Sustainability measures improving environmental performance plus business outcomes
TODAY IS EARTH DAY, THE WORLD’S LARGEST ENVIRONMENTAL EVENT and a fitting time to reflect on challenges and opportunities in Canada. While the average annual temperature in Canada has increased by 1.7 degrees Celsius from 1948 to 2016, about double the global rate, Canadian sustainability and clean technology leaders are advancing solutions that not only help curb greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change, but in the process are creating jobs and other economic benefits.
Across Canada, cleantech and environmentally focused industries continue to grow, making up 3.1 per cent of GDP and accounting for 282,000 jobs (compared to the 203,000 workers in the oil sector) in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. And while the average worker in Canada earns $63,600 per year, the average annual income in the clean-economy sector is $94,000 – almost 50 per cent higher.
“These are good jobs and their number is growing,” says Gavin Pitchford, who believes it is important to know that boosting sustainability doesn’t come at a cost to Canadian organizations and the economy – it actually improves their business outcomes along with their environmental performance.
As the executive director of the Canada’s Clean50 and CEO of prime sponsor Delta Management Group, Mr. Pitchford has been instrumental in creating a dynamic, powerful and eclectic community dedicated to advancing “sustainable development and clean capitalism in Canada.”
Researching efforts across the country and rubbing shoulders with passionate and talented leaders and advocates dedicated to positive change has inspired his confidence in “Canada’s significant world-leading expertise in many areas of cleantech,” he says. “Just imagine, the innovation of the Carbon Engineering company, for example, can suck CO2 out of the air and either sequester it for $100 per tonne or transform it into recycled fuel, at $1 per litre.”
Clean-energy fuelled transportation
Endeavours that have gained significant traction envision replacing polluting fossil fuels with clean energy for various transportation needs, says Mr. Pitchford. “The hydrogen and fuel cell area is one in which we have spectacular expertise in Canada. The industry is growing fast. It employs 2,177 workers and reached $207-million in sales in 2017, up 37 per cent from 2015.”
Dr. Andreas Truckenbrodt, president and CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, says, “Governments and business leaders worldwide are increasingly recognizing the role that hydrogen and fuel cells will play in a clean energy future. Canada has been a leader in their research and development for 40 years and is now well positioned with available commercial products for medium- to heavy-duty trucks, transit buses and ships with hydrogen fuel production and storage.”
Over the past years, the Clean50 recognized a number of leaders who play a crucial role in advancing hydrogen technology solutions. Among this year’s winners, for example, are Grace Quan, CEO of Hydrogen in Motion, and Simon Pickup, CEO and co-founder of Hydra Energy Corporation.
A previous Clean50 winner was David Leger, founder of Loop Energy, which developed a small and light fuel cell engine – built to automotive standards – that extends the range of fuel cells to enable their use by urban truck and transit bus suppliers. Ben Nyland, current president and CEO of Loop Energy, says, “Hydrogen fuel cells for the heavy-duty transport sector are gaining increased traction in China, Europe and California, where there is a demand for zero-emission solutions to meet strict emissions reductions requirements. We are seeing increasing interest in Loop Energy, as our fuel cell range extenders allow trucks and buses to travel further and carry more cargo than battery systems alone, while offering improved performance, lower maintenance and a lower cost of ownership than diesel-fuelled vehicles.”
Loop Energy currently employs 25 people and expects a personnel growth of 50 per cent for 2020 and 100 per cent in the following two years. Its market focus is directed primarily at China, due to market size and increased demand for zero-emission technologies – the City of Shanghai, for example, has an inner-city diesel vehicle ban.
Partners include Peterbilt Motors and Sinotruk in China, and Loop Energy envisions to achieve full commercial production in 2021, with a growth forecast projecting $50-million in 2021, says Mr. Nyland. “We are now in the process of ramping up manufacturing in Canada and China to meet the commercial demands for this growing market.”
Motivated by carbon pricing
Carbon-price policies are designed to motivate emitters to reduce their carbon footprint – and one way to do that is by implementing cleantech solutions. This benefits both Canadian cleantech companies and the organizations that have invested in improving their environmental performance, says Mr. Pitchford. “Since the primary sources of our carbon pollution in Canada are transportation and the built environment, that is where we will see the greatest impacts.”
An example is Carbicrete, led by 2019 Clean50 winner Mehrdad Mahoutian, with an innovation that leads to a stronger building material that, at the same time, sequesters CO2. The company’s co-founder and CTO says, “The process for creating Carbicrete-based concrete blocks absorbs more carbon than it emits, potentially revolutionizing the concrete industry.
“Production of cement, one of three essential components in concrete, is one of the worst green-house gas emitters, estimated at five per cent of all emissions,” says Mr. Mahoutian. “In contrast, Carbicrete’s technology uses CO2 for curing, instead of heat and steam, so in addition to the emissions that are avoided by not using cement, CO2 is then captured permanently in the final product.”
These strong results propelled Carbicrete to be a finalist for the 2018 Carbon XPRIZE, a global competition for breakthrough technologies that convert CO2 emissions into valuable products.
Other means for improving the environmental impact of buildings come from smart building technology, says Mr. Pitchford. “Leading companies like RYCOM are installing smart IoT-based building automation systems in major office buildings across the country, where the return on investment is typically less than a year.”
Casey Witkowicz, president and CEO of RYCOM Corporation, believes that “implementing smart technology across real estate should be seen not as an option but an obligation,” he says. “Real estate and technology, the new power couple, are well into five plus years of working together on a same trajectory. Deployment of buildings sensors that tap existing building technology and smart computerized analytics platforms that drive building system data are able to reduce operating costs and energy consumption without compromising tenant comfort.”
Investors are paying attention to such success stories, says Mr. Pitchford. “Carbon pricing also fuels investment decisions in real estate, which, in turn, leads to companies measuring their exposure to rising CO2 taxes and taking steps to reduce emissions.”
Investment choices driven by environmental considerations
Investors are increasingly making climate change parameters a consideration in their investment processes, and this practice has inspired a new generation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) consulting services. “Canadian business is preparing for a carbon-constrained world, and capital markets and consumers are driving the train,” says Francisca Quinn, who co-founded Quinn & Partners in 2013 with Tony Pringle.
Quinn & Partners has since created high-impact employment for engineering, science and business school graduates. At the same time, the firm has grown to a dozen consultants to serve real estate, infrastructure and private equity investors’ increasing interest in measuring and reducing GHG emissions, energy, water and waste.
Ms. Quinn says that some of those decisions are based on opportunities to reduce costs while others are driven by increasing investor appreciation for the business risks of climate change. “Prudent investors are making plans for adopting or producing zero-carbon energy, improving asset resilience to extreme weather impacts and responding to customer demands for businesses to reduce their environmental impacts,” she adds.
For more related to this story visit globeandmail.com