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“The biggest risk for businesses is to not move toward net zero,” says Dr. Monica Gattinger, founder and chair of the Positive Energy program at the University of Ottawa.David Chan

Building a sustainable future for Canada takes Positive Energy – and that doesn’t just mean good vibes. Exploring and analyzing how to achieve this future requires vision, ideas and the best team of experts.

The University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program uses the power of the university to build teamwork and public confidence by bringing together researchers and senior decision makers from industry, government, Indigenous groups, communities and environmental organizations.

Monica Gattinger is founder and chair of the Positive Energy program. An award-winning researcher and sought-after speaker and commentator, Dr. Gattinger is also director of the University’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and collaborator at the Telfer School of Management.

Here, Dr. Gattinger explains the work the Positive Energy program is doing to help build a safe, sustainable 21st-century energy industry and infrastructure.

What is the Positive Energy program?

Positive Energy was founded in 2015. Our mandate is to identify how to strengthen confidence in decision making for energy and climate. We convene leaders from business, government, Indigenous organizations and environmental non-governmental organizations to look at the key challenges. I lead a research team to conduct applied research to help to address and resolve the challenges we identify.

How does your work align and advance Telfer’s ‘Vision for a Better Canada’?

I’m a proud alumna of Telfer. The role of business in society has always been central to our work, and so Positive Energy’s work aligns closely with Telfer’s vision. We’re working to identify how we can have a prosperous, vibrant energy sector in Canada, developed in an environmentally responsible way. Also socially responsible – reconciliation with Indigenous people, building community support.

Many businesses say they’re moving toward net zero, yet Canada seems to be moving slowly toward 2050 targets, and interim 2030 ones, too. What’s holding us up?

It does sometimes feel like one step forward and two steps back. We’re still struggling to bend the emissions curve downward. But there’s more alignment than ever in Canada around the importance of reducing greenhouse gas-producing emissions.

A few things are still holding us up: Our regulatory frameworks are not necessarily aligned with emissions reduction yet, and we don’t always see different governments within Canada pull in the same direction. And emission reductions need to move in lock step with making sure that energy is reliable and affordable.

How do we engage businesses in the sustainability imperative? How can Telfer’s Centre for a Responsible Wealth Transition help support this imperative?

Business is already there. I think there’s a real opportunity and an important role for centres like Positive Energy and schools like Telfer and the University of Ottawa. The university can serve as a neutral, non-biased evidence-based forum for looking at issues and collaborating closely on how we can move forward faster and more effectively toward net zero.

Is it possible for businesses to achieve net zero without losing money? Can companies profit by moving toward net zero?

There are risks and opportunities. The biggest risk for businesses is to not move toward net zero. Policy and consumers are all moving toward net zero, so business really needs a strategy.

Are some sectors doing better than others in Canada in moving toward net zero? What are some examples of success?

In the energy sector, there’s real positive change when it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. There’s understanding that supporting projects that get us to net zero [will depend on] reconciliation. There are new equity partnerships, real shared decision making.

Companies are coming together within individual sectors to look for solutions. For example, there’s the Pathways Alliance among oil sands producers. They know we’re going to be using oil for decades to come, but they’re collaborating on how to [serve this demand while working toward] a net zero future.

Another promising area is electrification. Nationally, 82 per cent of our electricity production is non-carbon emitting; there are initiatives in Quebec and in the LNG [liquid natural gas] sector. [Quebec, for example, is seeking to electrify its economy as much as possible by 2030, with a special focus on the transportation sector.]

How do the University of Ottawa and the Telfer School of Management work with different sectors, industries and companies to help achieve sustainability?

We mobilize research and provide a neutral space for key players to collaborate on net zero to reach constructive, effective and durable solutions.

What goals, policies, objectives and practical measures does Canada need to become a net zero leader? How do the Institute and Telfer each contribute to or support these measures?

There is so much more alignment now on the need to reduce emissions. Next, transforming our energy footprint is going to require massive new infrastructure. We still need a clear and timely and predictable environment for major electricity projects.

Positive Energy is bringing all the players together. We’re experimenting, to discover what works. We need to learn from each other faster than ever before.

The Telfer School of Management is the presenting sponsor of a series of events called Ideas for a Better Canada. The fourth event – Net-Zero Energy, What will it take? – will take place on April 13 at 12:30 pm ET. Register here and join the conversation.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with the Telfer School of Management. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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