Acuity Environmental Solutions
- Written by: Camila Osorno
- Produced by: Heidi Therrien
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Steve Irvin did not intend to develop his own environmental remediation company. In 2002, however, Irvin found himself at a crossroad, and his resulting path led to the founding of Acuity Environmental Solutions (AES).
“I was frustrated with my current employer for not understanding how to better manage risk,” explains Irvin, founder and principal engineer of. “I would bring in a multi-million dollar contract and because the company was afraid of taking on that kind of liability, they would let it go. At the time, the company was restructuring itself after declaring Chapter 11 so I understand the apprehension, but to me it seemed like the opportunity far outweighed the risk.”
One day, Irvin received a phone call from a previous co-worker, who was currently working for a Fortune 50 company, eager to discuss the creation of their own design, presently known as AES.
“He wanted us to make a formal presentation. So, I rounded up my “A-Team” and they presented us with a variety of cases, expecting us to approach them all in the same way. Meanwhile, the consultant who had won the multi-million dollar contract that my employer passed up is sitting in the room, just observing and he asked us what we would have recommended for that job. So, we made our recommendation, he countered it with the plan he actually was working on and we, not knowing who he was, just blurted out, ‘Well that’s stupid! If you take that approach there’s a clear risk of fire’,” laughs Irvin. “As it happened, the foremost expert on the technology that consultant had recommended was with us and he proceeded to explain why that technology wouldn’t adequately solve the problem and all of a sudden, without us even knowing it, we won our first client, who we have been working with ever since.”
Only the Best Will Do
Today, AES brings together the most accredited experts in the field, providing comprehensive and well-researched solutions to clients with contaminated sites. “There are a lot of people out there who try to offer remediation services, but there are not a lot of people out there who understand what it takes to actually fix the problem,” asserts Irvin. “That’s where the PhDs, doctorate degrees and master’s degrees make a difference and that is who we hire. My employees do an amazing job and it’s exciting for me to come into work every day because they are so ahead of the curve.”
Just shy of its tenth anniversary, AES has managed to establish itself as one of the top most trusted authorities in the industry. The company recognizes large corporations such as the United Stated Army Corps of Engineers and several law firms as long-standing clients. “We do a lot of work for lawyers. Not only will we make recommendations as a consulting firm, but we will also testify in court in the case of a legal dispute over the conditions of the site,” explains Irvin. “Today, we have projects throughout the greater Chicago area, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and Indiana of course, which is where our headquarters are.”
One of the firm’s earliest, and most fondly remembered, projects was for the Army Corps of Engineers. “We worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the Base Realignment and Closure Legacy Evaluation Reports.
Basically, when Congress votes to close an Air Force base and return it to the community, it is responsible for ensuring that the quality of that land is as good, if not better, than it was prior to the establishment of a base. In this specific case, the USACE invited three different firms to submit proposals and would divide up the base work as it saw fit so we had to basically take one base and write up a report and suggest a plan of attack to remediate the site and do it as cost effectively, efficiently and long-lasting as possible to save the government, not just millions of dollars, but billions of dollars. Ultimately, they were so excited about our proposal that they awarded every single one of those contracts to us.”
Brainiacs in High Demand
Though the company has worked with some of the largest clients in the industry, it also engages with local and regional businesses, as in the case of one of AES’ current projects. “We’re working on a complete remediation of an old chrome plating shop in Muncie, Indiana,” explains Irvin. “It’s basically a $4.5 million site cleanup where we treated all of the soil in the area and covered it with a cap. As you can imagine, when you run a business that requires lots of solvents and chemicals, spills will happen over time.”
The firm won the contract by submitting a proposal to treat the site using technology that had never been used for soil or groundwater decontamination, that incidentally cost half as much as other methods. This new method reduced the timeline for remediation from an average of 15 to 20 years down to just one, with two years of soil condition monitoring.
“We have to hire a group of full-time brainiacs to pull these kinds of things off,” laughs Irvin. “It’s precisely because of the talent of our chemists, engineers and geologists that we are able to push the technologies available in the industry in new directions. We are essentially the general contractor in the equation. We bring in the talent to get the job done right, but we also need our ‘yellow iron component’. We don’t need to own a bulldozer, but we do need to know someone who can tell us where to rent one and who can recommend a really skilled operator to complete the work.” AES will continue the change in brand identity it began a few years ago. “We hired a branding consultant who convinced us to change the name of the company to better sell the company’s story,” says Irvin. “So our challenge right now is really to develop consistent growth and to continue to develop the brand identity of the AES name.”
Equipped with a team of leading experts across multiple fields, along with the experience and ambition to effectively manage risk in order to pursue opportunity, Acuity Environmental Solutions is certain to mature into a giant in the field of environmental remediation.
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