Disrupting the Consultancy Model

air quality consultancies and defensible data

Article Details

Last Updated

30 March 2024


18 November 2019



Change the only certainty for environmental consultants – that and defensible data

The pace of technology in the air monitoring world is not only outstripping the ability of people to respond to the changes, but it is also modifying existing behaviours and introducing new players into the mix – the results of disrupting the consultancy model are more challenges, more opportunities and more change.

Technology is both driving and being driven by social change, which is itself a primary response to greater public awareness and concern for environmental issues like global warming and pollution. In turn, an agitated public puts pressure on regulatory authorities, corporations. This pressure results in demand for the services of environmental and air quality consultants.

The key drivers appear to be:

  • Evolving technology (both portable, cheaper and more functional)

  • Environmental consciousness as a social movement

  • New industry stakeholders and more diverse clientele

  • The regulatory response

  • Air quality monitoring industry response e.g. best practise, defensible data

  • Scale

SVP of Emerging Technologies, Montrose Environmental Group, Peter G Zemek, believes ever-evolving new technology – such as air quality sensors – is being driven by public demand rather than by government or industry.

“Community groups are better informed and better educated than ever before, and they want to know what’s going on, so they put pressure on regulatory bodies who respond with better regulations and better education. In turn, better technology is required.

“Essentially, the rise of public participation in the air quality sector creates scale and that will force change in our business models, systems, processes and approaches to best practice in the air quality monitor business.”

Innovation is needed to meet disruption

Thought leader Hugo Morena, former editorial director at Forbes Insights – the strategic research and thought leadership practice of Forbes Media – believes there is a need to reinvent business models in a disruptive world.

“The economic stratification of society will demand discrete segmentation strategies to satisfy clearly disparate functional and emotional needs,” he says.

A recent survey of 576 executives across a broad range of professional consultancy services throughout North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, reveals that client expectations are increasing, including demands for more services, while global competition is ramping up. Current workforce structures, they say, are unable to cope.

Consultancy UK reports that the professional services world is undergoing a period of major change.

“New, lean, digitally capable challengers are emerging in the sector, and resourcing models are being disrupted. These compounding pressures are driving significant transformation and pushing professional service providers into a new era of services delivery.”

The shape of air monitoring consultancies to come

Vice President, Project Director, National Practice Leader for Ambient Air Monitoring Services at SCS Engineer out of Sacramento, Paul Schafer doesn’t believe there is any one answer because the situation is just too dynamic.

“The answer for some air quality monitoring consultants, in terms of business model, will be more of a commodity exercise. For others it will be a focus on high level expert work.

“Either way, air quality monitoring cannot do without the need for defensible data, accuracy and precision. At the moment however, the technology is moving faster than the sophistication of the people employing that data.”

Schafer believes there are a lot of people involving themselves in air monitoring without the necessary history and expertise in the field.

“The result is a lot of sensors being installed that do not have the end use of that data at the forefront of their purpose. When you make the end use purpose central to every project, you quickly realise it’s not a good idea to get married to specific technologies – you make use of what is most appropriate for the job here and now.”

Schafer says that communities, cities, etc. are buying all sorts of sensors and deploying them without real regard for accurate, defensible data.

“And that’s ok, so long as the data isn’t needed for high end decision making, where a greater level of accuracy is required because life and laws depend on it. The upshot is that the top end of the industry will stay as it is for the time being. The stakes are too high for it not to.”

The community an emerging factor

Senior technologist and air quality monitoring specialist at Jacobs in Portland, Jodi Lee, says that in her business, there’s always been a wide range of clients with different needs, but she can see how community monitoring may require a more packaged approach.


“I have work plans and strategies I apply to different clients. We’ve developed tools to deal with large volumes of data where we’re able to apply those tools to a broad spectrum of clients, which translates into lower costs, but also better efficiencies for us.

“There is also a growing global market because we’re all in air quality together, and it’s all changing so quickly. The emergence of sensor technology, community monitoring, big data and the Internet of Things – change for all of us, is a certainty.”

Change is good for consultants

Lee says the changes may suit smaller, more agile companies which can add, alter or adjust services as needed.

“I think the desire and need for what we offer will grow as people become more educated and aware. Greater volumes of data will require scientists who can validate that information.”

Lee says she is upbeat about the future for environmental consultants who can only benefit from change, growth and technology.

“Three years ago, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in sensor technology, and I was concerned the technology was in the wrong hands and that it could be used inappropriately. But the technology is getting better, and it’s all good so long as air quality professionals are part of the process.”

In the end

The upshot appears to be that some air quality consultancies will adopt a more commodity based service to meet the needs of new customers like community pressure groups, while others will prefer to work the corporate end of the market, which is itself likely to face greater scrutiny from regulators and local communities. It’s where the data must be defensible to even the most intense scrutiny.

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