A sustainable mindset

Susan Angyal, regional CEO for North America at ERM, talks about the company’s people-first, sustainability-focused approach to business.

Susan Angyal, ERM’s regional CEO for North America. Image courtesy of ERM

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) is one of the world’s leading sustainability consultancies. Founded in 1971, the company employs over 5,500 people in more than 42 countries.

While decommissioning, decontamination and demolition (DDD) is core to the company’s services, its offerings encompass everything from feasibility and closure work to detailed permitting and climate change strategies.

As such, the company has a broad perspective when it comes to DDD since the majority of its work is part of bigger, more integrated projects that include site restoration, property redevelopment, divestiture and capital investments.

Susan Angyal, who was named ERM’s regional CEO for North America in July, says this 360-degree approach helps infuse the company’s big picture mindset into every project.

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“We define our purpose as ‘shaping a sustainable future with the world’s leading organizations,’ which carries over to our tagline, ‘The Business of Sustainability,’” she says. “We operationalize these qualities by looking at all client engagements—including DDD—through the lens of sustainability. We are deliberate and purposeful in developing multifaceted solutions for our clients that address not only the conventional environmental and regulatory dimensions around a DDD project, but also bring complementary skills around both the social and governance elements, too.”

Part of the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) focus entails employing public affairs professionals to work alongside its DDD experts on every project to anticipate, communicate and manage community interests. Additionally, the company has instituted local hiring initiatives with many of its DDD projects to help enrich local communities, expand the experience base and create new career potential within a geographic region. In many cases, Angyal says, this local hiring focus translates to the company’s subcontractors retaining these hires as full-time employees.

In terms of promoting a green footprint, Angyal says ERM’s DDD teams look for opportunities to increase their landfill diversion rates on every project while prioritizing C&D recycling whenever possible. As part of this focus, the company also works with a number of clients to help them establish annual sustainability reports to track their progress.

“For the DDD sector, these reports [track] customary recycling materials (i.e., metal, concrete, glass, cardboard, reuse soil, etc.), but also, the reduction of emissions through the use of Tier 4 engines on construction equipment, [the use of] biofuels and utilizing ride sharing or crew vans to reduce single-driver vehicle usage,” Angyal explains. “Our project teams have even found enhanced reuse through utilizing recycled gray water in misting systems for dust and odor suppression or when pouring slurry walls, placing grout and performing slurry-supported excavation.”

ERM says that its social conscience regarding its people and the planet gives it a competitive edge in recruiting.

A people-first business

Although sustainability is a top priority and selling point of the company’s business approach, Angyal notes that the company’s growth has been largely due to how it recruits its employees.

“We recruit great people, giving them the skills and equipment to do the job well, and then create an environment where they can flourish with interesting projects supported by world-class teams. The talent which is recruited from the contracting space enjoys the stability of ERM’s global footprint and client/sector diversification, as well as the ability to significantly advance their careers,” she says. “This is a marked distinction from the peaks and valleys common in the trade industry. From the top down, we have a deeply embedded social conscience about our people and our planet. More and more, we’re seeing this as a competitive differentiator in recruiting new workers who seek out companies that prioritize these values.”

And despite workers not entering the DDD space at the same rate as in previous generations, Angyal says pitching tomorrow’s workforce on the benefits of pursuing a career in the sector is essential for the continued success of ERM. The challenge, she says, is making the industry appealing in comparison to openings at companies like Google or Amazon. To accomplish this, Angyal says that ERM tries to show how the company’s broader contributions and sustainability focus align with the next generation.

In addition to selling the company’s mission statement, she says ERM works to adapt to advances in technology in order to appeal to younger workers. Not only is this about leveraging new employees’ aptitude for utilizing new technology like remote tools and software, it is also part and parcel of creating a safe work site.

