Envisioning the Environment
One company’s ‘gorilla’ approach to consulting, investigation and remediation
The environmental consulting, investigation and remediation business is often perceived as predominantly testing and treatment, instead of a coordinated, collaborative process. And while there is a significant scientific element to every evaluation and remediation, the resolution of any issue, like most construction projects, requires considerable one-on-one connection.
Yet, in the increasingly consolidated environmental market, the personal relationship with clients is often lost. Customers are usually relegated to numbers on a list, and the resolution process is largely commoditized, a trend that Mark Roman, founder of New Jersey-based Envision Environmental, Inc., believes is problematic, and potentially costly, which in turn opens the door for larger issues down the road.
Roman says, “We believe problems are solved most effectively through a close customer relationship. Our business model emphasizes customer intimacy and trust throughout the environmental consulting, investigation and remediation process, a process that looks at the past, the present and the future.”
Since its founding 20 years ago, Envision has been involved in $12 billion worth of mergers, acquisitions and divestitures with no environmental issues surfacing following completion of due diligence—an achievement that Envision is very proud to claim. Many of its clients have worked with key Envision personnel for better than 30 years—largely because of the company’s personal approach to environmental care and what Roman calls the “gorilla” philosophy for identifying environmental liabilities and minimizing the chance of future incidents.
Envision’s company philosophy is largely formed by the experiences Roman and his senior leadership team, John Weakliem, Senior Geologist and Mark DeGregory, Senior Environmental Scientist, have gained over the last three decades.
In the mid-1980s, Roman started his career in environmental consulting services where he worked for a mid-sized firm learning how to manage and conduct site investigations, facility compliance audits and due diligence studies for industrial clients and financial institutions.
Roman recalls, “While at the mid-sized consulting firm, I was involved in the entire life cycle of a project—from sales, project management and field work to report preparation and client relations. My employer’s philosophy was to involve project managers in all aspects of the project and to be the primary contact for the client. It was a very personal approach to the business. If a client had an issue, he or she picked up the phone and spoke directly to the person who knew most about the project.”
That all changed in the mid-1990s when the environmental consulting industry consolidated into large national firms.
“The personal connections began to disappear,” explains Roman. “Client management was re-directed to upper management client relations. I was no longer able to walk into the owner of the consulting firm’s office to discuss issues. As well, many clients stated that they missed the relationships and trust established from working together to understand or resolve an environmental challenge.”
Roman launched Envision Environmental, Inc. in 1997 to re-establish customer intimacy and trust as a form of doing business in the service industry and to also secure a better future for his family, which included his wife, a four-year-old daughter and infant twins.
He was later joined by Weakliem, who came to work for Envision in 2001, largely for the same reasons that Roman formed his company. Weakliem states, “I like to solve problems and find ways to give our clients the most cost-effective solutions. Many environmental remediation companies might define standard practices to address a contamination issue, even though that remediation technology may be less effective under certain conditions. Our solutions are always customized to the site and our clients’ needs by implementing a regulatory-compliant solution that addresses the contaminant issue in an economically and technically feasible manner.”
DeGregory, who joined Envision in 2011, has a similar story. He says, “While working for a global firm, I honed my managerial and coordination skills on multinational due diligence projects. However, a view shared by many of my colleagues in the business was that these larger companies also had a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that hindered one’s ability to get work done and to better serve the client. I wasn’t able to give clients the attention and level of responsiveness that I thought was important. Further, my involvement with the technical side of things that I loved began to shrink.”
One of the key services that Envision provides is a look ahead at potentially costly environmental problems. While environmental compliance is an important aspect of environmental management, it should not be the sole focus of a facility, according to Roman.
“Our purpose is to take the worry out of their existing and future environmental issues.” Mark Roman, Owner and Founder, Envision Environmental, Inc.
The Gorilla Approach
Key in Envision’s capabilities is the identification and resolution of environmental gorillas. Roman explains the term by referencing “The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us,” a book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. This book, developed for business owners, documents a phenomenon where people are blind to what is right in front of them because they are focused on other issues deemed more time critical. Quite often, these overlooked issues result in costly exposures if not addressed.
Subsequently, Envision developed the Environmental Gorilla Evaluation Process, which enables clients to identify often overlooked environmental, health and safety issues at their facilities and to implement a process that reduces the chance of these potential exposures from manifesting themselves.
Roman says, “Every facility should proactively try to reduce the risk of potentially significant future environmental liabilities, which is a challenge when one is focused on daily tasks and the demanding details of compliance. Too often, much larger issues and potentially crippling threats—what we call environmental gorillas—are overlooked as a result. We structure our services so that our clients can concentrate on their businesses. Our purpose is to take the worry out of their existing and future environmental issues.”
That’s why Envision focuses on understanding its clients’ operations, property histories, business objectives and regulatory concerns/requirements so that it can address immediate needs and develop economical solutions to minimize the chance of long-term environmental, health and safety exposures and liabilities.
Roman says, “Our gorilla evaluation is essentially an environmental preemptive strike, designed to help organizations take a proactive stance toward potential problems.”
One example of the benefits of the gorilla approach was evident on a vapor intrusion investigation required due to elevated concentrations of groundwater contaminants at a large manufacturing facility that had been converted into a warehouse. Envision was able to demonstrate that the source of indoor air contamination was found to be the large amounts of plastic housewares manufactured in China that were stored in the warehouse, and not from groundwater contamination beneath the building. Based on this work, Envision’s client did not have to address the indoor air contamination, saving tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in further investigation and mitigation efforts.
Jamie Kiser, in-house general counsel at Rexam, a packaging solutions company and long-time client of Envision, appreciates the partnership that comes from working together over time. He adds, “We’ve relied on Mark’s expertise since he founded the company. He and his team know our history, understand the potential issues that can occur in our business, are familiar with the type of work that needs to be done … and most of all, they’re very responsive.”
As part of its customer-driven services, the Envision team implements a lessons-learned program with multi-site clients to make sure that environmental, health and safety issues addressed at one site are not repeated at any of the clients’ other facilities. This program allows Envision’s clients to implement solutions at all client facilities to avoid repeating costly mistakes.
Although Envision is a small company, it has the resources of a much larger company due to its nationwide network of associates. Today, clients range from Fortune 100 companies to privately held family businesses, and are located throughout North America.
Roman concludes, “Due to our lower overhead, we can provide highly experienced professionals at a rate that larger firms charge for junior-level personnel, who may not have the experience necessary to identify key issues, which could result in increased costs and potential risks for their clients. More importantly, our decades of experience and nationwide network of partners enables us to address any issue, anywhere, within a consistent project approach framework, performed by the same personnel.”