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Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

Keeping your project on track when you have stakeholder involvement

You’re an environmental manager for your company, and you learn that a contractor doing repair work has caused a release from one of your pipelines which is located on private property.  You report the spill to the authorities, notify the landowner, and initiate cleanup activities.  The contractor files a claim with their insurance carrier. Following initial response actions, soil and groundwater is investigated and cleanup goals are established.  It sounds straightforward until the various stakeholders get involved.  The stakeholders include the construction contractor, their insurance company, the insurance company’s consultant, the regulatory agency, and the landowner, in addition to you and your environmental consultant.  All parties want the spill cleaned up but have different goals and objectives.

In another case, no one knows exactly when the spill, or multiple spills, occurred, but the cleanup has been underway for years. Initial investigations revealed two sources and co-mingled plumes.  Various negotiations proceeded between the responsible parties, the landowner, and the regulatory agency.  Ultimately, a plan for remediation was developed with each party in agreement. Fast forward 5 years.  Following one more year of monitoring, the remediation should be complete. But wait! Another responsible party has an incident in the immediate area of your remediation project.  Now there are 3 responsible parties, their environmental consultants, a landowner, the regulatory agency, and likely others.  Can your project stay on track?

As you can see, many environmental remediation projects involve several parties with similar but differing interests. Understandably, the landowner often wants the spill cleaned up quickly and to standards that will result in the least restrictive future use and highest future value. Often, the landowner is not familiar with environmental regulations or other technical issues.  The insurance company, on the other hand, wants the site cleaned to meet the basic regulatory requirements but at the lowest possible cost.  The responsible parties often fall somewhere in-between depending on any number of business-related factors.

In summary, stakeholders or “influencers” to your environmental cleanup can include the following:

  • Responsible party(s)
  • Landowner(s)
  • Surrounding neighbors
  • Regulatory agency(s)
  • Consultants for responsible party(s) and insurance company(s)
  • Other business units within your company

While the path to completion may not be your desired path, you can often get to the end without too much pain when considering the following:

Communication. Is there clear and frequent communication amongst the stakeholder group?  The lack of communication or information sharing is often the biggest barrier to advancing the project.  Routine calls or meetings can resolve many issues.

Another important aspect of communication is listening as well as hearing.  Are you really listening to and hearing the concerns of the other stakeholders?  Sometimes, interested parties just need to know that you hear the concerns and will take them into consideration.

Awareness of the other stakeholder’s goals. Do you know your audience? Understanding the varying interests and goals of the others will facilitate the negotiation process.  You may find that what concerns another party can easily be resolved because it’s something that doesn’t rank #1 on your priority list.  You may not have planned to excavate more soil, for example, but if it something that isn’t too costly and buys some goodwill — it may be worth doing.  It is also important to determine those things in which you would be unwilling to make concessions.

Are there other influencers? Awareness of relationships and business interests outside of the immediate environmental cleanup can be important.  For example, your company may have business interests with the landowner beyond this environmental cleanup.  As a result, you may want to consider making concessions in this case although you normally wouldn’t do so.  Non-environmental issues can be important influencers and can play a role in keeping your project moving.

Often, environmental remediation projects can become overloaded with stakeholders and their conflicting interests. Your project can stay on track if you communicate clearly and frequently with stakeholder groups, listen to their concerns and take them into consideration. Understanding the varying interests and goals of each stakeholder is also valuable in streamlining and expediting the negotiation process. You may even consider making some concessions or reprioritizing your company’s approach if it means that it will benefit the project. And finally, be cognizant of relationships and business interests outside of this specific project in order to sustain those positive relationships and drive further business opportunities down the road.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact our expert, Diana Rader. 

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