2010 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For

October 2010 » Features » BEST FIRMS TO WORK FOR
Making the best of tough times, these firms voice their employee appreciation and how they—€™ve weathered the storm.
Stephanie Hildebrandt

The All4 team gathers in front of their Kimberton, Pa., headquarters.

Engineers and other environmental professionals share a special responsibility when it comes to the environment. Implementing “green” business habits now can save the population money and resources later on. The following firms understand exactly that.

Specializing in environmental consulting and engineering, remediation/industrial services, testing and analytical services, and hazardous waste management services, the 2010 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For can take pride in the fact that they’re doing something right for the earth, their clients, and their employees. Congratulations to the top six!

The participants
This year, 15 firms applied for the honor of being named one of the 2010 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For. In light of this slow economy, this number is down from 34 applicants in 2009. However, this decrease is to be expected in times like these. Many firms cite reasons such as timing conflicts, workload, or staffing constraints for not participating. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that unranked firms dropped in the rankings.

Regardless, the clear difficulties environmental service firms are facing due to the economy makes this year’s firms even more noteworthy for offering above average workplace practices, employee benefits, and employee retention rates. Read on to discover how the top three firms battled the economy and survived, all while boosting company morale and maintaining client satisfaction.

The top three
First place: All4, Inc.
“Firms who continue to focus on the bottom line and care for their employees along the way will always succeed in the long-run,” said Judge Barbara Irwin, president of HR Advisors Group, LLC. And that’s just what All4 is doing.

The firm exceeded its financial plan for 2009, provided bonuses to its employees at the end of the year, implemented a schedule for salary increases for 2010, hired two new engineers and a project manager in 2010, and generated more than $1.1 million in new business development in 2009 to offset the $1 million loss in revenue due to the economy, said All4 President and CEO William Straub.

At the same time, the firm renovated the interior lobby and kitchen areas to give them a more domestic feel; continued to cover 100 percent of employee benefits; increased its life insurance and long-term disability (LTD) maximum (doubled the life insurance maximum and increased the LTD maximum by 40 percent); and even implemented a “dinner hero” program for employees working late, allowing them to place an order for themselves or their entire family and pick it up on their way home without paying a dime — the firm picks up the tab, said Brandie Moroskie, All4’s operations manager.

The ELM Group’s New York City office takes a minute to congregate and catch up before a scheduled meeting.

“At least three-quarters of the responding staff selected one of the two most positive responses on every question in the [Employee Survey], again demonstrating that management’s answers were spot on and that management is definitely listening to staff,” said Judge Bernie Siben, CPSM, principal consultant at The Siben Consult, LLC.

Employees even gave the firm high marks despite pay cuts in early 2009.

“All4 imposed a pay cut in early 2009, but when their responses to the crazy economy ultimately resulted in a profitable year, they returned the pay cut, restored salaries, and issued bonuses!” Siben said. “Many firms and their principals would have felt it sufficient to restore salaries and pocket the additional profits.”

“The main difference [between All4 and previous employers] is recognizing that a consulting company does not sell widgets. We are selling people and knowledge. As such, you must invest in your people and provide a working environment that encourages them to work hard and take care of our clients every day,” Straub said.

Second place: The ELM Group, Inc.
“I started the firm in 1989 to set up an environmental consulting firm that provided a platform for talented individuals to succeed, while also recognizing work/life balance issues, and avoid creating a culture of burnout,” said The ELM Group’s President and CEO Joseph Fallon.

In fact, employees described the firm in their surveys as “a culture which encourages an individual’s best work without management interference,” and “instilling a desire for all staff to excel,” according to Siben.

Employees are faced with a challenging workload, flexible hours, good benefits, and a reasonable work/life balance. In tough times, the firm encouraged professional improvement, such as education, and conferences, for its employees. Although the firm was forced to freeze salaries for a year and make limited reductions in staffing, it insisted on regularly communicating with its employees. It also increased its match in the employees’ 401k programs; increased the percentage of the cost of the medical and dental premiums which it pays to minimize increases for staff; added a voluntary vision plan; and increased the allowed employee contributions to its medical FSA, said office supervisor/HR coordinator Lee E. Wollenberg.

EnSafe employees — and owners — share a few laughs during a company photo in front of one of their nine offices.

Additionally, the firm “implemented a buddy program to pair new hires with experienced staff in the hopes of better integrating new hires into the firm and improving our retention rate (which is already high),” Wollenberg added.

“In a time when many firms have had to make major cutbacks and changes to the bottom line, I commend ELM for making a financial contribution to their employees’ 401k plan,” said Irwin. “This showed that while many firms were taking away or decreasing contributions, ELM was not only able to ‘weather the storm,’ but able to maintain their commitment to their employees.

Third place: EnSafe, Inc.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, EnSafe is a private global professional services company. And as of 2009, it’s 100 percent employee owned.

“Ownership transition continues to be a top priority for us,” explained EnSafe President, CEO, and founder Phillip G. Coop. “Not only was the company able to successfully repurchase all of the stock of a senior-level partner when he retired, we were also able to extend stock to more employees at year-end 2009 as a way to recognize loyalty, performance, and longstanding tenure.”

