Executive Pulse seeks input from Canadian leaders on vital issues that affect our business and economy.
Jodi Glover is chief executive officer and co-founder of Real Tech Inc., a Whitby, Ont.-based company that aims to improve water quality through the use of sensors, analyzers and other technology in water treatment, manufacturing and other industries. Ms. Glover inherited an interest in water from her father, with whom she worked at UV Pure Technology before founding Real Tech in 2004.
What's the cost versus benefit for companies that engage in sustainability?
The next generation of younger people entering the work force is trying to join companies that have a form of sustainability, such as initiatives that give back or do something for the environment. These help to retain employees, which can lead to some cost savings over the longer term. We find that a lot of our customers are involved [in sustainability initiatives] because of costs, such as the cost of water, for example. Some of the food and beverage manufacturers would have fire hydrant hoses so they could just hose down all of their equipment and they use water in massive quantities. Now people are starting to recognize that water is precious and costly. I think it's in the best interests of a company to start looking at sustainable initiatives that can help to reduce the costs.
What business opportunities are there in this sector?
The clean-tech sector incorporates a lot of different companies that are looking at new ways to produce energy, such as solar or wind. Then there's the storage of energy, such as different kinds of battery cells, there's transportation of energy, water and air quality treatment, and sensor networks. There are a lot more opportunities as companies look for them. This isn't just in Canada; 90 per cent of our business is exported so there's a global initiative to start more sustainable measures to improve efficiency. The clean-tech sector as a whole is actually a huge network; there are a number of entrepreneurial businesses that are popping up to try to solve some of the environmental challenges of the world. When you look at the opportunities, it's such a massive sector that it's kind of hard to narrow it down.
How is Canada positioned globally?
Our company is specifically within the water area of the clean-tech sector. So if we look at water innovations and water tech, Ontario has done a pretty good job of trying to foster an economy that has invested itself to the point where when we go to water events around the globe, international players are actually coming to Canada and coming to Ontario specifically to see what's happening in water tech. I think there is still a lot of work that we need to do to be able to keep ourselves in a growth trajectory, such as trade missions to different parts of the globe under the Ontario and Canadian banner in the clean-tech sector to put Canada on the map as a leader in clean tech and water.
Has the notion of being a green company grown tired amongst businesses and consumers?
From what I can see – I've been doing it for 12 years now – it's not going to go away. People like to overuse the words "green business." But that's changing quickly and as you get into the next generation, the resistance to adopting and implementing some of the new innovation is [dropping] and the younger generation is demanding it a little bit more. My vision is that my grandchildren won't even be having conversations around sustainability or green tech because everything will be along those lines. There are not going to be awards for sustainability, that's just going to be what you have to do to stay in business. So I think the shift in mentality is there.
Do you think Canada invests enough in this sector, either governments or businesses?
I think we could be doing a lot more. But I'm financially disciplined, so [we should ask] how are you making the investment, are they smart investments and are they in the right area where it's really going to make a difference? We actually wouldn't be in business without some of the support programs that the government has had in place for research and development, for innovation, for entrepreneurs starting up their business. So I think that they're doing a good job, but could they improve and do better? Absolutely. We see internationally where they're developing emerging markets like in India right now and the regulations that they're putting in place to try to protect their environment on a national level far exceed what we're doing in Canada.
What are the future prospects for this sector?
I've been told over the years, you're never going to make money in green tech. But that's changing and we're a profitable, healthy business in green tech, and I know some of the other green-tech companies out there have big ideas that they envision can revolutionize the way we are conducting ourselves with our water and our energy, especially. The green-tech sector in Canada has some really novel ideas for improving energy management and storage. You've got to be a little patient because this is all really new technology and some of it needs large-scale pilot projects that can prove themselves. It's not going to be a quick, overnight solution. These are complicated issues and complicated technologies, but it is happening. If the government can keep fostering that ecosystem, we're making more of a knowledge-based economy for Canada, and I think that that's going to keep us competitive as an entire economy that's not so dependent on natural resources.
Responses have been edited and condensed.