are two components to the performance of our industry: there’s the materials that we make and the operation of our activity and how we make them. We need to be responsible in that area as well. The publication of Solmax’s environmental policy statement was a game changer. It has 27 plants around the world so when it publishes a policy it changes the position of our industry.

“Every single company needs one of these, it should be a minimum standard requirement. We’re improving but we need close to 100% participation.”

Mr Ramsey added the Committee was always on hand if members needed help in forming their statements, or for any other related advice. You can read the IGS’s sustainability statement here.

Advocating for change

The IGS Sustainability Committee has also been working hard on ensuring the geosynthetics community is ready to respond to and defend its activities, and connect with key stakeholders for the industry to thrive. Action has included:

  • Responding to the European Commission’s consultation on microplastics.
  • Presenting to the United States’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
  • Commissioning a National Oceanography Centre report on ‘Sources, amounts & pathways of plastics entering the global ocean’.

“The European Commission (EC) response was a key effort and had one of the biggest engagement rates of all the IGS LinkedIn posts,” said Mr Kendall. “We’ve also contested misleading research which has filtered into government decision-making. We stepped in to debunk that research and set the record straight on the impact of geosynthetics on the environment.”

Mr Ramsey continued: “There’s got to be a governmental component to advancing the use of geosynthetics and the IGS needs to be prepared and ready and have the content and history to speak to government organisations, as well as independent research on these issues. The presentation to the EC was very successful and corrected some misunderstandings. Additionally, we’re encouraged that some national institutions have reached out to us, such as the United States’ National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which asked us for consultation, and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. We hope there will be others as we’re prepared for that and have the content ready.”

Future focus

The Committee is forging ahead to continue to engage with members and the public through a range of channels, building on and measuring the performance of its initiatives, and stepping up its mission to get all geosynthetics companies to have sustainability statements.

Mr Kendall added: “The IGS is also developing a Sustainability Benefits Calculator, a web-based tool that will measure the green credentials of using geosynthetics in a given scenario versus other materials. It is an independent tool, unaligned to any individual manufacturer so it offers a transparent picture. We hope to announce the successful bidder for delivering this project early next year.”

If you’d like to find out more about the IGS Sustainability Committee’s activities to advocate, campaign and educate, visit its web page here. You’ll find a range of resources to explore and share with your networks, and to help shape your response to sustainability.

+++ The IGS Sustainability Case Study and Did You Know…? series are looking for more examples of geosynthetics in action. Do you have a project that demonstrates the green credentials of geosynthetics? Or perhaps you’ve written a paper on sustainability that should be shared with a wider audience? Send basic details to IGS Secretariat Manager Elise Oatman at igssec@geosyntheticssociety.org and we will be in touch.