Margaret Knowlton: Producing Environmentally Sound Properties for Clients


​Our clients are at the center of everything we do. That's why our mission is stated in terms of their missions: Driven to exceed your expectations and empower your mission through the buildings we deliver. We believe those buildings should be thoughtfully designed, well-constructed and provide safe environments. Early in the process, well before construction starts, Margaret Knowlton is working to mitigate environmental risk for us and, ultimately, our clients.

Currently the director of environmental risk at Opus, Margaret balances both the art and science of this work, with a level of sophistication that's unique and highly valued in the industry.

Creating Value with a Completely New Practice

In the 1980s when strict liability laws were being imposed in real estate, environmental risk was an emerging field. Many properties with known or perceived environmental contamination and liability exposures (known as brownfield sites) sat idle, creating urban blight. As a commercial real estate paralegal, Margaret realized environmental protocols would become critical for real estate development, so she sought out experts, leveraged tools and gained knowledge through course work and earned a certification in environmental risk management to understand the regulatory and technical issues.

In 1988, Margaret joined Opus in the legal department. At the time, there was no formalized environmental practice and Opus' process to assess brownfield sites often resulted in turning down potential projects where environmental risk was identified. Realizing many of these sites actually had good potential, Margaret pioneered an environmental due diligence process and other vital environmental protocols for our development teams. She developed a strategic and standardized risk management model to minimize environmental liability exposure, giving us, our clients and financial partners greater confidence in their investments.

The protocols Margaret developed are increasingly critical to support continued development, particularly in urban areas where environmental risk is most complex. These protocols create a significant competitive distinction by allowing us to deliver projects on sites that are often perceived as undevelopable.

“Margaret's role in transforming contaminated project sites into productive real estate is critical to creating value for us and our clients," said her manager, Tom Hoben, vice president & general counsel for Opus Holding, L.L.C. “Her approach to environmental risk management and the protocols she's developed are unique and sophisticated to a point where other attorneys have asked if they could purchase these protocols for use by their clients."

In the past three decades, Margaret has applied her extensive experience in environmental due diligence, site remediation, risk analysis and environmental insurance to well-over a thousand projects. She has expanded and mentored her team as the demand for environmental risk management services has increased in the real estate development process.

Margaret is humble and credits great mentors and opportunities she was given along the way for her success. She pays it forward by being a leader in the industry. She has served on several committees and is currently a board member for Minnesota Brownfields, a nonprofit organization that promotes efficient cleanup and reuse of contaminated land as a means of generating economic growth, strengthening communities and enabling sustainable land use and development. Margaret is also an active MNCREW member, has multiple published articles, and is a frequent expert speaker at industry conferences and events.

“Most developers rely on consultants to manage their environmental affairs," said Margaret. “In order to make sound environmental decisions for the company, you need to understand the company's business, goals and risk tolerance. Relying on consultants to make environmental decisions can create a gap in assessing the company's environmental liability exposure. My role is to fill that gap."

We’re proud to launch a series of profiles featuring the experts who deliver value to our clients and partners. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, we’re featuring four women leaders. Check our previous profiles, including Beth Duyvejonck, Jennifer Koehler and Devon Coffey.

Filed Under: Our People