Disseminating bad news can be easy for large production shops, but for the comes-highly-recommended
consultant hand-chosen to work on a challenging site, the roll out must be carefully orchestrated.
What needs to be tucked far back in one’s mind is that additional work that may result in a bonanza of
fees. The last thing we want to be is money-grubbing when we’re supposed to be professional. Empathy
should always be employed.

One of my longstanding clients inherited a business with real estate primarily involved in wholesale dry
cleaning supplies. Of course, even as late as the 1990s, perchloroethylene was used in copious amounts
in your typical dry cleaner. As a result, supplies of the solvent were maintained at the company’s various
warehouses across the Southeast. As one might guess, spills resulted in major soil and groundwater
contamination requiring literally millions of dollars to remediate at multiple locations. Being close to the
client, he often hoped to be rid of the “mess” before he died. That didn’t happen.

Another group of sisters comprised a trust whose major asset was a valuable downtown property
destined for development as high-rise apartments. What they were envisioning were Viking River
Cruises and a dream car or two. What they got was news from me that the site would require extensive
soil remediation before it could be sold, and at no small cost.

To deal with this problem, here are some tips to employ from the beginning.

  • Be forthcoming with the perceived risks of the project. Use your experiences to create possible
    eventualities so that your client will not be blindsided.
  • Don’t trap your clients into what you know will be an expensive multi-event project with a
    teaser amount of upfront testing, followed quickly by a change order. Try to get the cards on the
    table. This is a case of Under Promise, Over Deliver. Lower expectations. Work hard for finality.
  • Communicate as you go. Use layman’s terms. Generally, environmental issues are very scary to
    those who use Love Canal as their reference point.
  • Test for what you’re worried about based on good background data and sound reasoning. If
    you’re handed the Phase I of someone else to do “Phase II” testing off of, you’d better do you
    own homework.

A successful environmental consultant needs to wear more than a hard hat and lab goggles. He or she
needs to possess a reasonable amount of empathy and work hard at communicating clearly, concisely,
confidently and courageously.