The director of New Earth and Environment shares his observations on trends in the environmental business and the growing sophistication of WSPs to protect public health.
Northampton, MA – News Direct – WSP
Dennis Papilion, the new President of WSP USA’s Earth & Environment (E&E) business, has witnessed tremendous change during his nearly 30 years in the environmental management and engineering field.
In positions of increasing responsibility at large corporations, he and his teams have navigated the changing policies, regulatory philosophies and funding priorities following presidential and congressional elections, as well as the ups and downs of the business cycle.
In discussing the following questions, Papilion expressed optimism about current trends in the environmental segments and the growing sophistication of WSP as it serves customers and protects public health and natural resources.
Among the trends that inspire Papilion:
the increasing integration of climate change into investor strategies and financial regulation,
The continuous development of WSP into a top consulting and consulting company for sustainability and climate protection as well as risk management and
Greater integration of resilience and conservation into large public and private sector projects.
He also discussed some of the significant opportunities WSP have to address these trends and strengthen our position in the environmental industry, such as:
Applying the expertise of WSP’s recent acquisitions such as Golder, EarthCon and Climate Finance Advisors (CFA) to sell new services to private and public industries and clients, and
Leveraging new technologies and applications from WSP and acquisitions to position for larger multi-year remediation and restoration projects.
1. What is the current state of the environmental services market and what do you expect in the next two years?
The environmental market is booming, with significant growth driven by societal and scientific awareness, industry responses to climate change and focus on environmental social governance (ESG), and the change in the presidency administration in 2021. President Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiates new regulations to reverse previous government rollbacks, particularly on climate change. He has also requested a more than 20 percent increase in the EPO’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
We will also see a lot of growth from infrastructure spending.
But to respond to these demands, WSP USA and other environmental companies need to build up their human resources. Not only is there a struggle for new talent, but also to retain key employees as companies seek to hire industry veterans and specialists.
Looking to the future, many baby-boomer generation executives are retiring or will be retiring soon. That’s why we’re intensely focused on recruiting new graduates and even working with colleges to educate students about the growing opportunities in environmental and engineering fields.
2. What does WSP USA need to do internally to prepare for the generational change in leadership?
Offer more training opportunities. There is tremendous talent at WSP and we need to provide more training to enable junior and mid-level staff to meet the needs of clients and the demands of projects. Also, specialties are constantly evolving and additional training is required to keep up.
An emerging specialty where we are particularly focused on building our internal capacity and capabilities is climate-related financial disclosure and analysis. I am very pleased to add the experienced team from CFA, a small consultancy that has gained solid credibility with multilateral donors such as the World Bank as well as a number of private sector organizations and governments.
3. How is the climate crisis changing financial practices and what is WSP doing for clients in this regard?
This is a new priority that has been gaining real traction in recent years. Companies are facing new demands from investors and lenders to assess and disclose their climate risks – both the transition risks of changing energy and environmental policies and the physical risks such as extreme weather conditions and sea level rise – and explain how they are managing those risks to encounter .
The Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure, the Global Reporting Initiative, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, the International Integrated Reporting Framework Board and other organizations are calling for higher levels of integrity and transparency around environmental, social and governance (ESG) and climate issues in general.
We are expanding our talent pool to meet these growing demands, drawing on the recent CFA acquisition and other in-house climate, resilience and sustainability experts to provide cross-cutting training and specialized support. The big picture here is that our service portfolio is evolving from traditional environmental science, design and engineering to robust advisory capabilities around this epic shift that is happening.
The recent Verdantix Green Quadrant report, which ranks WSP along with ERM, EY and PwC as the top four providers of sustainability and ESG advisory services, reflects what we have already achieved.
4. What other trends do you think will shape environmental markets over the next year or two?
Corporate clients are renewing their approach to regulatory compliance and assessing their risks across their entire asset portfolio. This is being driven by the Biden administration’s priorities.
After the previous government’s emphasis on enforcement had eased, now environmentally responsible business leaders are rolling up their sleeves and working harder to meet these requirements.
5. The US Supreme Court is currently reviewing the EPA’s application of the Clean Air Act to greenhouse gases. Do you worry that a negative decision could ease the pressure on big issuers?
Large companies in the power, oil and gas, and other emissions-intensive industries know that the long-term trend is to reduce greenhouse gases and shift business models to lower-carbon activities. They hear this from their big institutional investors, from lenders, from their customers and other stakeholders.
A negative decision could take some of the regulatory pressure off major issuers, but the long-term trends are clear and strong.
6. What will the $1.7 trillion ‘Build Back Better’ infrastructure bills package mean for environmental services?
A few things. First, environmental analysis and mitigation will be required for all of these infrastructure projects, so our business will grow and drive the need to build human resources to meet regulatory compliance and avoid unnecessary delays in shoveling into the ground.
It will also be necessary to design durable infrastructure such as highways, bridges and rail systems for resilience and greenhouse gas mitigation. This is an evolving goal. You could say it means developing a resilient structure through the use of composite materials and with designs that can withstand sea level rise and other climate change impacts. But at the same time it includes the processes and materials used in construction.
There is a growing need to demonstrate concretely how these infrastructure projects will actually contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. This is an emerging opportunity for environmental scientists to work with engineers. I think that’s an aspect that will shape the way these big projects are designed and built.
Stay tuned for more environmental business observations from Dennis Papilion in Part 2.
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