Beyond the ecosystem concept

Rene Kolman of IADC. Credit: IADC

The externalities of a dredging project should be included in proposals for increased stakeholder engagement, writes René Kolman, secretary-general of IADC

The International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) has spent more than 50 years supporting and representing the dredging industry, and has witnessed a tidal wave of developments. Advancements can be found in every facet of the industry, including substantial strides in safety and sustainability.

Historical approaches prioritised infrastructure’s engineering design and economic costs while its effects on the environment were secondary considerations. This all changed over the past 10–15 years, as the international dredging community embraced a different approach, looking beyond the scope of isolated dredging activities towards a wider context.

Water infrastructure development projects are viewed as an opportunity to add value to the natural and socio-economic systems, and to find opportunities to co-operate and collaborate with natural processes. This approach adapts ports to coastal ecosystems, ships to rivers, and local communities to cycles of low and high water. Key to realising sustainable projects is engaging stakeholders early in the project development. Investing more time and energy in stakeholder engagement upfront will reveal opportunities for creating additional benefits to marine infrastructure across the three pillars of sustainability: society, environment, and economy.

Conflicts with stakeholders can be avoided if diverse parties devote more effort to identifying and developing positive social and environmental values such as recreational areas, communal resilience, habitat, and natural resources. This will simultaneously develop a larger number of project proponents, advocates, and partners. As such, stakeholder involvement will be a multiplier in acceptance and support for new projects.

The multidisciplinary approach to realising water infrastructure, in which the ecosystem is leading and integrates values for people, planet, and profit, is presented in the IADC and CEDA’s guidebook Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure. This publication represents not only a significant milestone in the ongoing journey towards sustainability, but also the continuous advancements to the approaches that are taking place within the dredging industry.

A next step for sustainable projects is the inclusion of externalities, the non-tangible costs and benefits, in the review of project proposals. Such an approach will serve as an extension of the ecosystem services concept. For marine contractors, stakeholder value is created or reduced via the impacts – externalities – of marine infrastructure projects. They can generate positive and negative outcomes.

Stakeholder value within the marine environment is related to social externalities such as health and safety, and economic externalities such as job creation. These values can be expressed in monetary terms and included in the overall stakeholder value. They also highlight the relevance of taking a wider scope of stakeholder value into account.

Ultimately, effective communication of the infrastructure project’s issues and opportunities to regulators and stakeholders is essential for projects to move forward. Models are often a convenient and practical way to communicate, especially those that provide a visual representation of the important processes such as physical modelling and animations of numerical model outputs that show changing spatial distributions of physical, chemical, or biological properties over time.

The presentation of these models and results must inform and convey the necessary information regarding the potential positive and negative effects. Tailoring information to the needs of technical experts and the general public will ensure a project goes forward.

Sustainability will be achieved through a more proactive approach where water infrastructure projects are being considered as part of the natural and socio-economic systems in which they are situated.