Back in the mid 1990’s our principal was running a small environmental consultancy and had the bright idea that there must be some commercial value in collecting environmental data, in the form of national datasets for it’s own site evaluation processes.
Datasets were acquired and developed into a simple database called ‘ContamiCheck’, the value in the reports was thought to be attractive to solicitors, surveyors and other property professionals to provide basic environmental due diligence on sites they were acquiring or selling for their clients.
The initial reports were very simple, paper delivered assessments of which a few dozen were produced each month. Eventually, this database was taken out from the former business and used as the basis for an ambitious punt at acquiring venture capital to build a new stand alone business.
Metropolitan Venture Partners provided the first tranche of about £650k investment, for the new Company -Groundsure in 2000 and the business launched in 2001.
The Company grew and developed, one of only three key businesses in the fast evolving environmental data market. In April 2007 Emap Ltd announced its acquisition of the entire shareholding capital of GroundSure in a deal valuing the business at around £45 million.
Our principal was recently engaged on an interesting business development opportunity in Libya during this time, spending an initial visit in conjunction with the Middle East Association in Tripoli, but quickly augmenting this with local visits to known Libyan business contacts in country.
At this time, Colonel Gaddafi was still in power, and it was clear there was a vast appetite in Libya for knowledge transfer, reliable and experienced training and specific skills in risk assessment, land contamination and waste management. Visits followed with senior commercial parties and we were on the brink of landing a major opportunity for a series of prestigious presentations to the Oil & Gas Industry. We also established some interesting commercial linkages, which were cemented at one of our meetings in the stunning Roman city of Sabrata, to which we were given sole access for a personal visit one day.
Then the revolution came, and quite rightly all these plans were put on temporary hold whilst we prayed our Libyan friends would be safe. They were, so whilst the new Libya rebuilds itself and its civic institutions we decided to get together with two other companies, Common Resource Ltd and Scientists International Ltd to develop a new platform for Anglo-Libyan co-operation.
The emphasis is on capacity building, bringing together our in-depth knowledge of social and environmental systems to assist in the redevelopment of civic society in Libya.
We have already attracted the interest of a significant number of skilled and experienced environmental and socio-economic scientists, engineers and energy specialists. We are in the process of developing a structure that will allow full participation and involvement in the project. This will be augmented by an ARABIC translation service will facilitate participation by a wide variety of UK and Libyan Businesses, and provide a focus for pre-existing contacts in Libya who already support our project.
We are awaiting the outcome of the July 2012 elections in Libya, as is everyone, and hope that our efforts and energy and the opportunity to develop commercial, social and intellectual links with our friends in Libya will be hugely successful.
One of the more interesting companies formed by our MD back in the 1980’s, was Tecnitas (UK) Limited.
In the mid 80’s he had joined the International Certification Organisation Bureau Veritas S.A., which at the time offered onshore and offshore industrial and marine inspection services, certification and a range of allied surveys.
At this time, Bureau Veritas SA had no environmental scientists, or subsidiaries so our MD suggested to the Group that if he could find fee-paying work in the environmental sector, this could be carried out within the Group, and he would get himself a job.
He did; and early high profile headline projects with the UK Geothermal site at Rosmanowes Quarry in Cornwall, better known as the “Hot Dry Rocks Project” established the fledgling business with its environmental sensitivity mapping skills, all doe by hand then, there was no GIS to fall back on.
The success of the business, both in the UK and overseas led to him setting up a purpose-built business under the aegis of the consultancy arm of Bureau Veritas, called Tecnitas SA, based at the time in La Défense, Paris. This new subsidiary was called Tecnitas (UK) and located in London Bridge, London.
The Company quickly grew on the back of the new Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, and carried ot a number of major projects over the years. The best know of these were pipeline EIA’s, and major surveys and planning statements were prepared for the 238 km long UK ‘Finaline’, a high pressure white oil products line running between the Lindsey Oil refinery in Humberside and the later notorious Buncefield Terminal near Hemel Hempstead, as was as the aviation kerosene line to Manchester International Airport.
