Communities, plants and protected species: it’s all a question of balance for the Englobe team. Philippe Charest-Gélinas, biologist and project manager, has been working in the environmental and social impact studies team at Englobe since 2015. His main goal is to promote sustainable and responsible development of projects while minimizing their impact on the environment. Every day, he studies and documents the environmental and social impacts of projects of varying sizes that may affect certain wildlife or plant species that inhabit the area in question.
First of all, can you explain why it is so important for you to ensure projects are developed in harmony with nature and their surroundings?
As a biologist, my work in accompanying developers who are carrying out projects that may be harmful to the environment can sometimes seem contradictory, but I truly believe that our efforts in these projects benefit society. It is extremely satisfying to know that a project can go forward when the environmental impacts have been mitigated as much as possible, to the point of making it acceptable, but also so that the client benefits significantly, as well as the community. I am fortunate to play a role that allows me to see our interventions materialize into real improvements that better protect the environment, while encouraging responsible and sustainable development.
Working in such a context, constantly learning, being empowered by Englobe to contribute to different projects and make Englobe shine with clients, are for me, continuous sources of motivation.
I have the opportunity to develop my career within an experienced multidisciplinary team that provides everything a client needs to undergo the environmental authorization process and realize a project. This allows me to grow professionally and see projects come to fruition that serve the community, while being as environmentally acceptable as possible. Being part of these large environmental and social impact studies and playing a pivotal role in them, ensuring a link between the different components of the projects, is a challenge but a challenge that elicits constant motivation.
What must be considered before starting work?
It’s a process: When it comes to large-scale construction projects, the first step is to obtain environmental permits. This important and necessary step sometimes requires us to carry out very detailed studies, notably through environmental impact studies. These studies allow us to determine the extent to which the ecosystem is potentially impacted by the project, whether it be a river, the soil, or the air quality.
When a client awards a contract to Englobe, we work closely with the project team and the community in which the project is located to ensure both economic and environmental concerns are addressed.
What are the steps involved in conducting an environmental study, for example?
First, the baseline condition must be determined – that is, the general portrait of the flora, fauna and all other components of the environment likely to be affected by the project – even before the predictive analyses can take place. Once the analyses are complete, the client can be told “this is what will change in the habitat if we build here, or dig there…”. One of the best examples of specific studies is a recent habitat analysis of a currently protected freshwater fish species. To do this, we had to go through various inventory and tracking methods, including telemetric tracking to capture their movements. This proven method allowed us to see where the fish are located in the habitat and where their vital habitats may be (such as a spawning ground). Of course, since this is a protected species, we don’t want to disturb the behaviour of the fish, so a technique like telemetry was a solution.
Can you tell us a bit about telemetry?
First, a number of fish must be captured in the habitat that will be studied. Then, transmitters are inserted into their abdominal cavity through a surgical procedure. These transmitters will remain in the fish for their entire lives without affecting them. Receivers that are attached to terminals are then immersed in the water at strategic locations and they record the movements of each tagged fish swimming by. After some time, the data is retrieved and Englobe specialists process it to determine the positioning of the fish, and then map the most intensively used areas. This knowledge is documented in an independent sector study that is then integrated into the environmental impact study. It is then used to assess the potential impacts of the project by having a better understanding of the environment that will be affected. This environmental and social impact study (sometimes thousands of pages long and taking several years to compile!) is submitted to the authorities (e.g. the Ministry of the Environment) who will make the final decision on whether or not the construction project is authorized and can proceed as planned.
What are the other considerations?
Since the projects are implanted in environments close to the citizens and often on Indigenous land, we must always consult the community and the First Nations of this territory before starting anything. Each project has its own issues and we always try to put ourselves in the residents’ shoes by asking questions such as: Will the air quality be affected by the work and to what extent? What about emissions from heavy machinery or additional traffic? Will the noise from the machinery be so loud that it will create issues in the surrounding neighbourhood?
On the other hand, the benefits to the population if the project goes ahead are evaluated. Will the project create jobs? In the short term and/or long term? Revitalizing a once thriving neighbourhood that has been dormant for a few years can have a significant positive impact on the local economy and the region in general.
It’s always a question of balance and these studies help us provide the necessary documentation for authorities to make informed decisions. We work closely with the client to provide a better understanding of the environmental and social issues in order to optimize the project and reduce the perceived impacts. It’s a very rewarding process.