ERA Environmental Management Solutions Inc. (Quebec)

Uniting science background with environmental software development: Quantifying environmental impacts

Florence sitting at her desk.

Science Horizons intern Florence Victoria, in Saint-Laurent, QC. Photo credit: Jude Victoria

Now a research assistant with ERA Environmental Management Solutions Inc. in Montreal, Florence Victoria fondly remembers a short-lived television series for children called “The Magic School Bus.” The show followed the adventures of a class taken on field trips to extraordinary places, even inside the human body.

“It taught me a lot about science, understanding cells and how the body works,” says Victoria, who has a Masters of Science in Chemistry from Montreal’s Concordia University. “I found it really interesting to know how every system in the human body is interconnected.” The environmental software that she works with now is similarly inter-dependent. “Once you learn one system you understand how the other ones work because they are very similar and interconnected as well,” she says.

Founded by partners Gary Vegh and Sarah Sajedi in North Carolina in 1995, ERA Environmental is a medium-sized global software development firm that designs tools for industry to manage environmental, health, safety and compliance requirements. Headquartered in Montreal since 2002, the company develops software to help businesses quantify their environmental impacts and streamline regulatory reporting. Clients include businesses from the automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, wood furniture, kitchen cabinet, and general manufacturing sectors.

Florence in front of several plants.

Science Horizons intern Florence Victoria, in Saint-Laurent, QC. Photo credit: Jude Victoria

Vegh, who is also ERA’s Senior Toxicologist, likens environmental compliance reporting to the filing of annual tax returns. ERA’s clients need to report emissions of pollutants to agencies in different levels of government and doing it right is crucial, he says. “Without measuring what we are doing as a society or industry we can’t know whether we are making improvements in reducing pollution.”

Most of ERA’s employees are scientists including chemists, biologists, chemical engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. So Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program has been an advantage for the firm who hires most of the interns full-time when their internships are over.

“This program allows us to get the right people for our company because you get a good pool of candidates,” says Abha Joshi, ERA’s Administrative Director. “We can provide the necessary software training, but the right scientific background is essential.” The interns also need to have a passion for the environment, she says.

The internship funding is important to ERA because it helps offset the high costs of training of new employees.

For recent science grads the internship is often their first full-time employment. “It gives them the opportunity for them to work directly with companies,” says Joshi. “It’s a huge exposure for them. They get to talk to big names, clients like Toyota.”

Direct contact with clients, who are considered partners, is key to creating the best possible product, says Vegh. “We have to communicate the regulatory part of the client’s point of view to the programmer, to ensure the programmer understands the end goal.”

Florence with her white dog.

Science Horizons intern Florence Victoria, in Saint-Laurent, QC. Photo credit: Jude Victoria

Working collaboratively with clients has been a big plus for Victoria, who was hired through BioTalent Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program early in 2020 and now works for ERA full-time. Despite working from home during the pandemic, she acquired new communication skills. “You learn that formal way of speaking with people,” she says. “There is a different communication style when you are interacting with a client or co-workers versus someone you are teaching.”

While at Concordia, Victoria participated in the university’s “Let’s Talk Science” fairs held in the Montreal’s old port. She taught children basic science concepts using fun experiments such as making ice cream with liquid nitrogen – an absolute hit, she says.

The internship also taught her software skills. “It led me to understand how software works, the life cycles of projects and how ideas get turned into functionalities,” she says. “Now when I use an ‘app’ I see how much thought and design went into the final product. Before, I took all those things for granted.”

She also enjoys participating in ERA’s environmental club that meets monthly and she gave a presentation about microplastics found in rivers and oceans and even in people’s food.

Note: In the time since the interview was conducted, Florence Victoria has returned to school and is no longer with ERA Environmental Management Solutions Inc.

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