Tom Keighley

Member Article

Environment week: Bdaily talks Patrick Parsons Consulting Engineers

It’s environment focus week on Bdaily, and we are looking at what the low-carbon economy really means for UK SMEs, as well as picking apart the nuts and bolts of adapting business to “go-green.“ Here we talk to Grant Richardson, director at Patrick Parsons Consulting Engineers, about engineering and the green economy.

You head up the Environment and Energy consultancy division of Patrick Parsons Consulting Engineers. What does this encompass?

Due to the growing demand for these specialities, we set up a new division to offer geo-environmental, remediation assessment and design, renewable energy feasibility, asbestos management and environmental impact assessment. On a day-to-day basis, I’m actively involved with assessing tenders and technical and commercial management of projects. The new Environment and Energy division enhances our range of integrated services and gives us the capability to tackle brownfield development sites in-house: from dealing with the risks in the ground to the infrastructure, civil engineering and structural design elements, and now with the added value benefit of renewable energy assessment and design. The latter can often lend value to clients’ developments and open up opportunities to them which they otherwise may not have realised.

What attracted you to this area of specialism?

My first degree was in geology for which I developed great interest at school which was unique in Newcastle at that time, offering geology at O and A-level before going on to specialise in hydrogeochemistry at PhD level, studying clean-up of groundwater pollution from landfills by natural processes. It allowed me to escape the stale classroom environment and get outdoors on fieldtrips to explore the wealth of doorstep geology on the north east coast. I was a committed environmentalist from an early age and wanted to make my contribution to the progression of environmental awareness and clean-up. Converting that passion into something tangible and commercially productive has been a motivating force for me throughout my career. I worked within multi-disciplinary environmental consultancies before helping to found a brownfield regeneration company which I left after 8 years before joining Patrick Parsons to head up the new Environment and Energy division. I enjoy the technical challenges and political nuances of the projects that come your way as an energy and environment specialist, each job presenting unique conditions and challenges. I’ve been involved in complex projects including Foot and Mouth landfills, reclamation of asbestos works and investigation of heavily polluted industrial land and was project director of one of the biggest inland fuel spills investigations and clean-up jobs ever undertaken in the UK. I am always up for a fresh challenge, both technically and commercially, and look forward to the many that lie ahead in Patrick Parsons!

What developments in geoenvironmental engineering would you predict are going to make the biggest difference to creating more sustainable business environments/commercial property in the future?

A lot of fantastic work has gone on in the last 10 years in the UK, pushing brownfield regeneration towards sustainable remediation. Some remediation companies that have claimed to offer low or negative carbon schemes are simply carbon-offset schemes. One recent claim of being the “UK’s first carbon negative remediation scheme” effectively offset its carbon loading by planting trees off-site!? Carbon neutral or negative remediation is like alchemy and I think the best we can do is continue to improve our scientific understanding of the real risks presented by so-called ‘contaminants’ so that we minimise the remediation effort and leave as much in the ground as possible, so long as there is no ongoing risk to the environment or end-users. The double whammy of the Hazardous Waste Regulations 2005 and the follow-on removal of the Landfill Tax Exemption subsidy really helped focus minds on these issues and helped to drive towards lower carbon sustainable remediation initiatives such as the CL:AIRE Materials Management Plan (MMP) process which is essentially a landfill avoidance and soil reuse initiative. Patrick Parsons have been championing the MMP process and so far this year have helped to establish schemes that will divert 25,000 tonnes of soil away from landfill, taking 1420 haulage wagon journeys off the local road network and saving 66,000 road miles in the process.

In your experience, is becoming part of the ’green economy’ good for business?

So long as what ‘green services’ we have to offer our clients make commercial sense and are financially viable, then absolutely! If, as we often do, we can realise an additional source of income for our clients or offer ‘no brainer’ secure energy solutions for their developments that are also low or zero carbon, then we have a win-win-win situation on our hands which is an extremely satisfying client and consultant experience. This can’t always be guaranteed, but as innovative green technologies are developing exponentially we will have more and more opportunities for the win-win–win!

How does Patrick Parsons seek to uphold its commitment to sustainability?

The new management team have already taken a strategic commitment to the environment, seeing the Environment & Energy division as an essential component to a modern, forward-thinking consultancy able to help lead the way through the green revolution. Our clients demand it, being driven either through personal or corporate aspirations and/or planning requirements, and we are always focussed on satisfying client demand in all of our services. Patrick Parsons are developing a particular expertise in the engineering design of a white water rafting courses, and in the upgrade of the course at the barrage on the River Tees we incorporated a 520kW hydro-electric plant generating net renewable energy to the grid by exploiting tidal and recovering energy from the pumped water within the course. We are also in the planning process with another hydro scheme in Scotland which will generate 450MWh/year net electricity to the grid and which incorporates a fish ladder that could open up a 73km stretch of highlands watercourses to migratory salmon and sea trout, enhancing the otter population recovery and creating potential habitat for the rare freshwater pearl mussel.

What are your thoughts on the clarity and direction businesses are receiving from the Government on the green economy?

Ho many words do I have…? To be succinct, I think the tail is wagging the dog presently and whilst the dog is trying to demonstrate that they really are in control and driving green stimulus, we are in a situation with government renewable subsidies (FITs, RHI and ROCs) where we are being offered a complex and poorly understood doggy treat by one hand whilst having it taken away by the other.

Here are some other environment focus articles that may be of interest to you: carbon reporting in logistics firms; what are the benefits of electric vehicles?; we talk to a print business about why SMEs need to go green; find out how one innovative business is using ozone as a cleaning tool; what does sustainability really mean to your business?; funding support for green businesses; and a green adaptation case study.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .

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