Choosing an Environmental Consulting Firm

By Burnadette Starzee

Environmental consulting firms can provide a wide range of services.  Depending on what you’re in the market for, look for a firm with the specific expertise and resources to help you.

Real estate developers and companies that are purchasing property may seek the services of an environmental consulting firm to perform Phase I and Phase II environmental studies and remediation on the property.  The consultant may also be able to handle zoning code matters and conduct civil site design for renovation projects.

Companies that use any type of hazardous materials need to make sure that they are in compliance with government requirements for storage and disposal.  Bringing in an environmental consultant to ensure the proper procedures are in place can save a bundle in fines, should there be any violations for the Department of Environmental Conservation to come in and find on a surprise audit.

Environmental consultants can also help companies that are looking to reduce their carbon footprint.  If you’re considering geothermal heating and cooling, solar heating and/or other alternative energy systems, an environmental consultant with expertise in this area can perform feasibility studies and cost-benefit analyses and make recommendations.  The firm may also be able procure such systems and oversee the construction and installation process.

To know how much you’re reducing your energy usage by, you need to know how much you’re using in the first place.  Environmental consultants with a focus on sustainability projects can assist a company in establishing a baseline across its systems locations, and then measuring usage in subsequent years after energy-saving measures, the consultant can advise companies on ways to improve indoor air quality in their buildings.

A company may also hire environmental consultants for various other projects, such as to perform groundwater or to design wastewater systems.

You will want to look for an environmental consultant firm with expertise in the area for which you will need its services.  Visit the web sites of environmental consultants to get an idea if your need is an area of specialty for the for the firm, and then call of a few of them to find out if your project falls within the scope of what they do.

How many similar jobs has the environmental consultant handled in the past?  Find out if the consultant counts similar to yours among its roster.  How long has the firm been in business, and does it have many long-standing clients?  Inquire about the experience and specialties of the firm’s professionals, particularly those who will be assigned to your project.

You may be able to get a personal recommendation from your commercial real estate broker or companies at your trade association who have used environmental consultants before.

Once you have narrowed down the list to three finalists, request proposals which should detail the service that the consulting firm will provide.  The proposals should list and explain all fees and costs and provide a timetable for when phases of the project will be completed.

Depending on your company and the project, your own staff members may be able to work with the consultant, such as assisting in establishing a baseline of energy usage.  Discuss with the environmental consultant who will do what, and make sure this is outlined in the proposal.  It’s also important to determine upfront how your business operations will be impacted by the project and to consider ways to limit the interruption.

A good environmental consultant will have good references. Ask for references of companies for which the consultant has completed similar projects in the past, and call them.  Inquire of the companies were happy with the consultant’s work and if the projects were completed on time and within budget.  How did the consultant handle any problems that arose during or after the project? Finally, ask if the company has hired or would hire the consultant for subsequent projects.

This article originally ran in the Long Island Business News

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