Managing Environmental Liabilities
Whether you are monitoring discharges from power plants, remediation performance at contaminated sites or the environmental performance of chemical plants, chances are that you are working with various subcontractors for field sampling, laboratory analysis, data validation, and report generation.
Managing environmental liabilities and optimizing environmental performance requires environmental managers to be proactive by reading trends and remedying potential bad situations before they escalate. Increasing volumes of collected and derived data by subcontractors represent a challenge for businesses, and necessitates good management practices when overseeing this process.
Although subcontractors or consultants are providing the complete range of environmental services that enables industrial and public-sector clients to outsource any type of work, liability and risk are not usually held by these third parties, but are usually owned by the business entity.
Common Issues When Working with Multiple Contractors
While a single vendor contract may be preferable, changing business requirements and complex environmental programs often force the business entity to outsource to multiple vendors. The environmental market has grown into a landscape of local boutique consultancies and medium to large (multi-) national companies providing a wide range of services. It is the business’ responsibility to maximize the value generated from the different contractors.
In many cases, multiple contractors perform similar data management tasks either at different sites or at various times. They may use different processes to generate data deliverables, which leads to inconsistencies across a portfolio of sites, now or over time. Common examples include:
- Varying sampling processes.
- Inconsistent quality control metrics.
- Multiple reporting and analysis formats.
Comparing laboratory reports from different vendors, for example, can be a challenge if you are managing high volumes of data.
The variation from consultant to consultant makes it essential for businesses to take ownership of all environmental data management processes. This will ensure the quality of the data through standardization and process oversite to allow them to manage their liabilities.
Establishing a Central Data Repository
Establishing a central data repository will have the biggest impact on the ability to control the environmental datasets that are collected by various parties. Implementing EarthSoft’s data management system, EQuIS, as a centralized, enterprise-wide system will provide the following benefits.
Improved Data Quality
Poor quality data is expensive, not only in financial terms, but also in terms of risk management, loss of reputation and missed opportunities. Installing EQuIS enterprise wide will allow you to define data quality standards while removing redundant and siloed datasets.
Reviewing the current state of data is usually a complex task in the implementation of any data management system. Are you confident that you can locate any dataset collected at your sites over the last 10 years? Chances are that your data is spread over multiple consultants who may use various databases, spreadsheets, reports and other documents. Basing decisions on these disparate sets of information represents an often-overlooked risk in today’s data-driven world.
EQuIS will eliminate these challenges by enforcing the same quality standards on all datasets and data submitters, enabling you as the data owner to confidently make decisions with the data.
Efficient Communication with Regulators
We are working in a heavily regulated climate where authorities ask for routine and regular reporting of program data against regulatory standards. Providing these reports to meet permit requirements and other obligations can be simplified by implementing EQuIS as a central system with standardized and automated processing and reporting.
Regulatory requests can be even more complicated if they involve historical datasets.
Could you respond to these queries efficiently?
- Provide all water levels measured in the last 10 years at the river near your plant.
- Provide all VOC and BTEX concentrations of soil samples collected in 2011.
- Provide a list of all inspections and remedied defects for 250 monitoring wells in 2009.
In many cases, the data owner (who pays for all this data) is not able to answer these questions without involving the contractors that collected the data and still owns it, which complicates communication within the organization and with authorities. Additionally, the timeliness of the reply to the authorities may become extensive while retrieving and compiling the data from the various sources. Storing the data in EQuIS as a centralized data repository allows for querying based requested specifications within moments.
Environmental management of a multi-facility portfolio can be conducted at the site level with individual managers or at a corporate level with a central management team. Consolidating all related tasks in the EQuIS Environmental Data Management System (EDMS) and avoiding siloed management will allow the company to make better business decisions. Comparing the environmental performance of multiple sites and running queries across all sites independently of consultants can be easy when all data is stored in a central system.
Environmental monitoring and reporting requirements can also lead to situations where one has to consolidate data from multiple contractors into a single set of reports. You may be working with a specialized contractor for biological surveys while a sampling contractor provides you with groundwater field measurements. Combining these datasets and having all involved parties working on the same system will make collaboration easy, letting you focus on gaining new insights.
Reduced Management Costs
According to a study by EarthSoft client, US Department of Energy (US DOE), information management accounts for 35% of the long-term project management costs. Using EQuIS to manage data will reduce costs in any part of the data lifecycle by automating repetitive tasks and allowing environmental managers to analyze data efficiently.
Defined standards for field data collection, data transfers, inputs and report generation will allow smaller teams to handle bigger datasets leading to savings as observed by the US DOE. Another EarthSoft client, a building materials company, reported that the company would have to hire an additional 4-8 people if all monitoring data was not managed with a central data management solution.
Standardizing Projects and Workflows
Controlling the various environmental projects conducted at sites becomes even more challenging when multiple external contractors are involved. By taking ownership of project processes and the associated data, organizations can gain a new level of control that allows them to manage contractors efficiently.
Efficient Planning and Tracking
Standardization starts at the planning phase for any project. EQuIS provides tools to plan environmental projects on a centrally accessible calendar. Sampling plans, laboratory contracts and reporting requirements are defined, securely stored and monitored to track project progress. Data Managers are enabled to track sampling campaigns for completeness as well as monitor any issues with laboratories or sampling teams.
Another part of the environmental information management process that commonly has big potential for standardization is the storage and transfer of raw data. Raw data is often stored in various formats, which makes it complicated to efficiently convert this data into useful information. Standardizing the data format in EQuIS will force every contractor to follow your data structure. Including standard formats for data transfers will ensure that all data is loaded identically utilizing the same validation rules.
Standardized data deliverables will also allow you to establish an electronic data transfer process where new datasets get validated and loaded automatically. As the environmental manager, one can choose notification by email when a new dataset is uploaded, or monitor deliverables on a web dashboard.
Reporting and Data Analysis
Analyzing data and creating report outputs such as charts, maps, tables or diagrams is often outsourced and handled differently by the various contractors. This leads to inconsistent outputs and challenges in deriving the required information. EQuIS allows standardization of reports and analysis outputs for any project—thus removing many of these issues.
EQuIS provides tools to standardize and automate common reporting requirements and allows the organization to control the process. Data analysis can still be outsourced, but the contractors work in a controlled environment with predefined reporting layouts and quality criteria. Reports are made accessible to the client data manager to review outputs and data visualizations in a user-friendly interface.