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Check references, call DNR when selecting consultant

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As environmental agencies continue to keep a watchful eye on the effect that industry has on the world around us, business owners are turning to environmental consulting firms for help to stay in compliance with environmental laws.

Selecting an environmental consultant is a matter of defining the environmental concerns of a particular business, then carefully screening potential consultants for the appropriate experience and training.

The first step in choosing an environmental consultant is evaluating what a business' environmental issues are.

According to Suzan Gonder, senior project manager at Environmental Works, a Springfield environmental consulting firm, the number of businesses who require guidance from environmental consulting firms is on the rise.

"We handle commercial, industrial, government agencies ... it runs the gamut," Gonder said. "You can hardly conduct business at all without some aspect of it being controlled by environmental agencies."

A thorough assessment of a business' environmentally sensitive areas is a must before choosing a consultant, Gonder said. "Businesses need to look at their particular needs," she said. "Then you need to base your decision on quality, level of experience, and, realistically, your budget."

Environmental consulting firms with a broad base of experience will have several key team members that a businessperson should look for. "Most consulting firms will have a registered geologist on staff, a certified hazardous materials manager, a registered environmental professional and a professional registered engineer," Gonder said.

Depending on a business' unique environmental requirements, only a few of these experts might be needed to assist the business with their environmental concerns, Gonder said, adding that hiring a firm that's "overqualified" could result in higher costs an important consideration for smaller companies.

Still, hiring a company that has all of these environmental bases covered can be advantageous, since a company's environmental needs are seldom confined to one area. "It's rare to have only one environmental concern," Gonder said.

In addition, some firms might not have experience in a particular area of expertise, for example, emissions or asbestos abatement.

"A good consulting firm will tell a company if they are not equipped to handle a project," Gonder said.

Lee Schaefer, president of Sunbelt Environmental Services Inc., said that experience, certifications and an outstanding safety record are all qualities to be sought in an environmental consulting firm.

"What our clients look for is experience and certifications," Schaefer said. The prospective client should check certifications and call the references provided by the company to ask some key questions: Was the job done professionally? Safely? On time? Reasonably within budget?

Schaefer said this provides a business owner with a much better feel for what an environmental consulting firm has to offer.

According to Schaefer, a business can call the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to find out if an agency has received complaints on or had trouble with a particular consulting firm in the past. With environmental safety and compliance at a high premium, this is one step that businesses should not skip, he said.

Finding a company that is able to handle a business' specific environmental projects is as just as important as overall experience, Schaefer said. "If you're going to find a brain surgeon, you don't hire a heart bypass surgeon who wants to try brain surgery."

Verifying the amount of insurance an environmental consulting company carries is another often-missed piece of the consultant puzzle, Schaefer said. "You need to find out how much insurance the company has, and what the limitations are to that insurance," he said.

Examination of a consulting company's safety record is also important. Schaefer recommends asking to see a company's current OSHA 200, which reveals that firm's number of lost days and recordable accidents. In addition, a look at a company's insurance modification rate can give a potential client a good idea of an environmental consulting firm's calculated rates of loss, he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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