Ramsey to speak on Geosynthetics Sustainability at Delft University

In conjunction with an IGS Foundation Board of Trustees meeting I will be speaking at a symposium at Delft University in the Netherlands on May 14, 2024. My topic is ” Sustainable use of geosynthetics in landfill and hydraulic applications world-wide”. I am honored by the invitation and hope that this will help to move geosynthetics and the civil engineering industry to more rapidly embrace and fully utilize geosynthetics and the life cycle analysis tools that are available to move towards meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals . We need to get there and at a much faster rate than we are moving now…

Glass globe in water

Sustainability performance 2023

So how did I do last year?…well, better, but still not good enough.

On a personal basis, I am relatively content. I dramatically reduced automobile usage in 2023, converting to train for several trips that I would have driven prior, as well as reducing the overall volume of travel. Lots of video conferencing and only two airplane voyages last year – Morocco and Rome for the IGS ICG. My indication of success is that I have zero frequent flyer status with any airline and the two flights I did take were offset with carbon credits. My consumer choices were also much improved: re-use of items is up dramatically, I am a regular at several brocants (resale stores) and buy very little “new” stuff. That which I do buy, I scrutinize, primarily for transport – no more out of season fruits and vegetables transported overseas in container ships. Buy local whenever possible, even if it costs more. My personal recycling also remains quite high – My waste stream is over 50% heading to the recycling bins, not the landfill/incineration pathways. Composting has increased as well.

On the negative side, I still travel by car for a great number of things, short distances but using the car every other day or so. I should measure how much gasoline I buy each year to see if I am really declining, or if I am kidding myself.

While I am not content, my answer to the question “What if the whole world lived as I do?” has certainly gotten more reasonable. I continue to balance my consumption with efforts within my industry to provide positive environmental benefits. Having stepped down from the chair, I continue to serve on the IGS Sustainability committee and I have accepted a leadership position with FedIGS https://geoengineeringfederation.org/ supporting their sustainability efforts there. I have expanded my work area to include sustainability and life cycle analysis calculators and software and am working with multiple clients in this arena.

I promise to keep at it!

12th International Congress on Geosynthetics – Rome

In September, I attended the 12th International Congress on Geosynthetics, the flagship event of the International Geosynthetics Society. In addition to presenting a paper – “White Polyethylene Geomembrane: Forensic and Laboratory Evidence for Superior Durability” , co-authored with Adam Maskal of Solmax, I received an IGS Service Award, recognizing my contributions to the IGS.

It was also a very active event for the IGS Foundation – a video I produced recognizing the Foundation’s continuing donor is linked on the IGS Foundation https://theigsfoundation.com/ website and a second video announced the launch of the IGS Sustainability Calculator – an initiative I completed in my role as the IGS’s Sustainability committee co-chair. The video and other details can be found here: https://www.geosyntheticssociety.org/sustainability/calculator/ .

It was good to see many old friends and colleagues, including many from China, who sent a large delegation. Other activities included the Diversity initiative breakfast, a Foundation donors meeting and many other events.

Ramsey was to deliver Ethics lecture

I was scheduled to deliver my sixth ethics lecture and discussion at an FGI webinar in June. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled as I refused to accept edits to my presentation….well, shit!

Convicted? No, I was never convicted….

Ramsey 2023 Lectures

In th first half of 2023, I delivered lectures at the USA Geosynthetics Kansas City event and a Keynote lecture at the IGS Morocco chapter event held in Marrakesh. Both focused on barrier materials and advanced usage techniques. The Morocco event was held immediately following an Educate the Educators event held to instruct 21 Moroccan professors on how to add geosynthetic content to their universities curriculum.

Flight CO2 emissions were offset with the appropriate donations, but I continue to worry that this is not a sufficient balance and encourage more video conferencing and less physical travel. I realize that there is less impact via video than by “being there” but environmentally it may be “worth it”.

2022 Sustainability review – Boyd Ramsey

At the end of 2022, I feel compelled to spend some time and words on my personal sustainability progress this year.  A bit of good news is that this topic tends to be in the forefront of my thoughts and my conscious decision making, at least more so than in the past years.  I still have not applied specific metrics – this is a fault, but I’m not certain how large of one. 

From my (admittedly likely incorrect) perspective, I have improved a bit.  Not enough, but a bit.  Automobile usage is down considerably, which I consider to be one of my largest opportunities for impact.  My consumer choices continue to reflect my desire to improve sustainability – generally less and less of those items that are just indefensible.  No more fruit from South America, disposable plastic sacks, etc. etc.  I think I have improved in the area of re-use.  There are many items that now serve three or four functions before finally ending up in the recycling bins and my volume of plain household waste is down significantly.  I have failed in personal composting – with my volumes and type of organic waste, it just did not work.  I am hopeful for a community composting program and participated in a site selection meeting to support it, but it has not been realized as yet.  All of my airline voyages (only 3 big trips this year, so less…) have been offset by charitable / CO2 balancing contributions, but I don’t feel that has a big impact.

