How did you get into environmental consultation?
I got into environmental consulting following completion of an undergrad Bachelors degree in environmental biology at UBC, then later did a Masters in Toxicology RMIT in Melbourne AUS. Basically I grew up in Squamish which was a heavy industrial town back then (pulp mill, chemical plant, sawmills, logging, etc) and spent all my spare time fishing, sampling and loving the outdoors and nature. Seeing the impacts from industry on the waters in Howe Sound and hearing the stories from my father about how great the fishing used to be, got me thinking about impacts on the environment, and really pointed me in a direction… even if I didn’t know it then.
Tell us about what a day in the life as a consultant looks like?
Well, there plenty of different services that environmental consultants provide, but essentially we’re hired to help organizations maintain compliance with environmental regulations, develop their internal environmental management systems and approach, assist them with permitting requirements for new projects, etc. It also depends a bit on your level of experience. There’s also many different aspects to environmental consulting from planning field programs, collecting samples (groundwater, surface water, sediment, soil, air vapour and particulate), health and safety is really important, to project management (writing proposals, budgeting/tracking projects, client relations), and the fun part doing the hard science evaluating and analyzing data, and putting the while picture together to provide recommendations and conclusions for clients and regulators.
Some days you might be out on a boat in heavy weather gear collecting samples from the bottom of the ocean and counting marine invertebrates for species composition and abundance, other days you might be in a dress shirt presenting your findings to clients and regulators in a board room. It really varies a lot, which is one of the best parts of being a consultant.
What are some misconceptions you've seen in the news and how the industry operates?
Well, I don’t seem to hear to much about consultants in the news, as we tend to operate behind the scenes for organizations and regulators that are in the news, but perhaps one misconception I’ve heard from cynics is the idea that consultants can be ‘bought’. In my experience I’ve never seen or could even imagine, that occurring. Most environmental consultants belong to professional associations like CAB (College of Applied Biology) or EGBC (Engineers and Geoscientists of BC) who have strict ethical standards, continuing professional development requirements, and practice guidelines. It would be absurd to risk one’s entire career and reputation by compromising your work.
What positive changes have you seen take place environmentally through the decades working in this industry?
No question there have been significant steps forward in terms of enhanced environmental legislation, protection of critical habitat, but also significant advances in environmental science that allow us to gain a better understanding of environmental impacts and therefore allow us to provide better recommendations and advice. A lot of what we’re still dealing with today are legacy impacts from historical practices. Certainly we’ve seen dramatic improvements in water and air quality in many areas as industrial practices have evolved to meet current regulations.