Science informed opinion (I)
Broadly, scientific criteria for significance assessment can be summarized as:
- Demonstrable effects in the field;
- Evidence from laboratory studies suggesting toxic effects which dispersion modelling indicates could produce effects in the field.
Findings from scientific studies are generally expressed as concentrations of pollutants at which a certain environmental effect is expected to occur. Much occurring environmental impact indicators include: NEC (no effect concentration) and LC50 (the concentration that is lethal to 50% of a certain population of organisms. In assessing the risk of a hazard, consideration must be given to its extent, magnitude, duration and reversibility, as well as the sensitivity and species rarity of the receiving environment. A lot of work has been done by other organizations in this area, especially relating to the toxicity of individual chemicals. In such work, a comparison is made between the sensitivity of the receiving environment and the expected concentration of the chemical (PEC/NEC ratio). Safety factors are applied to increase confidence. It would be devastating if areas of outstanding natural beauty would disappear or if rare animal or plant species would become extinct, and it would be even more devastating if impacts would extend to a regional or even global scale.
Determining an appropriate response
An appropriate response to an issue with a |Low|High|Medium| ranking would be to physically reduce the emission or discharge that created the issue, while perhaps argue for less stringent performance standards at the same time. This is because the performance standards seem to have been driven by risk perception rather than by scientific arguments.
Impact Reduction is an appropriate response strategy if such is required to meet environmental quality standards, specific legislative requirements, or if stakeholders are particularly motivated towards impact reduction. Risk communication is an appropriate response strategy in all other cases.
Finding a balance
Environmental improvements beyond scientific necessity or legislative compliance need to be balanced against other business objectives and the societal mandate of the business or facility in question.
The key to effective environmental management lies in the correct interpretation of societal expectations and positioning the organization where it can take advantage of these.
This requires the organization to know where it stands in relation to the expectations of its operating environment. That requires an understanding of its environmental performance and its opportunities for improvement. It also requires an understanding of the expectations of its stakeholders and the reasons for these.
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