Class Action 

By Dawn Wiseman

Concordia’s new buildings integrate some of the latest ideas in energy efficiency for lighting, heating and cooling. Recent renovations in some of the older buildings have significantly increased their energy efficiency as well. The university has enthusiastically embraced recycling and composting — you can even get red wigglers that will eat your trash at home from the Hall Building greenhouse. As a community we have made significant strides in lessening our environmental impact.

But consider for a moment the construction of John Molson School of Business’s new home at the corner of Guy St. and De Maisonneuve Blvd. For the time being, it is having a less than stellar impact on the surrounding area. Foot and vehicle traffic is a mess, the site produces large amounts of dust, and it’s noisy.
“We don’t think about noise as pollution too often,” said Catherine Mulligan (Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering), “but it is”.

This term Mulligan is teaching CIVI 464 Environmental Impact Assessment. The very practical class focuses on evaluating how projects will impact their surroundings throughout their entire life cycle.

“Ideally, you want to start an EIA at the time of conception,” she explained. “That way if you’re building on polluted ground, it can be taken care of before construction begins, either through clean-up or relocation.”

In Canada, projects of a certain size legally require EIAs for approval. “This work is actually the bread and butter of environmental engineers” Mulligan said. “There is much more work in trying to avoid problems before they begin, than in cleaning them up afterwards.”

She added that certain types of project, like nuclear power plants, require EIAs no matter what their size, and that government grants even for small projects often stipulate EIAs in the contract. So do projects in aboriginal communities.

“I once did a EIA for a paintball field in Kahnawake,” she laughed. “The key concern was the type of paint in the pellets and whether it would eventually leach into the local water table.”

Mulligan’s students get hands-on experience in the class. Their term project requires that they undertake an EIA for a project currently under review.

“I suggest that they find the project on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency site, but other than that they have a lot of leeway.” This term, one group has already decided to examine a landfill site, while another is looking at the potential impact of a new bridge.

Mulligan says that in some ways the senior level course is not very scientific, “EIAs involve a lot of common sense, a lot of following procedures and practices. However, these are highly marketable skills.”

One of the things she points out to students is that their projects can never have zero-impact. “It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate all sources of pollution and negative impact, mostly for economic reasons. Most projects have to tread an acceptable middle ground, and they have to figure out what that is.”

Short-term traffic headaches, a bit of extra dust and noise are therefore perfectly acceptable (and expected), especially when the longer-term impact is overwhelmingly positive.


Concordia University