On the positive side, I remain proud of my work and my industries movement towards greater sustainability and less environmentally unfriendly behaviors.  More policy publications by client companies and a general increase in the industry recognition of the importance of this area.  However, there is clearly more work to do.  ‘

I remain plagued by what is described in one of my book recommendations as “Prognostic Myopia“.  (If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity, chapter 7, by Justin Gregg.)  I know and realize that individual actions and behaviors are not sustainable, yet I do them anyway…. Sigh, I suppose if we humans did exactly what we were supposed to all the time, we would be very boring. 

In any case, better this year than last and I will continue my efforts.

Sustainability update #5

I continue to extend my efforts in personal (and industry) sustainability.  I have made a second trip to Australia and again offset my CO2 emissions.  I write this from a hotel in the USA on my third and likely final trip of the year.  I continue to struggle with the conflicting need to “physically see my customers” and what I can do to reduce my impact on the planet.  There is not an easy fix for this, but I will continue to use video conferencing to the greatest extent possible.   On a personal front, my “consumption level” is down considerably.  Much use, nearly exclusively, of public transport.  On this trip to the USA I will not rent a car and I believe in retrospect humans will view the personal automobile as a source/symptom of many of our environmental problems.    I continue to believe in the sum of all our small personal choices – recycling levels, minimization of useless packaging, consideration of transportation distance and impacts in purchase selection, there are many more things influencing my personal choices these days.   Of course, this is hard to see the evidence of on a daily basis, but I remain committed to the principle.

On the industry front, it is easier to see progress.  I remain very proud of the geosynthetic industry, but we need to, and are doing more.  I hope that the sum of all the contributions makes enough of a positive effect.

Ramsey Australia travel and GeoANZ #1

I was very pleased to be in Australia for 2 months this year in June and July. The initial focus of my trip was my participation in GEOANZ #1, which was held in Brisbane. It was a very good event. In addition to the strong technical content, it was wonderful to see colleagues in person again and share conversation, meals, experiences and discussions. In addition to technical content on the longer lifespan of white geomembranes, Preston Kendall and I carried the banner for the IGS Sustainability Committee, making certain that all the participants were aware of the IGS Policy and the work the IGS is doing in this critical area. This was followed by regulator. customer and client visits throughout Australia including site visits and presentations on PFAS containment options and techniques. On the fun side, I was finally able to visit the Australian Great Barrier Reef – a lifelong goal that had been missed during my prior visits to Australia.

Ramsey sustainability activities (Update 4)–May 2022

I continue to make efforts on the sustainability front, in multiple ways, some very small, but some more significant. One of the largest environmental/sustainability impacts I have made recently is a flight (and upcoming return) from Paris to Brisbane to attend an Australian chapter IGS conference event and make other client calls. I recognize my past history of lots of air travel as being a negative impact to a sustainable planet. It is my hope that the “good” value that I bring with my efforts on geosynthetics helps to balance this, but I feel that I need to make a more direct adjustment. I have looked through several on-line “flight impact” calculators and the results indicate my contribution to the flights emissions is roughly 14,585 Kg of CO2 with an appropriate financial amount of 377 AUD. To that end, I have made a charitable contribution to an Australian organization for that amount. I state this not as boasting, but acknowledgement that I and we all, need to do a better job of understanding and accepting the broader costs and impacts of our actions – the singularly capitalist economic model does not seem to be doing this sufficiently well. The concept of EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) Wikipedia link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_producer_responsibility should guide individuals as well as manufacturers. I am trying to “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”.

Ramsey assumes IGS Sustainability Chair, publishes cover article – Geosynthetics Magazine

The first week of April 2022 was a busy time on the sustainability topic with two important events. An article, authored by Boyd Ramsey was the cover article of the April issue of Geosynthetics Magazine – an IFAI/GMA publication. The article is linked here: https://geosyntheticsmagazine.com/2022/04/01/geosynthetics-and-sustainability/ The article summarizes the geosynthetics industries positions, with interviews with several industry notables and a call to our industry to continue to improve. Geosynthetics are well positioned as sustainable materials, they provide benefits that are not only economic, but sustainable in all key regards: energy savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, durability and total [life-span] analysis. They also deliver sustainable outcomes for communities through water preservation, prevention of coastal erosion, avoidance of pollution and more resilient infrastructure. As manufacturers, our industry needs to further improve – environmetnal and sustainability statements and goals, operational and environmental impact improvements all are independent of the benefits of the materials themselves.

Further to this effort, I have accepted a position as co-chairman of the IGS Sustainability committee along with my esteemed colleague, Preston Kendall. I look forward to working with Preston and the other committee members who are working hard to support and defend our industry on this front. Geosynthetics have an extremely positive environmental and sustainable impact, we need to further communicate and support the contributions of our products.

Additional information can be found on the IGS webpage – https://www.geosyntheticssociety.org/sustainability/