Seven Questions to Sustainability

Therese Dunphy

November 3, 2009

By Bill Langer

The development of a Canadian sand and gravel deposit demonstrates how these questions apply to aggregates.

 When Rosie and I compete in canine agility, it is pretty easy to tell whether or not we were successful. At the level that Rosie competes, any signal from the judge indicates failure. Furthermore, the crowd generally reports the results by cheering for the qualifiers as they cross the finish line; the non-qualifiers usually exit the course to an eerie silence.

The success of a sustainability project is a little more difficult to judge.

The Calahoo-Villeneuve sand and gravel deposit is a major source of aggregate for the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Conflicts over developing the aggregate led to the establishment of an Area Structure Plan (ASP).

The report Application of Sustainable Development Principles to the Alberta Aggregates Resource Sector (Richards and Peel, 2003) examined the sustainability of the ASP by evaluating its key tenants using the Seven Questions to Sustainability (Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development-North America, 2002).

The Richards-Peel evaluation is described in this column and is organized by the seven questions. I have summarized their evaluation and findings to demonstrate how to test the effectiveness of a sustainability plan and to illustrate how one city dealt with the issues surrounding aggregate resource protection. (The single word descriptors — yes, somewhat, and no — are mine.)

1. Engagement — Are engagement processes in place and working effectively? 

Yes — The ASP was developed to resolve conflicts between industry, land owners, and residents. The plan was accepted by all the stakeholders, and a Community Liaison Committee was established to monitor the process.

2. People — Will people’s well-being be maintained or improved?

Yes — The Community Enhancement Fund, a voluntary levy on production, was established to support community activities and fund a groundwater monitoring program.

3. Environment — Is the integrity of the environment assured over the long term?

Somewhat — The ASP provided a more rigorous baseline environmental impact assessment than required by the provincial Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. However, Richards and Peel concluded that other environmental aspects such as waste, recycling, soil handling, landscape change, air quality, and noise could have received more attention in the environmental assessment.

4. Economy — Is the economic viability of the project or operation assured, and will the economy of the community and beyond be better off as a result?

Yes — Continued access to the Calahoo-Villeneuve deposit ensures an economical supply of aggregates to the Edmonton market for 10 to 15 years. The ASP also ensures economic benefits to local residents through the Community Enhancement Fund.

5. Traditional and non-market activities — Are traditional and non-market activities in the community and surrounding area accounted for in a way that is acceptable to the local people?

Yes — When identifying aggregate extraction areas, the ASP considered competing agriculture and rural subdivision land uses. All stakeholders accepted the plan.

6. Institutional arrangements and governance — Are rules, incentives, programs, and capacities in place to address project or operational consequences?

No — The implementation of the ASP is largely voluntary, and it is not underwritten by provincial law. The process relies on public input to monitor the activity.

7. Synthesis and continuous learning — Does a full synthesis show that the net result will be positive or negative in the long term, and will there be periodic reassessments?

Somewhat — All stakeholders stand to win for reasons described above. However, the Alberta Geological Survey’s aggregate resource inventory for the area was not referred to when making the ASP and, consequently, approximately half of the resources were rendered inaccessible. The future cost of hauling a similar amount of aggregate from the next closest deposit could amount to an extra CDN$1.6 billion. In addition, the county will forego approximately CDN$45 million in contributions to the Community Enhancement Fund.

Nevertheless, Richards and Peel concluded that, overall, the crowd would cheer.

(uthor’s note: Full citations for references are available upon request.)

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