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Why and How to Hire an Environmental Consultant

The most common reason people need the services of an environmental consultant is when buying or developing land. Most people who hire environmental consultants are builders, homeowners, developers or local government departments. As a builder or property owner, you may need an environmental consultant to assess how your intended land use might impact the environment. Another reason developer’s hire environmental consultants is to do some due diligence on land before buying it, to avoid buying unforeseen environmental liabilities that could affect the feasibility of their development, because of existing pollution in the soil or groundwater. 

In many instances environmental assessments are needed so building permits can be issued, for example you may be required to assess the risk of bushfires, floods, or other natural disasters on your property in order to get a building permit if you live in an area that is subject to flooding or bushfire risk. You may also need to have mitigation plans assessed, once again, environmental consultants are the people who do this.

Local government departments and big corporations doing major developments also sometimes need to design an environmental management plan for a designated area as a condition of gaining development approval. Whatever your reason might be, here is how you can go about hiring an environmental consultant.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you fully understand the nature of your project. If it’s a building you want to construct, make sure you have an idea of what permissions are required. This way, your environmental consultant will be able to tell you early enough if everything about your project is being done according to the legal and regulatory standards in the jurisdiction you are in. Understanding your project also lets you know what kind of environmental consultant you need to hire. Some consultancies tend to specialize in specific areas (for example, you might find that some firms specialize in environmental impact assessments for construction projects, while others specialize in restoration of contaminated lands or mitigation of natural hazards). Environmental consulting covers a wide range of issues, so you need to ensure any proposed firm you engage has relevant experience ion the particular requirements of your project. 

Finding and assessing environmental consultants 

There are several ways of finding environmental consultancy firms near your location. One of the best methods is using word of mouth. If there are businesses or developers in your area who you know have required environmental consultations recently, you can ask them to recommend a firm. You can also do an online search or check business directories in your area. If you are a big company with the resources, you can always create an open tender and advertise it in the newspapers (in such cases, you first need to know the scope of the environmental work that needs to be done). 

Once you have the names of a few environmental consultants, you may be able to assess them and tell which one is the best for your project. Good environmental consultants tend to have accreditation, certifications, or memberships in certain professional bodies or associations, so when you visit their websites, look for that kind of information. If an environmental consultancy has its own publication (say a magazine or a newsletter) that often means that they are thought leaders in the industry, and it's a good sign. If you want to see an example of a great environmental consultancy firm, you can visit the Molino Stewart Environmental Consultants website. This firm specializes in flood, bushfire and natural hazard consulting and they publish a leading blog called ‘Floodplain Manager’ that is read by environmental and ecological consultants world- wide. 

Experience is another crucial consideration. Most consultancy firms will have testimonials from their previous clients or details about their previous projects on their websites. If you have a large-scale project, you are better off with an environmental consultancy that has handled projects of that magnitude in the past. Get the contact information of their former clients, and get in touch with them so that they can tell you first-hand what their experience was like when they hired the firm. 

Negotiating with the consultant and creating a contract 

You have to negotiate and get the best consultancy deal you can. Schedule meetings with consultants, and during those meetings, make sure that you provide as much information about your project as possible to ensure you get accurate quotes. Make sure the consultants understand the scope of your project. You want to request quotes from multiple consultancies, so you have several options at your disposal. Usually, the consultants will give you a fairly detailed proposal on how they are going to handle your project; they’ll tell you how many dedicated team members you will get, how long the project will take, what procedures they'll use, and what it's likely to cost. If they don't offer this information to you right away, ask for it. You should also ask them to let you verify their credentials, and make sure that they have all their insurance information in order (be wary of consultants who are unwilling to provide you with this information).  

Finally, you have to create and sign a contract with the consultant who offers you the best terms. Make sure that you read and understand all the fine print in the contract, and get some legal advice if necessary. Ensure that all your conditions are written into the contract, including the start and finish dates of the consultancy project, and the budget.


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