Sustainability Assessments and the Precautionary Principle: Examining the Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment
Environmental Assessment (EA) practices have made significant strides over the past two decades. What was often an ad hoc process where environmental approvals were sought late in the project development phase is integrated now into the earliest stages of project planning, often enabling environmental considerations to have a substantial effect on project design, implementation and operations. Yet it is unclear whether EAs are inclusive of all sustainability issues a project might encounter.
The EA process can become a vehicle to address issues of sustainability in major project developments. In order for this to be successfully undertaken, it is necessary for environmental issues to be fully integrated into the project planning process. Further, there is a need for the interaction of social, economic and ecological factors to be considered throughout the full EA process rather than as independent components with little or no relationship to each other. By integrating these factors and ensuring their consideration early in the process, it is possible to identify the full scope of a project effects on sustainability issues.
In the past five years, there has been a steady increase in the volume of literature related to sustainability and sustainability assessment. Gibson (2006) notes that in 2005, authors looking for material for a single chapter found enough material to write a separate book on the topic. Although there is an extremely broad and diverse range of material available on sustainability assessment, this paper will concentrate on issues of integrating sustainability objectives into the environmental assessment process for business organizations, particularly in the context of socio-economic issues.
This paper discusses how sustainability issues received consideration at the earliest stages of the Voisey's Bay Mine/Mill environmental assessment and how these issues carried forward throughout the process. Two of the salient features of the Voisey's Bay EA were the application of the Precautionary Principle and the requirement that the elements of the biophysical environment be considered in the context of the socio-economic assessment of the Project. The paper will also discuss how the Voisey's Bay Mine/Mill EA successfully incorporated these two requirements. We demonstrate how strong linkages between the socio-economic and biophysical environment may ultimately result in the broader application of the Precautionary Principle for business sustainability practices and project planning.