Another Company that we were involved in founding was ERIS, Environmental Risks Insurance Services. We had been aware for several years of the significant issues associated with brownfield sites, which as these became better known during the 1980’s and 1990’s started to slow, and then raise significant concerns for high value commercial property transactions.
Our MD teamed up with Roy Bays, who had retired from his exceptional career in the UK insurance industry, and a founder, in his own right of the Cork, Bays Fisher Insurance Group, a highly innovative business which developed the first real holiday insurance product.
The new insurance brokerage business established underwriting lines with AIG and Reliance Group, taking one of the first Environmental Impairment Liability policies into the marketplace.
It was an interesting adventure and whilst a number of successful policies were underwritten on behalf of clients during the mid 1990’s, there were insufficient Clients who understood the value of this type of insurance, to facilitate property transactions.
This was in contract to the standard insurance against insurance risks in the marine environment, where specific policies underwritten by Lloyds Open Form had provided an insured contingency fund, for dealing with risks from fire, cargo contamination and oil pollution.
Those were the days, back in 1984 when our Managing Director formed his first consultancy business. Put together in a single one-bed flat in Covent Garden, the business was designed to provide a team of ecological specialists to carry out ecological surveys and wildlife recording in the UK.
In those days, we couldn’t even find a heading for environmental consultants in the telephone directory! However the business initially found premises in Haslemere, Surrey and carried out some interesting projects in the early days, with some interesting formative work for the onshore oil exploration boom at the time, as well as work on the 1st Licensing Round for Offshore Oil Exploration.
The early work the Company developed was very much a case of convincing those engaged in greenfield development that they needed environmental expertise, provided at the outset by two of the founders, who had worked/and are also still working for English Nature (formerly the Nature Conservancy Council).
There were no mandatory requirements for EIAs on major developments at this time, and the novelty of engaging with commercial developers involved us in some interesting television coverage at the time.
The concept was obviously a good one, as Bioscan UK Limited is still running after 28 years…..
In 1991, our senior consultant was asked to form an environmental consultancy business for Central and Provincial Management Ltd (CPM)., a wholly owned subsidiary of the London and Devonshire Trust Ltd.
The environmental business sat alongside CPM’s commercial property management and surveying business formed earlier in 1984. The early venture into the environmental consultancy business was cleverly judged to piggyback on the 2000+ commercial and industrial properties managed by CPM for their Clients.
In 1993, the slump in the UK commercial property market provided an opportunity to carry out a MBO of the fledgling business, hardly two years old. This was incorporated and a new Board brought together a skilled team of NED’s, the Company going on the grow continually over the next decade, providing services in the UK and worldwide in environmental auditing; due diligence; contaminated land assessment; marine oil and chemical pollution and providing the platform from which a number of other ventures were founded.
These included ContamiCheck, later to be become the founding dataset for Groundsure Ltd., ERIS (Environmental Risk Insurance Services Ltd) and insurance brokerage providing Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) Insurance and the Environmental Data Association.
Key officers of the Company went on to become senior directors in a number of leading environmental consultancy businesses throughout the United Kingdom.
In 2005, a small group of partners were examining how they could exit from the company they were currently employed by and develop their own Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) business, with very low capital.
One of our Directors helped co-ordinate the exit from the former company and provide the corporate set up of the Company from offices in Surrey. The launch of the new business was timed to co-incide with a major international campaign centred around this type of waste, the RSA WEEE Man Project. Coupling the launch with that of the 27,000 membership base of the RSA gave unprecedented access to the media, a resource the new company could not hope to have access to, and was ideal for raising public awareness nationally and internationally.
The Company quickly launched with a tailor-made book of B2B business negotiated as part of the exit agreement and access to the important Operators Licence (for running commercial HGVs) was secured through one parties ‘grandfather rights’, allowing the Company to have livery written vehicles on the road, within a month.
These and over activities meant the company had virtually immediate cash-flow, which successful grants were made to Waste resources Action Programme (WRAP) and further commercial lending secured. Important trading accreditations ISO 9000 and ISO14000 were secured within the first years trading too!