Pacific Environment (ASX: PEH) is a leading Australian environmental technology and consulting company, providing consulting, monitoring, automated reporting and predictive management solutions to a client base that spans Australia and extends to New Zealand, South East Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. The unique defining feature of Pacific Environment is its incorporation of consulting know-how into a predictive and real-time suite of software solutions to enhance environmental management, known as EnviroSuite.
With origins in long-standing air quality businesses, the company listed on the ASX in 2008 and has since grown to 90 staff across a broadened range of services including human health risk assessment, site remediation, groundwater/surface water management, acoustics and waste management. With the head office in Sydney, the company services clients from offices in the mainland capital cities and a field office in Gladstone. Pacific Environment now services 7 broad sectors; mining; energy, oil and gas, infrastructure, property and government, in addition to both heavy industry and agriculture. In early 2015, Pacific Environment received AS9001 and AS4802 international certification; a standard that the company ensures is maintained in each of its offices across the country.
On a national level, the company is best known for its air quality practice, and plays a significant role. From a contaminated land perspective, Pacific Environment offers services ranging from site assessments to remediation action plans, as well as overseeing the remediation operation to completion. While traditionally focusing on groundwater resource evaluation and ongoing groundwater monitoring, the company has placed surface water management as a target area for the new financial year.
EnviroSuite, Pacific Environment’s environmental management system, is a unique product that is set for its international launch this year. It combines real-time monitoring with predictive functions, data analytics, automated reporting and operational advisories. EnviroSuite is deployed at sites such as ports, industrial and mining sites, hospitals and various settings in regional councils. The system allows clients to maximize their operational efficiencies while meeting their regulatory compliance obligations. “These clients are big operators, they have certain licenses to operate, that include environmental limits they have to comply with, so this solution helps them to maximize operations but at the same time stay within those parameters,” Chief Executive Officer Peter White says. EnviroSuite is used for tasks such as customised weather forecasting, air quality or noise management, environmental data management, environmental compliance reporting, and complaints tracking. Complaints are an important issue for landfills and industrial operations known to cause odours, particularly when the site is close to a residential area. The greatest uptake to date has been the mining, ports, manufacturing, and health sectors. In a port setting, EnviroSuite can be used to track potentially critical weather patterns, notifying the user days in advance in order to make appropriate preparations, while coal mines make use of it to determine the trajectory of noxious gas, dust, or other pollutants to better plan and track the blasting process.
In 2014, Pacific Environment was the winner of a benchmark project with the WestConnex Development Authority in Sydney. The project, one of the largest that the business has taken on. It involves air quality consulting, real-time monitoring during construction and subsequent operation of a series of tunnels in Sydney. Damon Roddis, General Manager of NSW Consulting, supported by an outstanding team of air quality specialists will provide the resources to support the 5-year monitoring contract. The project will allow the government to measure the baseline before construction begins in order to compare air quality during construction and once the motorway is in operation. “There has been some checkered history from previous tunnel and road construction projects in both Sydney and other cities in Australia”, says Peter White, “so the NSW government wants to ensure they had a state-of-the science measurement program in place to ensure that air quality is managed to the best international standards.”
Pacific Environment will support the WestConnex infrastructure for the full life cycle of this project. “We have installed several air quality monitoring stations across the length of the route to establish a baseline, and over time we will be able to both forecast and monitor the changes in air quality,” says Chief Operating Officer Ainsley Simpson. “The government will have a very clear picture about specific mitigations and management measures they will be responsible for over the life cycle of this particular infrastructure asset.” Having this data readily available and easily accessible, will assist in providing accurate information to key stakeholders.
Currently in its early phase, Pacific Environment has assembled an expert team for phytocapping, a sustainable alternative approach to landfill capping that promises both environmental and financial benefits. At present, the company has phytocapping-related projects underway in every eastern state. Phytocapping is used as a means to minimise the release of landfill gas into the atmosphere, while growing a renewable biomass resource and carbon sink. Mr White explains, “There have been some trials done in the U.S. which have shown that it is quite effective, so we are confident that momentum will build to deliver the same results here.”
When carrying out large-scale projects, Pacific Environment places a focus on finding an appropriate balance between innovation and practicality. “Our clients always want to minimise risk,” explains Ainsley Simpson, “They want to manage their long-term liabilities, ensure that they maintain compliance with environmental regulations, and optimise remain operations on a day-to-day basis.” Ainsley emphasises that the pressure placed on organisations to become more efficient and reduce costs, while simultaneously increasing the expected outcome, is constantly increasing. “The approach that we take is to make sure that we don’t apply an off-the-shelf solution to every situation, and we certainly don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The reality is that every single situation is going to be different, and some solutions just don’t scale.”
