When an unattended 74-car freight train derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., in 2013, not only were 47 people killed but almost five million litres of crude oil were spilled and more than 500,000 metric tons of soil over 30 hectares were contaminated. After the disaster, the Quebec Environment Ministry faced the daunting task of cleaning up the oil. They called Englobe.
For decades, before we collectively became concerned about sustainability, Englobe has been quietly offering and implementing environmental solutions to clients—whether they’re corporations, governments or municipalities—who desperately need them. Co-president Mike Cormier knows that’s a vague description for a vast company that does whatever it needs to do: “Essentially, we’re a professional environmental company of environmental engineers and specialists that uses applied sciences to make communities better,” he says. For example, if you’re building a highway or an airport runway, Englobe will help you make it both safe and environmentally responsible; if you’re remediating an old building site, monitoring asbestos or ensuring the materials in your stadium’s walls can safely support its steel roof, you’d bring in Englobe to consult and inspect.
Perhaps the best way to understand what Englobe does, says Cormier, is to look closely at the types of problems solved. In Montreal, Englobe is working diligently on the Réseau express métropolitain, the new light-rail transit project with 26 stations across the greater city centre. Englobe is tasked with regulating structural integrity, including geotechnical investigations and design, lab testing to determine the mechanical parameters of rock and soil, and supervising the environmental quality of reused and imported materials.
If all of that flew right over your head, don’t feel bad: “We are very specialized in the smallest of niche fields,” Cormier says, but since Englobe employs 2,400 environmental specialists across the country (and has a handful of staff in the U.K. and France), working in 64 offices, the business is actually as broad as it is niche. “Last year, we were involved in 20 of the 100 biggest infrastructure projects in Canada,” he says. “Typically we’re giving geotechnical advice about soil or engineering advice about structure, and we’re doing quality control testing to make sure the building meets the engineering quality requirements of the project.”
Another example: in 2011, the Toronto-Dominion Centre in downtown Toronto wanted to replace its roof with a vegetated roof system—also known as a garden. It was a lovely green idea, and the work of studying its feasibility and designing a space that delivered its environmental promises fell to the brains at Englobe. In five months, they prepared plans and specifications, monitored emissions and waterproofed the underside of the roof.
“Most consultants only give advice and don’t do much actual work,” says Cormier. What makes Englobe different is the massive scope brought by the designers and engineers who step into countless fields to apply their unique expertise. The company’s resumé includes skill sets such as material engineering (e.g., testing pavement on highways and runways); building sciences (i.e., stadium roofs or TD’s garden); environmental engineering (e.g., water and waste management); and supply chain quality (e.g., monitoring wind turbines).
The only thing all these endeavours have in common? They bring us slightly closer to a better, more sustainable and environmentally friendly world. And in an era of climate change and environmental destruction, Englobe isn’t a gloomy place to feel hopeless about the world around us—it’s a company that empowers employees to make a real difference and reap the benefits of actually doing something. “It’s very rewarding to see a site like Lac-Mégantic become clean and safe and beautiful again,” he says. Smaller projects do the same. “Cleaning up a contaminated river and seeing the fish come back? That’s really special. A lot of the people here are in it for that feeling.”
As for the future, Cormier sees a lot of the world’s problems with rare optimism: “These [problems] are actually attracting people to the field, not pushing them away, and this is especially true of young people,” he says. To find new thinkers, Englobe cultivates relationships with colleges and universities, scoops up summer students with keen enthusiasm, and gets deeply involved in every community it enters, looking for people with passion. “There’s a great need as we move forward,” he says, and Englobe is deliberately careful and obvious in appreciating each and every addition to the team. “We do ‘Thank You Day’ and stop all operations to say thanks and give awards and recognize the people who deserve it. For them, it’s not just a job—it’s a vocation.”