ASX-listed consultancy Pacific Environment is growing its technology division with monitoring and automation solutions to improve companies’ performance and compliance.
As the amalgamation of four environmental consulting businesses, Pacific Environment (ASX: PEH) has a proven track record as a leading Australian environmental technology and consulting company and a reputation that far exceeds its five years on the ASX. The company provides specialist expertise in air quality consulting and monitoring, toxicology and technologies to a client base that spans Australia and includes clients in New Zealand, Africa, the US and Europe.
The company’s Chief Executive Peter White, appointed in 2012, completed the integration of the four companies, enabling the offering of an integrated service package from all states across Australia. White has had a long career of working in consulting companies, from large multi-nationals to small privately owned businesses, across a broad range of industries in Australia, Asia and Europe.
Pacific Environment’s 75-strong staff now offers services in four areas of business – consulting, technologies, monitoring and toxicology. The company is made up of experienced practitioners recognised for their ability to work with their clients in solving today’s complex environmental issues. More than 50% of the consultants hold PhDs or Masters degrees in engineering and science.
Pacific Environment’s longest-established business is in Consulting, where its particular specialisms are air quality (including dust and odour), carbon and climate, and acoustics. “We have the biggest air quality practice in Australia – our reach extends across all of Australia’s mainland states,” says White. “This means we have good coverage across the country, to best serve our diverse customer base.”
Pacific Environment has customers within agriculture, energy, mining, industrial and other sectors. As an environmental consultancy, it typically advises customers on environmental regulations and helps them take the necessary measures to meet these requirements. However, Pacific Environment always aims to make its assistance go further.
“A lot of our work is driven by regulatory requirements; we help our clients ensure environmental and regulatory compliance, minimise risk, and manage liability,” explains White. “But at the same time, we’re helping them maximise their operational efficiencies.”
Helping companies maintain their compliance, as well as other operational advantages, is where Pacific Environment’s other, more hands-on divisions come into play. Within its Monitoring division, Pacific Environment can supply instruments to provide real-time monitoring of air quality, acoustics and toxic particles. It specialises particularly in monitoring emissions – for example, determining whether emissions from industrial stacks comply with regulatory limits – and ambient monitoring for mining and industry.
Approximately 40% of Pacific Environment’s business lies within Australia’s mining sector, where close monitoring can be essential in ensuring compliance with the industry’s many regulations.
“Coal, iron ore and base metal mines, especially, need to be careful with the amount of dust pollution they give off from their activities such as open-cut mines and materials handling,” remarks White. “This comes into play with bulk handling at ports as well, where dust comes off stockpiles and handling of coal, iron ore, ore concentrates and refined products. Monitoring such situations is especially important if they are located close to towns, as they can have significant environmental impacts without effective management. Our monitoring technology can alert customers to any kind of situation.”
Pacific Environment typically offers a three-year monitoring service, for which the customer pays a monthly fee. The equipment, which comes from Australian, American and German suppliers, is built to last far beyond those three years.
Monitoring is all very well, but, once an issue is detected, it is not always possible to react with sufficient speed to prevent non-compliance or potential damage.
Pacific Environment’s newest division aims to find new ways of avoiding such problems.
The Technologies division has developed systems that prevent environmental issues from arising – either by providing predictions that allow companies to act pre-emptively to limit risk, or by automating preventative actions without human involvement.
Pacific Environment’s predictive technology takes the form of a cloud-based system that uses complex weather-modelling techniques to forecast the following day’s environmental conditions.
“The system sends the customer a one-page report every morning, and they can log in via the internet at any time, pick up the data for their site and plan their operational activities around it,” White explains. “For example, a coal mine may use that data to decide when to blast on a given day – if the wind or other weather conditions are not conducive to that, they might plan to do something else. This system helps companies save time and money, and prevents from overstepping environmental regulations.”
Pacific Environment is extending its solutions to include an option to operate autonomously. This version of the system will be ready within the next 12 months.
The technology aims to prevent environmental issues from arising in real time, by automating an immediate response to halt the development of a problem.
“Say there were strong gusty winds blowing while a stacker loads a stockpile of iron ore in a port, for example, which might blow dust into a nearby down,” White proposes. “Our system could detect that dust movement and automatically turn on a set of water cannons to mitigate the amount of dust put out into the air, to ensure the company doesn’t create some kind of environmental incident.”
Pacific Environment has been developing its Technologies division for over five years, and in the past two years has signed contracts with some of Australia’s largest miners, ports, smelters and heavy industry companies.
“We began rolling out our technology only two years ago, so the potential for growth is something I’m very excited about,” says White. “We’re looking into how we can develop it quickly. We’re currently taking our technology through a commercialisation process that will allow us to scale it much better, and looking at taking it to the export market as well.”
Pacific Environment’s latest financial results indicate that this is an exciting time for the company in general. It achieved its best-ever half-year revenue and profit in the first half of 2013 – the result of improving its internal integration and efficiency, says White. It is the perfect foundation from which to start reaching towards its large ambitions.
“Our overall objective is to look at growth, and I would say we want to be 300-400% bigger in three years’ time,” he adds. “We’re looking at acquisition strategies to help us do that –looking at companies in aligned environmental technological areas that would make a good fit for our company.”
Over the next 12 months, in addition to releasing and commercialising its technologies, Pacific Environment seeks to grow its business in oil & gas, increase its monitoring projects and seek strategic partnerships overseas. Ultimately, White wants Pacific Environment’s technology division to become its largest business and receive global acclaim.
“Our vision is to further penetrate the environmental technology sector using our very strong consulting base as a differentiator, and to really lead the world in our areas of environmental technology.”