There has been a notable increase in urban renewal projects throughout the country, as governments begin to focus on meeting residential demand through the transformation of previously derelict land into open spaces for the community. “These projects are happening in all of the metropolitan cities” says Ms Simpson. “We are really proud to be working with Urbangrowth NSW in planning for the future needs of the greater Sydney community. In almost every city there is intent to bring communities and employment hubs closer together, this is where they want to be and is a more sustainable approach to planning. Often this involved transforming previously contaminated sites into socially viable assets.” The company is currently performing further investigation, remediation, and validation at Green Square in Sydney’s CBD.
At present, Pacific Environment’s human health and toxicology team is working alongside Australian Government and the Department of Health to conduct a health study on the effects of specific dust types in the atmosphere. “In a lot of industrial areas around Australia, specifically in ports or near heavy industry, airborne pollution can be a problem,” Peter says, “and with many of these being so close to residential areas, the government is very focused on closely monitoring the health of the population, and the effects on human health over time.”
Industry and peak bodies both play a critical role in Pacific Environment’s business, providing invaluable support from a professional development perspective. “There are always opportunities to learn and grow and contribute back to the industry by delivering presentations about our new findings,” Ainsley says, noting that the past president of the Queensland chapter of the WMAA is currently working within the company. “We are highly supportive of industry bodies and their advocacy role assists in bringing critical regulatory issues to the floor,” she says. Such organisations also assist the government in the shaping of new legislation. These bodies also serve as important connections with the industry on a broad scale. “The events and activities that they plan are important for networking, and we get great benefit out of those,” Ainsley continues. “It’s important to remain connected across the supply chain of the industries we work in; we get to catch up with many of our suppliers, and we also meet up with clients and share insights about the projects that we’re delivering together. Industry bodies provide a platform to share some of the innovations and the lessons learned with the people who are working to tackle those issues.” The company’s notable work in the landfill phytocapping, has the potential to lead the industry in sustainable landfill gas management in the coming years. It has also been promoted and supported by the industry bodies that it is associated with. Pacific Environment has also forged close relationships with a variety of equipment suppliers, as well as numerous laboratories throughout Australia, who assist the company in its consulting work.
The extreme pressure placed upon Pacific Environment’s clients to reduce costs while improving their outcomes has resulted in a difficulty for many of them to accelerate sustainable practice. Similarly, Ainsley has also found that the environmental consulting industry faces the challenge of efficiency as well. “There are very few consultants that cannot say that the competitive landscape is more aggressive today than it was in the past, and unfortunately, that leads to a much greater focus on price competition. This ultimately erodes the integrity and the value that the environmental industry delivers,” she says, adding that while several engineering disciplines take a partnering approach, it is less common practice in the environmental sector. Ms Simpson feels that the best possible future for both the company’s clients’ sectors, as well as environmental consulting industry, is one in which teams and partnerships are formed based on technical capabilities and reputation, noting that such a strategy allows for the fluid exchange of ideas while simultaneously being more cost-effective. “Having an integrated project team will provide the various client sectors that we operate in with the functionality and flexibility that they need to deliver even more.” Peter White predicts that as the industry moves forward, it will witness a focus shift from compliance to operational efficiency. “In a way, it is assumed that organisations need to be compliant while also being operationally efficient. The move away from a narrow project establishment approach to one that requires a future view of operational efficiencies is something we are seeing in most of our clients’ sectors.”
Ainsley Simpson’s career has been grounded in professional services with a focus in environmental consultancy, both in Australia as well as internationally. In her role as Pacific Environment’s Chief Operating Officer, she is responsible for the development of market opportunities across the company’s consulting and monitoring business units, and the cultivation of an internal culture that embraces change. In the next year, she intends to double the company’s consulting business across the Asia-Pacific region. “To achieve our growth ambitions, I am always looking at new ways to improve service delivery to our clients, as well as how we collaborate internally,” she says. “We are a business that’s anchored in its core values, and we really invest in our people. I find it rewarding to be able to work with professionals that have an intensity about collaborating with their clients to deliver solutions that benefit their operations, the environment, and, ultimately, the communities we live and work in.”
Peter White joined Pacific Environment in 2012, while the company was facing performance difficulties, bringing with him extensive experience in both technology and consulting. “For me, it has been about turning the company around and really making it successful,” he says. “We are well on the way to that; our last 3 years saw incremental profitability, and going forward, I see us bringing strength to the company with new people like Ainsley – it is going to really boost our performance.” The expansion in the range of services in the consulting area of the business will support a similar range of enhancements to the EnviroSuite technology. Peter’s goal for the coming year is to expand Pacific Environment into the global market, beginning with its technology branch. “In the next 12 months, I would like to be providing our solution on two other continents, and then, within two years, expanding into another three countries.”