As an employee-owned company, EnSafe works to remain as transparent as possible with its employees. For instance, when the recession hit, the firm moved from quarterly to monthly financial reporting and shared revenue and EBIBT information on its intranet site, Coop said. “Not only did this build morale during stressful times, but it gave the employees ‘ownership’ of our performance,” he added.

In addition, the firm lowered the costs of co-pays for primary doctors and offers co-pay reimbursement for annual physicals to encourage its employees and their families to stay healthy.

“Despite a tough economy, this firm managed to provide raises and benefits to 100 percent of its employees,” said Judge Larry Gard, Ph.D., consulting psychologist at Gard Executive Consulting, LLC. “They generously extend benefits to part-time workers employed for as few as 20 hours per week.”

As a result of these initiatives, staff satisfaction improved in most areas from the 2008 to 2009 Best Firms To Work For surveys. The firm’s turnover also continues to decrease and its recruitment efforts have dramatically improved, Coop said. Plus, the company enjoyed a record bonus year in 2009 with a $1.4 million payout, according to the firm.

“The bottom line is that EnSafe realizes its growth and success is directly attributable to the people,” the company said. “Without their hard work and dedication, the company would not be where it is today, nor would it be as well-positioned for long-term success.”

The 2010 Best Environmental Service Firms To Work For
Rank Firm Number of established Year
Employees
Headquarters Website
1 All4, Inc. 21 2002 Kimberton, Penn. www.all4inc.com
  “At All4, it is the people that make the company and the company culture, so all these processes and systems are devoted to attracting, training, and retaining people — to make our culture and sustain it.”
2 The ELM Group, Inc. 53 1989 Princeton, N.J. www.exploreelm.com
  “Even with the bad economy, the slowdown in new work coming in, and the need to freeze salaries for 2009, we did increase our 401k match to help staff feel more financially secure and encouraged more training so that we would be ready for the recovery.”
3 EnSafe, Inc. 221 1980 Memphis, Tenn. www.ensafe.com
  “To build trust, we make the best decisions for our customers regardless of the impact to EnSafe.”
4 RW Armstrong 567 1961 Indianapolis www.rwarmstrong.com
  “Amid all the trials and tribulations, we have been able to take a wide variety of cultures and nationalities and blend everyone together to feel like family.”
5 Wessler Engineering 50 1975 Indianapolis www.wesslerengineering.com
  “Our employees look forward to coming to work every day.”
6 BrightFields 34 2003 Wilmington, Del. www.brightfieldsinc.com
  “We believe that we are a special firm with outstanding integrity driven to meet and exceed our client needs, but all of this in a can-do, positive, family-oriented culture that places high value on individual initiative, creativity, and support for one another.”
HM* Comprehensive Environmental, Inc. 25 1987 Marlborough, Mass. www.ceiengineers.com
HM* Enviromental Science Associates 300 1969 San Francisco www.esassoc.com
          *Honorable Mention

Conclusion
For an online listing of the Best Firms To Work For ranked by size visit www.cenews.com. Thanks to ZweigWhite, Stagnito Media’s partner in executing the Best Firms To Work For program on behalf of CE News and the Environmental Business Journal. And, of course, a special thanks goes out to all of the applicants, their staff, and our judges.

Best Firms To Work For ranked by size
Firms on the top 35 list range in size from 12 to 567 employees. While these firms share the same fundamental business model, firms of different sizes can offer their staff unique qualities, and gain advantages and disadvantages, dependent on their size. Therefore, we break out the top 35 to give firms a standing among like-size firms.


Top 2 Small Firms (<50)
1. All4, Inc. 21
2. BrightFields 34
 
Top 2 Mid-Size Firms (50-199)
1. The ELM Group, Inc. 53
2. Wessler Engineering 50
 
Top 2 Large Firms (≥200)
1. EnSafe, Inc. 221
2. RW Armstrong 567


 

The Judges    
Larry Gard, Ph.D.
Consulting Psychologist
Gard Executive Consulting, LLC
Chicago
Barbara Irwin
President
HR Advisors Group, LLC
Herndon, Va.
Bernie Siben, CPSM
Principal Consultant
The Siben Consult, LLC
Austin, Texas
 

Superlative spotlight
The following superlatives celebrate the noteworthy individual successes of firms for specific achievements, independent of their overall ranking:

Best Employee Survey Score
EnSafe, Inc.

Best Professional Development
Program
Wessler Engineering

Best Collaborative Environment
The ELM Group, Inc.

Best Employee Recognition Program
All4, Inc.

Best Recruiting & Retention Program
EnSafe, Inc.

 

Mark your calendar!
If your firm didn’t apply this year, if you didn’t make the list, or even if you are a ranked firm, you are encouraged to apply next year. To be sure you don’t miss out on the 2011 application information, sign up today for our Contact List at www.bestfirmstoworkfor.com/2011. We’ll notify you directly via e-mail when the 2011 applications are posted online. One important note to newcomers: Rest assured that the names of firms that apply but do not make the list will not be revealed. Hope to see you on the list in 2011!


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events