Texan by Nature’s network of business members is essential to achieving our mission of advancing conservation, and the sustainability professionals in these organizations are important allies in connecting industry with conservation. Professionals such as Ginny King, Senior Consultant at Stantec, are transforming communities and organizations from within through raising Environmental, Social, and Government (ESG) actions. Stantec was a 2022 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in sustainable architectural design.
How would you explain the importance of ESG strategy to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?
ESG stands for Environment, Social, and Governance. An ESG strategy, if designed and executed correctly, can support a company in reducing their environmental footprint ultimately reducing the potential for environmental liability. It can also provide financial benefits like transferring value back to shareholders. An ESG strategy enhances a company’s environmental stewardship reputation, ultimately influencing preference over another company of the same type, and preserves their social license. There are numerous natural capital approaches and nature-based solutions (NbS) that can generate a self-sustaining environmental benefit that would also generate social benefits. Take the use of a passive treatment wetland to manage stormwater for example. This wetland would increase resiliency and reduce the potential for flooding positively impacting a local community, and that increase in resiliency could also positively influence real estate values. Additional environmental benefits include sustainability of habitats, protection of biodiversity, improved water and air quality, and enhanced aesthetics. All of those achievements would fall both under the environmental and social categories, demonstrating achievement of the “E” and the “S” in ESG goals. For companies achieving those outcomes, the outcomes can be quantified and applied toward corporate goals and objectives.
When planning environmental sustainability targets, what do you use as a guide to set these goals and commitments?
I think one key component in establishing sustainability targets is to clearly define what sustainability means to “your company.” Second, what are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) that are feasible to achieve? If there is an environmental component for a company, determine what natural capital (air, land, water, and everything that lives in that air, land, and water) and ecosystem services the corporation’s operations require. What’s the potential impact of operations on natural capital and ecosystem services? How can projects be designed to reduce interim loss of both? It is also important to understand the local demands of the resources that your operations require. A realistic sustainability target could be to balance the use of natural capital and impact on ecosystem services against what the local community may require to achieve no net loss (NNL). Achieving NNL could also equate to achieving sustainability. Having a quantified baseline, an understanding of corporate goals, and the resources available to execute practical and cost-effective projects is the beginning of establishing viable and achievable targets.
What is the first step for implementing ESG strategy for a company looking to engage in environmental sustainability for the first time?
Look for the low-hanging fruit. What I mean by that is what could be the most practical and cost-effective solution to begin to increase environmental stewardship, positively impact local communities, and potentially achieve these goals through one project or one targeted effort? I like the example of a passive treatment wetland to manage stormwater because when successfully designed and operated, this is a sustainable way to reduce flooding and mitigate climate change while generating additional environmental and social benefits. A passive treatment wetland can also achieve three of the UN SDGs: #13 Climate Action, #14 Life Below Water, #15 Life on Land. There are very few corporations that do not have at least one stormwater management requirement somewhere within their operational footprint, so this could be a readily achievable opportunity.
In 2022, what was your most interesting lesson learned in your work as a sustainability professional?
I’ll revert to the passive treatment stormwater example yet again. When a passive treatment wetland is properly designed to manage stormwater, it is a self-sustaining nature-based solution that generates a multiplicity of benefits. “Properly defined” is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, a passive treatment wetland integrates biochar as part of the substrate to increase carbon sequestration, bind up constituents of concern and integrates appropriate vegetation. This achieves 3 of the UN SDGs right off the bat, so there are numerous benefits that can be translated to achievement of an abundance of corporate goals and objectives including but not limited to ESG, that are the result by sustainably managing a day-to-day operational requirement.
What component of working in environmental sustainability is your favorite and why? (ie. water, wildlife, biodiversity, operational innovation, waste diversion, land, energy etc.)
One of my favorite aspects of environmental sustainability is appropriately repurposing land. There is so much redundant property that is being underutilized which I have experienced contains hidden gems. There could be the opportunity to invest in a small amount of targeted ecosystem restoration to restore habitats and biodiversity on a redundant property, and then place that land into conservation. This allows the investment to flourish and potentially positively influence the landscape of an entire community. Oftentimes, these properties are transformed into fabulous open recreational spaces, enhancing communities, local real estate values, and quality of life. There are properties that contain poor-quality wetlands, but a small investment in the restoration of those wetlands can uplift a significant natural capital component. This improvement in ecosystem services positively influences not only biodiversity but also protects and preserves an important watershed—securing water resource quantity and quality into the future. Working with nature to enhance and protect it can be one of the greatest low-hanging fruit opportunities we have to improve global sustainability.
From the eyes of an environmental sustainability professional, what makes a conservation project stand out? What can conservation projects do to make it easier to partner with them?
A good conservation project, in my opinion, is one that legitimately conserves natural capital (air, land, water, and everything that lives within those matrices) that is at risk of being severely impacted, reduced, or terminated. A good conservation project is also one that is implemented in harmony with the local community. Taking land from an Indigenous Community, for example, to place into conservation to protect a species lacks that harmony and risks the survival of a community. Conservation implemented in harmony with a local community has the potential to positively protect the natural capital being conserved as well as complement the local communities in proximity to the conservation project.
What sustainability goal are you most looking forward to working on in 2023?
Supporting the design of very targeted ecosystem restoration projects to restore coastal habitats such as mangroves and sea grasses. This project will increase resiliency by protecting both built and natural infrastructures, reducing flooding, enhancing water quality and air quality, expanding habitats and protecting biodiversity, and increasing carbon sequestration offsetting a carbon footprint somewhere else on the globe. I believe sustainability can be readily achieved when approached responsibly, practically, feasibly, and harmoniously. I look forward to seeing the multifaceted benefits come to fruition to enhance global quality of life for all including both humans and the environment.
Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation, and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.
We’re grateful to Ginny, Stantec, and the many sustainability professionals and companies who are future-proofing their businesses and our state with operational innovations and conservation investments that advance environmental sustainability in their sectors and provide successful models for the globe to follow.
Learn more about the annual TxN 20 program, which recognizes leadership in environmental sustainability in industry, by visiting the TxN 20 website, and keep an eye out for more insight from other sustainability professionals to come.
More about Ginny King
Ginny has more than 30 years of global experience in strategically developing resources, resolving environmental liability, and sustaining natural capital. Her achievements include protecting biodiversity, negotiating offsets to mitigate impacts, and developing defensible resolutions for sites involving multiple contaminants in groundwater and soils for petrochemical and manufacturing sites, legacy mining sites, pipelines, and refineries. She has also provided technical leadership and regulatory advocacy during incident responses for petroleum spills and hazardous substance releases.
She acquired her natural resource damage assessment experience both in the expertise of process and utilization of quantification methodologies. She has a deep appreciation of how natural capital underpins the quality of life, and she strategizes beyond the confines of environmental regulatory standards to obtain restoration and resolution with out-of-the-box thinking to build the bridge of balance.
Ginny began her career in the oil fields of Texas and grew up in Colorado. She enjoys hiking, snow skiing, white water rafting, and exploring old mine sites—she’s also a classical pianist.