For Steve Michelson, President of AWR Environmental, a leading west coast-based environmental and geotechnical services firm, and valued Land Science® client, overseeing a multitude of diverse responsibilities is a welcome aspect of his role, and is just one reason he enjoys his work. He begins, “We are a small boutique firm, and everyone wears a number of hats – except obviously, the principal roles. As both President and Principal, I’m responsible for the care of all our clients, and ensure we provide top-shelf technical solutions that are responsive to our client’s needs and constraints. In addition to directing the company, I strive to promote a corporate culture that emphasizes communication and creativity.” One element of the culture and work environment Michelson has fostered includes the encouragement of staff to respectfully challenge each other when reviewing nearly all written reports before submitting to the client- including his own. He continues, “The objective is to identify both supported and unsupported assumptions, with the goal of identifying our strengths and weaknesses in the analysis and technical solutions and strategies to resolve our clients’ challenges.”
Michelson founded AWR in 1997, after finding a way to combine his interest in the earth sciences and engineering with the emerging need to address the environmental contamination. He shares, “Initially, I had designs on becoming a petroleum exploration geologist and travelling the globe. However, when I graduated it was during one of the cyclical downturns in the petroleum industry, and luckily the early days of the environmental consulting marketplace. So now I still get to work for petroleum companies, but in a different capacity- solving their contamination problems.”
To prepare for a career that addressed his interest in both geology and the environment, he in essence created his own double major, earning BS degrees in Geology and Civil Engineering from Lehigh University. “I was actually the first to receive both degrees from Lehigh University. Upon beginning my studies, I found that civil engineering seemed too assured in having all the answers, and geology left way too many questions – so I ended up pursuing both. I eventually negotiated with several professors and department heads to develop what became a combined degree program upon my graduation. This academic background of geology and engineering has provided me with a good foundation for cleaning up the environment.” To remain current on new and emerging remediation technologies, and improvements to the implementation and operations of existing technologies, he is active in attending industry-related conferences and webinars. He adds, “Especially those oriented to leveraging the biological resources to degrade or fix the contaminant. I’m also diligent about staying current on trends in environmental science, especially improvements to site characterization and monitoring.” He feels his efforts, and those of his staff, will lead to additional growth, as AWR expands into the developer marketplace, where he feels clients will truly appreciate his firm’s responsiveness and the constructive relationships they have developed with regulators. He adds, “We are currently expanding into a market that provides services for dredging and beneficial reuse of dredged sediments in the San Francisco Bay and Delta, and also expanding into the cannabis marketplace.”
In working with Land Science, Michelson appreciates the company’s expertise and high service standards, and points to a recent project where significant vapor mitigation was required. He continues, “Land Science was extremely helpful to us in the design and implementation of mitigation measures at an 11-acre redevelopment in central Hayward, CA, where we’ve designed and constructed about 4 acres of vapor mitigation consisting of Nitra-Seal® and sub-slab ventilation and depressurization, coupled with 2,100 ft of soil vapor extraction.” In terms of specific product usage, in addition to Nitra-Seal®, TerraVent®, ORC®, and RegenOx® have been used. “All have proven very useful to mitigating risks and remediating contamination.” When not working out of the AWR Bay Area office, Michelson can be found enjoying the great outdoors- rock climbing. He also enjoys weightlifting, reading, gardening, and participating in martial arts.
When asked about the most demanding aspect of his work, Michelson says balancing the workload in the pipeline while avoiding overstaffing can be a challenge. He shares, “I’m rather dedicated to keeping staff engaged. Most staff have been with the company for over a decade and we all understand that one person’s success leads to success for everyone, and vice versa -all pulling in the same direction is critically important.” As one who has been working in the environmental field for over two decades, Michelson has had time to reflect on the past, with an eye toward the future of an ever-evolving industry. He continues, “For the future, the pendulum in California has clearly swung towards leaving more contaminants in the ground and mitigating the risks, rather than pursuing more thorough cleanup. While this may be a cost-effective approach for our clients, it is likely to pose challenges in the future when properties with residual contamination become available for sale and the pendulum swings back to seeking more cleanup. Some of our clients are sensitive to looking down the road and spending a bit more now to maximize future property values, while others less so.” And how would he encourage others to join in his field of study? He concludes, “ I would suggest those interested in helping to mitigate our environmental challenges obtain a technical yet multidisciplinary education that promotes an appreciation of complexities and the unknown, that fosters development of conceptual models to explain what can’t be seen, that acknowledges the vulnerabilities posed by unverified or unrecognized assumptions, that encourages respectful and professional discussion especially during disagreement, that teaches listening and speaking and writing skills as fundamental elements of communication, that emphasizes comprehension of the why as the basis for the how, and that rewards creativity.”
Land Science is proud to have Steve Michelson, President and Principal of AWR Environmental, as a valued client and partner in environmental remediation, and appreciates his wealth of experience and leadership in providing successful remediation and mitigation outcomes for Land Science and its clients.