Weighing Local Costs of Soil Remediation with the Global Benefit


  • Remediation imposes significant local costs to a company but generates only nebulous global benefits.
  • Local costs increase staff stress and turnover and hinder organizations from proactively managing future risks.
  • IoT sensors can reveal global benefits of remediation and reduce local costs by easing the workflow around managing contaminated sites.
  • AI enabled sensor analysis increases a team’s environmental awareness, allowing them to focus on more urgent situations, while keeping their finger on the pulse of their numerous low priority sites.

Local Costs of Remediation

Remediation costs money and time. No magic technology or fancy accounting will eliminate this. Typically, remediation costs are estimated at $120 per cubic meter of remediated soil but costs can vary. Even more painful than the cost is the amount of time and effort an organization must put into its reactive environmental management systems. A typical remediation program will fill a (lucky/unlucky?) employee’s time with interpreting reports, devising a strategy, outsourcing the work, interacting with the consulting engineering team’s project manager, and then interacting with regulatory oversight. Typically, this is not time enjoyably spent, nor is it very glamorous. Couple this drain on your team’s morale with the opportunity costs to your environmental team, and the overall expense for an organization to remediate is very high.

But the work is important. In many ways, it is how your company will be remembered. Because after you have retired, and your company has moved on to supplying the new Mars colony, your environmental legacy will remain

To be blunt, the local costs associated with remediation are considerable and occur at the personal, unit, and organizational level. The challenge of managing a complex problem with sparse data can be incredibly daunting. Yet, few career accolades go to environmental managers. At the unit level, the opportunity cost of a team being forced into a reactive, rather than proactive stance are immense. If you don’t believe me, remember that your environmental team must deal with the unexpected and unusual most months. From the ridiculous, “we released a contaminant into sensitive habitat, attracting an endangered species to flock there and poison itself…how do we stop this?” To the terrifying, “a transport is on fire beside our temporary holding facility…is it too soon to move to Mars?” At the organization level, losing control of your ESG narrative and having capital markets withdraw from your industry hamstrings your ability to create better and greener processes.

Global Benefits of Remediation

Like the saying, “plant the seeds of trees you do not expect to enjoy the shade under”, we do all this painful local work for the benefit of others (i.e., global benefit). For example, the groundwater you clean is not ingested by the workers on your site. The soil you clean, sits 10 feet underneath the asphalt. Thus, it is a reasonable question to ask: why clean up a contaminated site? Couldn’t we just do this later? The answer to these questions is the same answer you give yourself every night when you begin to do the dishes in the sink. But in the moment, the global benefit remains invisible.

Affective* AI can Reveal the Invisible Benefits of Remediation

*You read that right: “affective”

In situations where the benefits are global, but the cost is local, having a measure of the benefit goes a long way to justifying the costs associated with remediation. Teams can immediately see progress and can interact with SoilSense data to identify ways to optimize the process. Or they can look at the real-time results and be confident that the current project is going in the right direction. In other words, the computing and interface revolve around making people’s lives easier (the “affective” part of the AI). No need for expensive, intrusive investigations, and 140-page reports that obscure the good news and highlight the bad. Instead, using IoT sensors allows teams to keep their finger on the pulse of a contaminated site easily and readily. In so doing, the team can pivot from reactive to proactive. Revisiting our previous example, maybe we should not park the transport near the hazardous material storage facility? Can we think of a better off-loading procedure?

Environmental managers have a difficult job, often responsible for safety and compliance across many different sites. Having real-time sensors processed and presented by AI-enhanced visualization makes their job easier. The US DOD calls this situational awareness, we call it environmental awareness. Our SoilSense sensors allow environmental management teams to quickly spot and respond to emerging threats in their portfolio. In so doing, we hope to remove most of the local costs associated with remediation. We’d like to change the sentiment from “We have to remediate” to “Why aren’t we already remediating?”