Margaret Knowlton on the Evolution of Brownfield Cleanup

Before she retires at the end of the month, Margaret Knowlton, currently Director of Environmental Risk, shared some insights into brownfield cleanup, a practice she began for Opus in the 1980s.

Margaret developed and managed the environmental risk management programs at Opus, including establishing goals, policies and procedures to comply with environmental regulations and industry practices. She joined Opus as a paralegal and has extensive experience with environmental due diligence, site remediation, risk analysis and environmental insurance relating to property ownership and development. She holds the Environmental Risk Management Designation from Texas State University.

In the 1980s, you recognized the need for brownfield cleanup. What did it require for you to create this new competency at Opus?

There were three major factors that opened the door for creating this new competency. First, no established program existed at Opus. Another was having resources available for professional development and networking within the newly-forming brownfield community that allowed me to sharpen my skills and develop relationships with leading professionals in the field. And finally, it was having senior leadership that was willing to listen and support a new approach to the business model.

What did you learn from that experience that has been beneficial to your career since then?

Seeing my ideas and efforts come to fruition and contributing to the success of those early projects was very rewarding. As a part of that process, I also found that taking the initiative and the time to develop systems and processes to make my job more effective and efficient proved to be immensely beneficial to my career.

What have been the biggest changes in brownfield cleanup since the 1990s? 

There have been numerous changes in the various aspects of brownfield cleanup over the years in the areas of laws and regulations, environmental science, health and safety, insurance and industry trends. Most significantly, adoption of the innocent prospective purchaser liability protection under the federal Superfund law spurred the creation of state voluntary cleanup programs to promote redevelopment of these sites.

What do you think is the greatest opportunity to develop or improve the cleanup of brownfields or its relation to the greater commercial real estate industry further?

The greatest opportunity to develop brownfields lies in urban areas where there tends to be existing infrastructure, access to transit and community support for revitalization. In terms of increasing the number of sites being cleaned up, more could be done to promote brownfield development through community education and outreach and by lobbying for cleanup funding sources. The greater commercial real estate industry could benefit from more interaction with the brownfield community to better understand the process, timing and costs associated with brownfield redevelopment. Featuring successful brownfield redevelopment projects in trade events or publications would further promote redevelopment of these sites.

What advice to you have for someone just starting out in commercial real estate? 

My advice is to develop relationships, not just with those in your industry but with brownfield professionals as well, such as environmental consultants, attorneys and insurance and those in the public sector that regulate and fund brownfield cleanup. It takes a team to redevelop these sites and establishing a pool of resources will help an inexperienced owner, developer or user get their site put into productive use.

What has helped you throughout your career to be adaptive to all the change that has occurred? 

It has been my good fortune to have had the opportunity to develop meaningful mentorship relationships through my career with professionals that are experts in their field. These mentors have provided a solid format for deepening my understanding in various disciplines, brainstorming to solve problems and arriving at creative solutions in this ever-evolving field.  Adapting to change has come naturally for me in being a part of the entrepreneurial spirit of the talented Opus team members.


We appreciate Margaret sharing her tremendous talent and time with us for this blog post and her career!


Read more about Margaret's expertise and career in our profile blog post.