Why ready-mixed & precast concrete plant experts are more useful than "the local guy".
A fairly common problem I've seen over the last 25+ years when I've been helping folks at their concrete plant is fairly simple. They're paying for a local company to handle their environmental matters, often without success. It seems fairly common that folks aren't hiring an environmental expert at their concrete plant, but are instead relying on someone around the corner. I get it, I completely do. Local firms tend to be cheaper, more flexible, quicker to respond to emergencies, etc. But, are they your best bet?
For some of my concrete clients, I am the local guy, but I'm also their environmental expert. For my clients on the other side of the country, I'm their environmental expert. While I certainly don't want you to think this is self-serving (it is to an extent) or that I'm knocking the local guy (because a fair amount of our work is local work), I wanted to relay some of the issues we've been seeing at concrete plants who don't hire an environmental expert who's knowledgeable about the concrete industry.
Ready-mixed & precast concrete plants need environmental experts.
What we frequently see is a ready-mixed or precast concrete plant, or more accurately, a concrete company, hire a local "environmental guy" who usually ends up being an attorney, a local engineer, or a local environmental firm.
Like I said above, I get it. Cheaper, more flexible, more responsive, etc. It makes sense. But if a local guy is cheaper, more flexible, and more responsive, then why are folks calling us in the first place? Let's break down these three "selling points" and figure out what they really mean.
A local guy is not cheaper than an environmental expert.
Sure, you might have an environmental expert in your backyard who's working for you, but 9 out of 10 times we see some little, mom and pop operation, with one guy running the show who doesn't use email or a smartphone. A lot of times these guys are cheaper, but only when you look at things in the short run.
For example, concrete plants have some fairly specialized needs when it comes to issues like stormwater permits & process water management. In theory, water's water, and it's all the same, but a local guy might end up costing you more in the long run because they're applying general knowledge to your facility, instead of industry specific knowledge.
For example, we've seen a lot of "local environmental experts" recommend to concrete plants they install costly water treatment systems, revise their site layout to better handle water flow, modify their operation in one way or the other, all because they didn't know the ins and outs of the concrete industry. In short, we've seen them apply generic fixes to problems that needed industry specific knowledge.
Conversely, we've seen concrete plants facing hefty fines from regulators because the local guy gave the company bad advice, misled them, or just didn't know what they were doing. For example, we don't do air work anymore. There are experts out there who are great at it, and I'm not that knowledgeable about it anymore. I wouldn't try to get you to hire me to do air work at your concrete plant because it's not my field of expertise. Yes, I consider myself an environmental expert, but not when it comes to air permitting work. We've seen local organization tackle complex, concrete specific problems, like TRI Reporting, for example, and fail miserably because they didn't know the industry.
By the way, this goes double for folks hiring an environmental law firm to handle their environmental matters. Does anyone know a lawyer who's cheap?? I know I don't!
For a concrete plant, a local guy who's flexible & responsive is usually a bad sign.
Think about your environmental program (hopefully you have one) like your financial system. You have checks that come in and go out, accounts, credit cards, and taxes to pay, etc. etc. You likely have someone internally, or you've hired a financial expert, to take care of your finances.
How often should that person be dropping everything to take care of a financial issue? Ignoring tax season and any random inconveniences like lost or stolen credit cards, you should be able to keep plugging & chugging without needing to put out any fires or tend to any emergencies.
When we visit concrete plants that are looking to hire an environmental expert, we hear things like 'our local guy was always out here helping us take care of problems' as if that was a good thing.
Let me be explicitly clear here: an environmental expert should set you up for success, and you should hardly ever have any problems.
Your environmental expert should only be stopping by your concrete plant every once and awhile to make sure things are going smooth. Like your financial system, you should be setup for continued success. Sure, if there's a major issue you're going to want help, but that should be very rare.
You should be able to use the plans, permits, and approvals the environmental expert obtained & set in place for you without any trouble. If they have to show up a lot to fix things and take care of problems, one of two things is going on: user error (meaning you're not holding up your end of the bargain, which we see often, usually due to faulty training) or the local guy didn't do a great job in the first place (which we also unfortunately see fairly often).
This can also end up costing you more, because the local guy's either going to be charging for all these site visits and fixing problems, and/or you'll be getting into some sort of trouble prompting regulators to stop by and hand out some fines or penalties. Regardless, you don't want this.
