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Heritage Environmental Services: the nation's largest privately held full-service environmental-management company.

Asphalt paving doesn't strike outsiders as a particularly high-tech business. Who could imagine, then, that an asphalt-paving company would give birth to what would become the nation's largest privately held full-service environmental-management company?

Such is the surprising heritage of Indianapolis-based Heritage Environmental Services. From its 1970 beginnings in the oil-reclamation business, the company has grown to become a major player in such diverse and complex environmental services as laboratory testing, site remediation, waste processing, emergency response and hazardous-materials transportation. All along the way, the company developed procedures and services for its own use, then found a great demand for such services among other companies as well.

"The company was started to recover oil from lubricants that are oil-water emulsions," says Ken Price, president of Heritage Environmental Services. Oil and water, he explains, don't mix, but detergents will blend them together into what are known as emulsions, which can lubricate machinery much less expensively than pure oil. "With time, bacteria devour the detergents and the emulsion starts to break, and the old lubricant has to be cleaned up."

And that's what Heritage did at the beginning. Originally, it was a part of Contractors United, a Columbus-based highway-construction firm that's one of a group of companies now known as the Heritage Group. The company developed a process using acids to break the oil-water emulsion. Contractors United used the reclaimed oil as a fuel for its asphalt hot-mix plants.

"Today, we recover 10 million gallons of oil every year," Price says. "We sell a lot of this to our companies and other asphalt-processing plants." The company also now treats and processes much more than oily lubricants, with other materials including sludges, lab chemicals, inks and corrosives.

While the initial business generated a lot of recycled materials, it also created some needs. "You have to be able to do a lot of testing, and we had our own lab," Price says. "Then we realized that other people needed those kinds of services, too." Thus was born what now is known as Heritage Laboratories, which specializes in analysis of waste oils, wastewater, drinking water and solid and hazardous wastes.

"Early on, we had a contractor that we used to transport materials in tank trucks," Price continues. "We bought that company, which became Heritage Transport." This division now operates a large fleet of tankers, other kinds of trucks, and specialized rail cars designed to safely move hazardous materials. "The transportation company does a lot of the automotive aftermarket, such as pickup of used crankcase oil. Most of it still is turned into recycled fuel oil."

Then came another logical diversification. "With time, a number of our customers had facilities that got into difficulties with contamination. Industrial sites often are contaminated over the years. A whole new industry grew up called remediation, which is a fancy word meaning 'cleanup,'" Price says. "As part of that we do emergency-response work. If a truck rolls over on the Dan Ryan Expressway in downtown Chicago, we'd probably be the people there cleaning up."

Heritage has continued to identify and meet customer needs through various specialized services. It operates a parts-washing service known as Crystal Clean, which handles the potentially dangerous chemicals that customers--such as auto-repair shops--need to clean used parts. It has a program to aid in the packing and labeling of laboratory-sized waste containers. "And we've actually gotten into the business of building and operating treatment facilities on customers' sites," Price adds.

With the diversifications and addition of services, Heritage Environmental Services has blossomed into a large corporation. "Our goal was to become a full-service environmental-management company," Price says. "In 1980, when I joined the company, we had 37 people. Today we're at 850. We believe we are the largest privately held environmental-management company in the country." Growth, he says, has been about 20 percent to 30 percent a year. Annual revenues have grown to exceed $100 million. And the company now has facilities in cities from North Carolina to Texas, with sales offices in locations as far as California.

With a vocal environmentalist now serving as the nation's vice president, an environmental company like Heritage would seem to have a bright future. Price acknowledges that the company's success has had a lot to do with governmental mandates. "We are a business that is largely an outgrowth of the decade of the environment, the 1980s, when a lot of laws came into effect. We fully recognize that regulation and enforcement are what made our business grow."

But, he says, the company also wouldn't have been as successful if it weren't for some forward-thinking clients in the days before heavy environmental regulation. "We were fortunate to identify some very good customers early on who desired to do things properly even when they didn't have to."

An advantage of Heritage's diversification is that it can continue on in spite of the passing of various environmental eras. "There was an industry built around the management of PCBs, which the country stopped manufacturing and importing in the early 1970s," he says, noting that polychlorinated biphenyls were used among other things as insulators in electrical capacitors. "We've gone through about 20 years of getting rid of those devices, and they're basically gone," he says.

"Another good example is underground storage tanks. In the mid-1980s the country came to realize that a lot of gasoline and chemical tanks that were underground were corroding and leaking. We've gone through a decade of removing tanks, and that business grew like mad, hit a peak, and probably will be gone by the mid-'90s."

Now, he says, there's a lot of business cleaning up sanitary landfills that have sprung leaks and are contaminating land and ground water around them. It'll take years to complete the necessary cleanups around the country, but that problem will eventually fade as well.

Is it possible that, someday, the nation will have solved all of its environmental problems and won't have a need for companies such as Heritage? Price doesn't think so. For one thing, cleanups are just a part of his firm's business. Heritage does much more than simply solve problems.

"And we still live in a heavily chemical world," he adds. Chemicals, some of them hazardous, are involved in the manufacture of virtually everything, "and there are byproducts that have to be managed, and that's going to continue forever."

And there's one other component of Heritage's success that's not likely to change, either. "We figure about 30 to 35 percent of what we do every day is the result of human error," Price says. "And human beings will continue to make mistakes."
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Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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