“We aim to provide flexibility without sacrificing safety,” she says. “In a post-COVID-19 world, particularly when it relates to safely returning to work, safety processes and protocols can often be overlooked. At ERM, we have seen an increase in the use of remote tools, such as satellites and drone technology, as well as wearables to improve safety performance. Our safety training has also increased significantly across a range of sectors.”

Angyal believes that hiring the best available talent is the cornerstone of what ERM is all about. Through the company’s due diligence, she notes ERM is able to be selective in recruiting contactors the company trusts.

“ERM’s contractor mindset definitely sets us apart,” she says. “We hire great contractors with specialized expertise, which makes a notable difference in the work we provide. ERM speaks the language of the contractor, which also helps us to communicate with all of the stakeholders and problem-solve more quickly and effectively.”

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Going where the opportunities are

Angyal says ERM is coming off of three years of strong growth fueled by both organic initiatives and strategic M&A opportunities, which has helped broaden the company’s offerings and expand its client base. She notes that maintaining a well-balanced business with capabilities across the asset lifecycle has been critical to this success.

“We find many of our competitors to be primarily focused on the end-of-life phase, like remediation, which provides good, sustained revenues, but is becoming increasingly commoditized,” she says. “Our broader client platform also makes us more resilient as different parts of the market tend to ebb and flow. Our diversity of services and skills allows us to be more agile and flexible with the markets and economy.”

Additionally, she says the company’s “boots to boardroom” strategy has helped create opportunities for the company by allowing it to offer solutions for clients’ project implementation phase of work but also for advisory-type services, while the company’s global platform, and subsequent expertise, has aided in ERM’s growth by allowing it to scale its operations in a way that smaller operators on the local or regional level can’t.

Looking to the future, Angyal says that ERM’s strongest opportunities within the asset retirement and DDD sectors include site assessments, regulatory and stakeholder engagements, and site remediation work. She also says that the energy sector is particularly ripe with work on the horizon, and is an area of focus the company is positioning itself to capitalize on.

“ERM is very bullish with DDD opportunities around the energy markets, particularly coal retirements. In 2019, we rolled out a company-wide program centered on the Low Carbon Energy Transition (LCET) where we see a major reconfiguration of our country’s energy infrastructure,” she says. “The shift to a low-carbon economy is forcing companies to look at their asset portfolio in light of the impact of climate change and the pressures to act being applied to businesses. This will drive significant DDD opportunities and replacement infrastructure with alternative and lower carbon energy sources. This has now expanded into the low-carbon economy transition, as it is a much broader subject in which every industry plays a part.”

Gary Whitton | Adobe Stock

Although she concedes that the DDD market is highly competitive, which can make it difficult to differentiate ERM during a procurement process based solely on cost, being able to position DDD projects as part of a bigger sustainable picture has helped the company attract clients. Rather than fight for every job that comes online, Angyal says the company strives to be more discerning to corner work where the company can best leverage its expertise and experience.

“While we’re capable of competing on the open market for DDD projects, we do tend to be more disciplined around target clients and opportunities where we can add legitimate value beyond just the wrecking ball,” she says. “ERM performs DDD work for Fortune 200 companies around the world. Where ERM differentiates itself is within the structure of our DDD offerings, and our ability to create incredible value through scope, price and budget controls. Our DDD group includes significant staffing from the DDD and site remediation contracting space. Combined with engineering and other professional staff, our clients realize the benefits of true subject matter expertise from ERM.”

Asked about ERM’s plan for continued growth, Angyal says the company has a three-pronged approach.

“We want to remain focused on today and delivering in our core markets—including DDD—to keep the market share we’ve already earned. DDD plays an important role in ensuring the portfolio is managed in a secure, safe and sustainable way,” she says. “We want to build on market drivers, such as LCET, to keep ERM and our service mix relevant in new and emerging parts of our market. We have adapted our business and the services we offer to help do this, which helps us position ourselves for growth while increasing new market share. And we want to leverage the ERM brand as we continue to differentiate ourselves from the competition.”

The author is the editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at aredling@gie.net.

September October 2020
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