By: Gary Lawrence
Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at AECOM
A reader’s response to my last opinion piece raised the paradox of taking action motivated by The Precautionary Principle or, in other words, taking action because we see the risks posed by inaction. The paradox that he correctly points out is that we can rarely foresee the new set of risks posed by the actions we take.
In 1998, a group of scientists, lawyers, policy makers and environmentalists agreed upon the following definition (known as the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle):
“When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
Many years before the Precautionary Principle achieved legal status — and long before the link between smoking and disease was scientifically and conclusively proven — many people, especially among the medical community, had strong suspicions that smoking increased the risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. As evidence mounted, there were those who chose to stop smoking, exercising caution in the face of scientific uncertainty. Governments that subsidized medical care started passing regulations about smoking to control their costs. Others chose to continue smoking in the absence of concrete proof that it was harmful to their health or that second-hand smoke was harmful to others. There remains, however, a third category: those who continue to smoke in full cognizance of the proven risks. A current example of the Precautionary Principle in action is the debate swirling around genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
AECOM is a premier, fully integrated professional and technical services firm positioned to design, build, finance and operate infrastructure assets around the world for public- and private-sector clients. With nearly 100,000 employees — including architects, engineers, designers, planners, scientists and management and construction services professionals — serving clients in over 150 countries around the world, AECOM is ranked as the #1 engineering design firm by revenue in Engineering News-Record magazine’s annual industry rankings, and has been recognized by Fortune magazine as a World’s Most Admired Company. The firm is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, oil and gas, water, high-rise buildings and government. AECOM provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering customized and creative solutions that meet the needs of clients’ projects. A Fortune 500 firm, AECOM companies, including URS Corporation and Hunt Construction Group, had revenue of approximately $19 billion during the 12 months ended March 31, 2015. More information on AECOM and its services can be found at www.aecom.com.
Vice President, Corporate Communications
KEYWORDS: Environment and Climate Change, Energy, AECOM, sustainability, Resliency, human health, Precautionary Principle, GMOs, nuclear power