The Perception of Environmental Consulting

The sum total of the spoken and unspoken viewpoint of environmental consultants held by many (like it or not) is

 “You can’t trust environmental consultants – once they start an investigation or remediation project it never ends.  And if a regulator suggests an additional scope-of-work, they will simply follow the regulator’s orders.”

…which is what makes a simple, matter-of-fact email we received last week from one of our clients (an attorney), so significant (email excerpted below).

“Here is the signed letter from the (State regulators), concluding activities at (the Site).”

Imagine that, concluding activities. No more soil samples, no more groundwater samples, no more regulator “what ifs”; done.  The barriers to starting a project are limited to a proposal and a willing party to sign a purchase order. The barriers to concluding a project are far more demanding…

“Thank you for all your hard and effective work in assisting me in this…endeavor.”

The truth is hard work is not enough. Hard work that is not focused on the solution will only lead to more billings and additional scopes-of-work (i.e., a waste of time and a waste of money).  Effective work requires understanding the issue(s), understanding the site conditions, understanding the objectives, and the knowledge and expertise needed to develop a clear, concise plan.  It also requires defending your position, whether it is defending it against unreasonable requests of regulators or in the courtroom. 

“Once again, thank you for your assistance. It is always a great pleasure to work with you and your professional team.”

Assistance…not a hindrance, not “make work” busyness, not a check-box mentality – assistance to get the project completed; period.

This wasn’t a complicated project where we had to deal with some exotic chemical with complicated exposure pathways.  It was consulting.  The attorney who retained us has worked with us on some extremely complicated projects over the years.  He knew that regardless of the nature of the project, he could count on us to effectively work toward closure.

It’s worth noting that we were initially retained by the attorney on this project to conduct a peer review…precisely because the previous consultant had lived up to the preconceived perception of consultants. Trust was violated.

Look, we’ve been in business for nearly 25 years now, and we are well aware of the perception issue that permeates our industry.  Whether it is an over-engineered project, inexperienced project managers in over their heads, or a “follow the regulator’s demands” mentality, the unfortunate result is the same – a tarnished industry image.

So we get it – when someone retains us to assist them, we are on trial; we are being asked to prove our worth regardless of any past achievements. In essence, every project is another lying down of the gauntlet…and it’s a challenge we gladly accept.

Your questions and comments are always welcome.

Alan Hahn


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