How do we ensure that the Arctic is developed in a sustainable manner? While many approach the Arctic as a place that must be preserved and protected, indigenous peoples in the area, along with many corporations, would like to see the development of Arctic resources. While no one can blame communities for wanting to benefit economically from their natural resources, much planning needs to be done to ensure that development is beneficial to all parties.
Development in the Arctic is largely focused around extractive industries, which by their very nature are not sustainable. So how do we ensure that the communities of the Arctic benefit long after their resources run out? Companies and communities must work closely to ensure that a long-term plan is implemented to create an environment for truly sustainable development. In order to do that, company’s need to expand their idea of what sustainability means, and begin to incorporate comprehensive plans that look to assist Arctic communities with infrastructure development, energy and agriculture resources, and solutions for managing the ever-changing Arctic environment. There are already many strategies in use that could and should be implemented in development plans to assist Arctic communities for the long term.
First, developers should look to implement infrastructure, building and energy plans that can be used in the Arctic environment. In terms of infrastructure solutions, the implementation of “low tech” thermosiphons that can help to stabilize and protect existing buildings and roads from the threat of collapse due to melting permafrost by using passive technology to keep permafrost frozen through warming summers and winters. For new construction and facilities development, more advanced technologies should be utilized, such as microgrids with backup battery systems that have been proven to work in Arctic climates.
In addition to enhanced energy usage and storage technologies, all new residences and offices should be constructed to LEED, BREEAM or passive house standards in order to reduce overall energy consumption. Once new building and infrastructure development is complete companies should take their development one step further by assisting communities with the creation of energy and food solutions that can be left in place and utilized by residents once the work of the company is completed.
Renewable energy and food development in the Arctic is possible, and could be greatly expanded on if companies assisted the communities that they operate in with the creation of these resources. For example, many Arctic locations are good candidates for wind energy. While the building of a wind turbine has high upfront expenses, the energy from it could be used for company interests, as well as the community. In addition to energy development, greenhouses could be easily constructed with the dual purpose of supplying food to contractors and workers in the area as well as local residents and near by communities.
While all of these options will require more money, time, planning than is normally devoted to a project, companies should take on this challenge. As we saw with Shell’s attempts to drill in the Arctic, the battle for hearts and minds is in some cases more than simply the battle against the elements. If corporations want to develop Arctic resources they need to do so holistically.
Although many would argue that a corporation’s interests do not revolve around benefitting communities, but rather benefitting shareholders and the bottom line, the creation of corporate social responsibility departments and sustainability goals shows that companies are now changing their views. The idea of holistic development should be more readily considered and implemented, not just for the Arctic, but ideally for all new development.
Lead image: Northern Sweden, above the arctic circle. Credit: Shutterstock.