Consultants’ positive environment

28/02/2018 - 09:07

Renewables, railways, and a pick-up in the resources sector are providing work for local environmental services businesses, which have become increasingly optimistic after taking a hit amid the slowdown in mining construction projects.

Consultants’ positive environment
Michelle Rhodes says 360 has maintained service delivery amid market changes. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Renewables, railways, and a pick-up in the resources sector are providing work for local environmental services businesses, which have become increasingly optimistic after taking a hit amid the slowdown in mining construction projects.

360 Environmental director Michelle Rhodes told Business News the amount of potential work on offer had been increasing throughout the early part of this year.

“There’s opportunity for consultants,” Ms Rhodes, a 2009 40under40 winner, said.

“You’re seeing movement around the infrastructure (energy and transport) markets, so that is positive.

“In the short term, activity seems to be heavily government led and we really want to see private industry kick off, which will build resilience and business confidence.” 

Metronet was the major driver of transport work, she said, while demand in the energy sector was coming from both government utilities and from renewables projects.

“In the more traditional industries of mining and land development, we’re working hard,” Ms Rhodes said

Astron Environmental Services managing director Julian Kruger was optimistic about the direction the sector was heading.

He said things had started improving halfway through last year, with 2017 an overall improvement on previous years, although things had been tight after a period of pressure.

BNiQ Search Engine data (page 22) shows a near 30 per cent drop in the number of people employed by the state’s top 10 environmental consultancies in the past five years, to be just more than 600.

That number is even slightly down from last year, a fall of about 5 per cent.

One major mover on the list was Canada-based Stantec, which two years ago acquired construction and engineering company MWH Global.

It fell two spots on the BNiQ list.

Another globally significant acquisition was the purchase of Opus International by engineers WSP.

Ms Rhodes said this activity had provided opportunities for environmental consultancies.

The corporate end of town was changing, she said, while smaller consultants had offered consistent service delivery.

RPS general manager water and environment WA, David Sim, said there had been a consolidation in the market in the past three to five years.

“A number of the larger firms have moved resources across the country, to the east coast,” Mr Sim told Business News.

He expected that would begin to dissipate, with skills now needed in Western Australia.

“We do expect the market to improve in 2018 on the back of a general recovery in the resources sector,” Mr Sim said.

He said the Metronet rail project was the biggest source of work locally, while renewables and defence were two growth areas.

“We’re seeing quite a bit of action in solar and wind in particular, that’s happening nationally,” Mr Sim said.

“The other area is defence infrastructure, there’s a lot of work to do; defence is upgrading facilities around the country.”

An example of this was new berths needed as part of the offshore patrol vessel build project.

He said land development was another positive for the sector, after an east coast focus for the past several years.

“We’re seeing developers return to WA,” Mr Sim said.

Diversification, innovation

Astron’s Mr Kruger provided a good example of how environmental businesses responded to the tough times in recent years.

He said Astron was traditionally mining focused and had moved into government work and utilities.

One thing the business considered key was holding onto its team through the downturn, which Mr Kruger said had helped keep quality and built trust with staff.

A further move had been the introduction of a program using drones to monitor minesite rehabilitation.

360’s Ms Rhodes highlighted adding services as part of her business’s diversification strategy.

“We have diversified our offering with hazardous materials and asbestos management as an additional technical line  across all industries,” Ms Rhodes said.

“In addition, we are growing our urban water management capability.”

Mr Sim said water was on the radar for West Perth-based RPS, with work on improving groundwater modelling to reduce sand fill costs available, in addition to managing managed aquifer recharge, and harvesting or recycling water to supply developments.

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