Concrete plants need specialized help from environmental experts.
The reality is concrete plants are not the same as any other type of business, and generally have some very specific requirements from the operational side as well as the environmental side. You know that, and I know that. Here are some examples.
Concrete plants & water issues.
In a recent poll of NRMCA (National Ready Mixed Concrete Association) members, this problem still comes up as the one issue most concrete producers struggle with. A lot of concrete producers within the industry don’t understand the differences between the two. Even more don't know how to handle process water versus stormwater, and the regulatory implications of the two.
The result? We continue to see fines and other penalties, third-party lawsuits from environmental groups or citizen groups, and more. And, we often get called in – as concrete plant environmental experts – to help out and stop problems before they become complex issues.
Concrete environmental experts know the industry.
Can you talk to your local guy about retrofitting you concrete plant to deal with the complex issues of returned concrete? How knowledgeable about concrete reclaimers are they? Do they understand the complexities of process water management, and potential reuse of either recycled or returned materials?
Face it, concrete plants are dealing with issues no other facilities or industries are. This is tough stuff, which is why so many concrete producers, both ready-mixed and precast, get this stuff wrong.
In today's regulatory climate, you're facing environmental agencies on a federal & state level who's budgets are getting slashed, meaning they're desperate for money. In short, enforcement is a bigger threat than ever.
Additionally, citizens groups & environmental groups are suing concrete producers for basic violations of their NPDES stormwater permit. Simple things like failing to inspect their facility, elevated levels of pollutants in discharges, and missing regulatory requirements are enabling 3rd party groups to sue concrete plants hundreds of thousands, to millions of dollars. I discuss how to avoid being the target of a 3rd party environmental group's lawsuit in another article because this is becoming a huge issue for concrete plants & producers across the country.
Environmental experts can advise your concrete plant on higher level regulatory requirements.
Your local guy might be an expert on the state's stormwater permits, but what do they know about federal requirements?
For example, does your local guy know about SPCC Plans and if your facility might need one?
Are they familiar with Tier II Community Right-to-Know Reporting?
Are they aware whether or not you should be doing TRI Reporting, and not only what should you be reporting, but what your likeliest release pathways are?
I always like to equate state and county regulators as the local cops. Yes, they should be feared & respected, but the real force is the USEPA. They're like the FBI. If they come knocking at your concrete plant because you haven't been conducting TRI Reporting, you could be in for a world of hurt.
Industry & environmental experts for concrete plants know what's important.
Does your local guy understand what your area of highest vulnerability is, and how to keep you out of trouble?
Does your local guy know what is common practice (let alone state-of-the-art) regarding the environmental operations of a concrete plant?
Does your local guy understand the environmental regulations affecting a concrete plant to the degree he or she can get you out of hot water with your state regulator, the USEPA, or some 3rd party environmental group’s lawsuit, when you might literally be fighting for your very existence to operate?
Environmental experts concrete plants & producers can trust.
Of course this entire article is self-serving, but the point I want to get across is if you're a concrete producer, you're the environmental manager or CEO of a concrete plant, or you're new to the concrete industry in general, hire an environmental expert you can trust.
Look, I'm not saying I'm the only concrete plant expert when it comes to environmental matters. I'm the primary instructor & developer of NRMCA’s Environmental Certification Course, meaning I've personally instructed over 1,000 concrete industry experts in environmental matters. There are plenty of folks who are out on the market to help others as consultants (like we do), and there's plenty of qualified experts working at concrete plants all across the country. Ask a friend, or ask an expert, but just know that there are qualified people out there.
Your concrete plant's future depends on environmental excellence.
If you’re putting your future, and your company’s financial interests, in the hands of someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cement plant and a concrete plant, then you might be making a big mistake.
Sure, hire your local engineering firm to get you through your local building process, or hire your local environmental firm when you need a simple air permit, but when you need a concrete plant environmental expert, get qualified, experienced help.
It might be an extreme analogy, but think of it like going to the doctor. Suppose you had some very specialized concern. Would you let just anyone take a crack at it? Do you go to your local general practitioner, just because he’s local or they're your buddy? Or do you seek out an expert, because you know the stakes involved are high, and personal?
Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you understand that you have some real concerns. If so, you really need a environmental expert who's knowledgeable about concrete plants & the industry.