At EDR’s Annual Client Summit, Jamie Haberlen sat down with Cathy Reed, EDR’s PARCEL Platform Sales Engineer for a candid discussion about the challenges that environmental professionals (EPs) face. Reed, an industry veteran, was an EP for 17 years prior to taking her current position with EDR in November, 2013. That means she’s been in the environmental due diligence industry long enough to remember using pay phones on site visits, waiting for film to be developed for site visit photos and taping together Sanborns. In the lively summit discussion, Haberlen and Reed discussed many of the challenges she faced as an EP, including intense pressure to turn Phase I ESA reports around quickly. Reed also shared the types of obstacles to new technologies that she now hears in the field from other EPs, and the advice she would give anyone looking to cultivate a culture of change at their firms. This Q&A is a follow-up to their client summit session:
Can you tell us a little bit about the types of challenges you faced every day in the field back when you were doing site visits yourself?
Some of the more common challenges I faced were: limited—or even no—access to the site (e.g., locked gates or doors, site contact not showing up, etc.), a failed or lost camera, travel obstacles, complications with regulatory file reviews and personnel limitations. I think it’s fair to say that every EP out there also struggles at some point with the pressure for quick turnaround times and limited budgets. As a technical reviewer, I’d have to say that my major pain point was definitely poorly written reports. In some cases, we had to completely re-write reports.
Based on your meetings with consultants now, what kind of things do you hear that hold companies back from adopting new technologies?
Both as an EP myself and now speaking to consultants, the biggest push-back to change that I hear is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” The other thing I see a lot is that EPs assume that “their” template and “their” way of doing things is the best—or only way. This is a natural reaction, especially for conscientious professionals who take pride in their work.
While I do think that most firms are willing to explore new ways of doing Phase Is, it is difficult for them to envision actually putting new processes in place and moving away from the old way of doing things. Personally, I realize it’s human to have a knee-jerk aversion to any kind of change, but I think we tend to underestimate our staff’s ability to embrace change. Additionally, I think it can be hard in our day-to-day lives to pan back and view the bigger picture. If more firms turned a critical eye to their Phase I ESA process, they could see how saving 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there could easily add up to cutting down their turnaround time by as much as two to three hours per report. That can really add up over the course of a month, or even a year.
UPS went through the pain-staking process of analyzing every aspect of their operations by installing sensors in their trucks. The initial intent of the sensors was to stay ahead of maintenance issues; however, the sensors proved to have an even more useful function by uncovering simple process changes that could save UPS money, improve the environment and improve safety. Their exercise has been well documented because it is a great example of a company that literally found that the little things do add up. One of the things they discovered was drivers were leaving their trucks idling longer than necessary each day. By discovering this problem they were able to educate drivers and ended up reducing idling time which in turn reduced their fuel consumption, wear on vehicles and emissions. Taking the time and resources to look more deeply into your process is worth it because you will more than likely find savings in places you never expected.
If you’re talking to someone who is of the mindset that “This is the way we’ve always done things,” what would you say to him/her? What other advice do you have to help environmental professionals take advantage of technological improvements and improve their Phase I ESA process?
People resist uncertainty and prefer the status quo rather than heading toward an unknown. This obstacle can be overcome by creating a clear process with simple steps and timetables. We are creatures of habit. Routines become automatic, but change jolts us into consciousness.
In terms of PARCEL specifically, what makes EPs the most uneasy?
In many cases, change scares people, largely because they think they’ll lose control. With PARCEL, the opposite is true simply because it’s a “controlled environment.” The Project Manager creates a template framework that cannot be changed without administrative privileges. The PM provides the language library which firmly guides the authors. In addition, the PM can provide mentoring and suggested/sample language. The benefit is consistency across multiple people and multiple offices because the firm essentially creates “one voice” nationwide.
At today’s EP firms, what factors do you view as essential for change to occur?
For starters, they need executive-level buy in and internal champions. Change isn’t easy. It takes commitment and patience. Those closest to the change in terms of designing and testing are often overloaded and busy with day-to-day responsibilities. Effective leaders will acknowledge that change can be hard work and then designate a few key employees to focus exclusively on improving processes and adopting new technologies. Then these individuals can invite others into the planning process and, in turn, give them ownership. Internal champions should be rewarded and recognized. These employees often make unseen sacrifices.
In your experience completing/managing Phase Is or in your experience working as a sales engineer with EDR, do you have any examples of companies that have experienced an ‘aha’ moment or ‘thank God we let go of that process’?
I often see this at the point of “Assemble Deliverable.” Once they get use to using it, it seems impossible to live without it. Remember when we stopped taping photographs into our reports, or when we stopped binding and shipping hard copy reports to clients? Then someone calls to ask for three hard copies? Oh, the moaning… how ever did we get anything done back then? It’s the same sensation when you click “Assemble Deliverable” and you watch a system build a pdf before your very eyes in a matter of seconds.
Lastly, how do you feel about the future of the Phase I ESA industry?
I’m excited. In an industry that is continually pressed to do things faster for less, we’ve now got a tool that will help EPs shave time off what can be a pretty tedious process. It also frees up hours to be used for other brainier tasks. It might sound odd to say that I’m not exactly a tech-savvy individual. Far from it, but if something is going to improve my accuracy and productivity, I’ll figure out how to use it. Time savings impacts the bottom line and that’s where my boss is looking. Plus, it gets me home to my family earlier.
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