Helping firms go green
Demand for company’s environmental consulting services is ‘exploding’
Richard Brunet’s clients don’t always like hearing what he has to say. A biologist by training, Mr. Brunet advises businesses on how to minimize their impact on wildlife and their habitats. He also helps government agencies protect animal populations.
“They sometimes don’t think we’re working for them,” Mr. Brunet said, referring to the frank opinions he has to dish out to corporate clients as managing director of Envirotel 3000 Inc. in Sherbrooke, Que. Times are changing. “Until the 1980s and ’90s, the dollar was the only bottom line,” he said.
But with environmental concerns now at centre stage, Mr. Brunet helps clients tend to their ethical bottom line and appeal to eco-conscious consumers.
“We are now an added-value,” he said of Envirotel’s consulting services.
Mr. Brunet starting doing environmental consulting work in the 1980s while still a student at Université de Sherbrooke and later Université Laval.
That was in the days when environmental science was still an emerging discipline.
“At the beginning, it had difficulty finding its footing and to be taken seriously,” said the stocky Mr. Brunet, whose office attire is a work shirt, jeans and sturdy hiking shoes.
When he founded Envirotel in 1989 with three biologist-partners, their first consulting contract was mapping zones of ecological “interest” in Quebec for a United Nations agency.
Aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney was another early client. Envirotel advised the firm on how to minimize the risk of birds getting caught in engines.
A decade later, with stricter environmental regulations becoming the norm, Envirotel was well on its way. In 2001, it merged with Innovations Trionyx Inc., a company focused on R&D and making devices used in environmental monitoring.
At the same time, a group of private investors that backs “green” businesses came on board to fund Envirotel’s expansion. (Mr. Brunet declined to identify them.)
Envirotel is based at no-nonsense offices in an industrial park in Sherbrooke, where muddy gumboots sit near the door, ready for trips into the field.
The company has 14 full-time and about 30 part-time staff members, mostly biologists with advanced degrees, plus some technicians and an engineer. Envirotel also draws on the expertise of university researchers.
Many of Envirotel’s employees work remotely and are scattered around the province. Mr. Brunet himself is often on the road.
With business in Canada growing, the company soon will open a Calgary office. Its products are already in use in Europe, Africa and Australia.
Keeping track of wildlife populations is a core part of Envirotel’s business. The company has invented novel technologies like fish counters using laser beams that can be submerged in rivers. When fish trigger the beams, they transmit data to computer spreadsheets.
For more elusive
like cougars or snow leopards, Envirotel developed a technique that uses sex pheromones (chemical signals) to lure creatures into marking their territory and leaving DNA traces for researchers to analyze.
Another device identifies the calls of various species of bats, many of which are endangered in Quebec.
As for work with corporate clients, Mr. Brunet said few are proactive when it comes to minimizing their environmental footprint.
“A lot of companies are always in crisis management,” Mr. Brunet said.
That means Envirotel has to drum up answers quickly.
“People call with problems and we have to come up with solutions, be innovators,” he said.
These days, Mr. Brunet said the demand for his services is “exploding.” But that’s not because corporate citizens are voluntarily changing their ways; it’s still rare to find progressive thinking on the environmental front, he said.
“It’s really citizens who will make the difference,” he said. “Companies have to be forced to go green.”