How to Get Serious About Environmental Compliance

Originally authored by Karen Strauss, Senior Editor
Recently, Kitchell’s very own environmental compliance authority Cameron Flower was invited to speak at a conference in Puerto Rico about Environmental Management Strategies for the Construction Industry. Flower provided instructive counsel, based on his own expertise, of how to start, and sustain, an environmental program at your own company.


He also shared a series of case studies, actually cautionary tales, about companies that neglected to take environmental protection seriously.

As a former environmental activist turned regulator turned consultant (and now chief steward of Kitchell Environmental Services), Flower brings a thoughtful and well-rounded perspective to the area of environmental compliance in the construction industry. He asserts that while companies have safety and quality assurance focuses, environmental protection efforts are often an afterthought. And that’s a risky place to be. Penalties for non-compliance can be astronomical (and with the advent of cell phone cameras being caught isn’t a matter of “if” but rather “when”) and related costs could be catastrophic (loss of work days, public relations headaches, etc.).  To give an idea of the scope of the problem, in the last five years alone Maricopa County’s Air Quality Department issued approximately 7,500 notices of violation and collected between $15 and $17 million in penalties.

Here is Flower’s checklist of considerations and issues that should be addressed to ensure your environmental program is a success, now and into the future:

  • Management buy-in at the top – company leaders must have a passion for it so it becomes part of the company culture.
  • Designate, or hire, an environmental compliance champion for the company. If you don’t have one person to monitor, train, promote, and revise, your program will fail.
  • This individual must be a strong communicator, adept at working with many different types of audiences: government/regulatory agencies, company executives, board members, vendors and field personnel.
  • Write down your company’s environmental policy. If it’s not written down, no one will commit to the effort. Once the policy is written, attach attainable goals, monitor progress against these goals and celebrate successes within the entire company.
  • Don’t try to do everything (dust, water, LEED, etc.) all at once. When starting your environmental effort, pick one area that’s important to you. Then, as you get more adept in this arena, add more areas of focus.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Network with colleagues, brainstorm ideas, attend conferences. Everything you are planning to implement has been done before so nothing you do will have to be from scratch. Learn best practices and adapt them to your company.

Cameron then shared tales from his world, where owners fell far short of their due diligence:

  • In 2013, the geologist owner of a Santa Barbara-based company was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit grand theft and defrauding the state. The case was prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General on behalf of the People of the State of California. The penalty: $1.6 million, 180 days in jail and three years of probation during which time he will have to surrender his professional licenses and discontinue environmental remediation work.
  • A home builder, one of the nation’s largest, had to pay $741,000 for storm water runoff violations – 600 violations in 23 States – and guarantee a consent decree requiring the company to implement a compliance program.
  • The government alleged that a national home improvement store violated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the Lead RRP Rule. It failed to provide documentation showing that the contractors it hires to perform renovation projects for customers had been certified by the EPA, had been properly trained, had used lead-safe work practices, or had correctly used EPA-approved lead test kits at renovation site. As a result, the company had to pay $500,000 within 30 days of when the Consent Decree was entered by the court.
  • It is incumbent upon construction companies to “do the right thing” as far as environmental compliance is concerned. It’s not a matter of seeing what you can get away with and hope you don’t get caught. We owe it to our children and future generations to do as little damage to the planet as possible. It’s a big responsibility but one that, given the consequences, is extremely easy to fulfill.

Please contact Cameron Flower at if you have any questions.


Create a Culture of Engagement Rather Than Compliance

Originally authored by Andy Platt, Project Manager at Kitchell


Today, everyone has to do more with less. People are spread thin. In our industry, negotiated work and robust staffing have given way to hard-bid jobs with bare bones crews. We have to do more with less as margins are tighter and days are longer than ever before. This means it is critical for us to be highly motivating leaders equipped to create teams that will go the extra mile. And nowhere is this more important than in the area of safety.

Taking a page from the battlefield

In the movie Braveheart, warrior William Wallace inspires a group of ordinary people to do things they would have never dreamed of, to literally fight for their own sovereignty. He engages and empowers them. He shows them they have a valuable place in the common cause, while reinforcing the importance of their individual independence. This is almost impossible to do without passion and a true conviction that everyone matters. Starting with this premise, once someone knows they genuinely matter to the team, they will be more likely to give all they can. Instead of fighting against the current, they will give momentum to productivity, problem solving, continuous improvement, and the overall good of the project. A simple synergy will occur with this dynamic, where the success of each individual worker, each trade partner, will organically, naturally contribute to the overall success of the project and team.

“Same old, same old” is over

Construction is known for salty superintendents who work for hard-nosed contractors, giving orders to subcontractors who take the abuse because that’s the way it’s always been. In today’s business environment, workers need to trust that leadership is genuinely and proactively concerned for their well-being. One definition of engagement is “the act or state of interlocking.” Creating an environment of engagement is both art and science. Collaboration is one key to obtaining a truly “engaged” culture. Another main contributor to fostering engagement is to help your team develop an understanding that each of them are leaders, and they have an impact on their environment. This is the case even if they don’t know it yet. An effective leader will help them realize that proactively being part of the planning and decision process will lead to better execution of work, ownership of said work and effective improvements made in real time.

All for one and one for all

A group of engaged workers understands that looking out for each other is important. It is said in the proverb, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” ECC 4:12.

Kitchell has a “world class” safety culture. This requires an environment where people are not just going through the motions, but are making decisions knowing they can make an impact. People will participate and engage in that culture so that every decision is made with the highest regard for safety. By its very definition, compliance is the result of someone forcing us to do something. We will likely only behave in the desired manner while someone is there to enforce it. In contrast, we willingly engage in something because we see the value in it. The keys to building a successful alliance of an engaged team are communication, passion, trust, and humility.

We need to remember that being in a hurry, taking a short cut, may save a few dollars in the short term, but could be very costly, or fatal, in the long run. The key is getting workers to realize that they can have “ownership” of their safety and the health and safety of those around them.

Everyone puts their name on their hard hart, because everyone has a name. People are more apt to have connection and care for someone who knows their name.
We may not be able to control all of the circumstances on the jobsite, but we can choose to be vocal and resolutely only participate in activities that are planned and executed with the highest regard for safety. I’m suggesting we emulate William Wallace. Become a safety warrior. Show others your passion, give them opportunities to engage and lead for themselves.

By living out our passion for doing the right thing, people will be drawn to our way of doing business.