Using Technology to Save the Earth – Greg Smith

Greg Smith

Greg Smith (B.S '02) has been working with J.F. Brennen Co. Inc., a company that specializes in environmental remediation, among other environmental projects. Smith has been instrumental in increasing the company's efficiency and effectiveness in completing large-scale projects.

Water is a resource that many take for granted in today’s world.  It is a resource that can be manipulated for our use but it also a resource that can cause headaches and sometimes great distress. Work must be put into protecting it and proliferating its safe use as a natural resource. Greg Smith, a 2002 UNI graduate with a B.S in Construction Management is currently working for J.F. Brennan Co, Inc. based out of La Crosse, WI. Brennan is a marine construction company specializing in lock & dam construction, dredging and environmental remediation.

Smith’s time at UNI was extremely helpful to his development as a professional and “helped to provide the foundation for what I needed to enter the construction industry,” he said. His favorite memories from UNI come from his time in construction classes. Many of the friendships he formed there still remain intact today.

After graduation, Smith traveled from coast to coast for environmental projects. Many of these projects lasted anywhere from months to years. In time though, he finally settled in Green Bay, Wisconsin and began work at Brennan where he rose to the position of Assistant Environmental Division Manager. While he still travels across the country for Brennan, most of his work stays inside of NW Wisconsin.

His time in the field has been extremely productive – Smith has been an active force in environmental remediation and dredging not only in hard work and dedication but also in innovation.

“I have been awarded the Deb Buhr Award from Brennan which is in dedication to excellence, selfless commitment to duty, cost consciousness, and overall cooperation,” Smith said.

In addition, he has also helped develop a groundbreaking patent that is now an industry leading process in transporting and installing materials such as sand and gravel in contaminated sediments for environmental remediation purposes. To go along with this patent, Smith is also working with a team to pilot an experimental capping plant using activated carbon. This project is also groundbreaking and he hopes to have testing completed by the end of the year and a full test by next summer.

However, environmental remediation can also be a very tricky business.

“Typically our clients are being forced by some regulatory agency to clean up the contaminated areas.  Most of our clients used to see this as a liability with no value to their bottom line.   Because they were paying for something they didn’t want, most of the projects in the industry would be delayed as much as possible to avoid the cost of the remediation,” he stated.

There is also the issue that in the past when the technology was relatively new and the industry was young, results on remediation were mixed. In recent years though, the technology has improved and fewer companies see the cost of postponing projects as beneficial. Furthermore, governmental environmental agencies also see remediation projects as increasingly beneficial as more scientific studies are released about the long-term environmental benefits. 

In the future, Smith hopes to continue his work at Brennan and expand the company to new markets while maintaining the company’s industry-leading edge. In his free time, he hopes to continue building things – anything he says, for himself, his family or others. He also finds himself enjoying fall and winter activities as the summer dredging season takes up a considerable amount of time.

His advice for his fellow alumni is to make two lists daily: The first should be what you need to accomplish that day, and the second is what you need to accomplish in the future. Lastly, he advises that everyone should have a plan B, as even the most intensively planned things in life can face challenges. Said as a true construction professional, a backup plan will keep you ‘operationally efficient.