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Clean-tech leaders across Canada are finding plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the sector’s fortunes in 2016.
Clean-tech leaders across Canada are finding plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the sector’s fortunes in 2016.

DICKINSON, VERSCHUREN and ELGIE

Canada needs smart investments to unleash green energy innovation Add to ...

Arlene Dickinson is CEO of Venture Communications. Annette Verschuren is chair and CEO of NRStor and a former president of Home Depot Canada. Stewart Elgie is a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa. They are leaders of Smart Prosperity, a newly launched coalition of business, research and civil society representatives working to accelerate Canada’s transition to a stronger, cleaner economy.

In the best sense of the word, Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs have been disruptors. From Alexander Graham Bell to Joseph-Armand Bombardier, the McCain brothers, the Bronfmans, Jim Pattison, Guy Laliberté and many others in between, they started small with big ideas and helped improve the lives and livelihoods of people across Canada and around the world.

Entrepreneurs remain a powerful force in Canada, whether their businesses are well established or still in startup, and a new opportunity is now arising for them to once again be pioneers in a world where clean innovation will shape the future of the Canadian and global economy.

The opportunities are considerable. For example, the fast-growing global clean technology market will soon exceed $2-trillion. And there will be a massive investment in new infrastructure around the world in coming years to achieve a low-carbon economic transition. Canada boasts one of the world’s highest proportions of “aspirational consumers” – 40 per cent of us want to have a positive impact by demanding products that enhance well-being and sustainability.

Entrepreneurs at every scale will play a critical role helping Canada secure a place in the new global economic order. By developing and implementing business practices, new products, services and strategies to help shift our economy, they will position Canada to capture new export opportunities and attract investment, while meeting increasing consumer demand for more sustainable everyday choices.

The good news: Entrepreneurs are ready for this opportunity and demonstrating what is possible across our country and many parts of our economy.

Of course, the energy sector offers huge opportunity for innovation, and a number of entrepreneurs are making strides in this space. Toronto-based NRStor is driving energy storage solutions to support the development of smart grids. Edmonton’s Enerkem Biofuels facility is turning municipal waste into a new source of energy.

But innovation is taking hold in a much broader way across Canada. In the auto sector, Martinrea International has found a way to make big vehicles much lighter and more fuel efficient. BioAmber is using sugars instead of petroleum products to produce cleaner chemicals.

Pan out further and we see examples everywhere of new business models strategically designed to generate profit with the purpose of sustainability. Small businesses – such as Urban Cultivator, which brings organic microgreen gardens into home and commercial kitchens; or Routine Cream, a made-in-Canada natural deodorant solution – are tapping into deeply held Canadian values, giving consumers the better choices they want and taking that all the way to the bank.

The challenge is that despite all these successful examples, Canada is not winning the race. Peer nations are outpacing us in terms of innovation and competitiveness. What we need now is greater scale, focus, and co-ordination to fully realize our potential. Entrepreneurs cannot do this on their own; governments at all levels must serve as catalysts.

Almost every major technological innovation of the past century, from unlocking the oil sands to creating the Internet, has required a significant public investment somewhere along the way. The key is making smart investments – ones that will drive clean innovation and unleash creativity.

Governments can work with private sector partners and capital markets to both push funding and research toward areas of innovation and create incentives to pull market demand in those same directions, for example through pollution pricing and high-efficiency building and vehicle standards. Support could include targeted education funding aimed at generating new ideas and nurturing entrepreneurs. Venture capital funding could be increased for creative pioneers who are eager to seize the economic and environmental opportunities emerging in this great global shift toward sustainability.

The latent demand for a new wave of clean innovation is found everywhere in Canada’s economy. We need new thinking to unleash it. Who better to turn to, and support, than our entrepreneurs?

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