Beyond Yoga Mats and Organic Carrots: Oil Sands, Federal Budget and Cleantech At Toronto Green Living Show
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
North America's largest eco-consumer event, the three-day Toronto Green Living Show, did not disappoint. In its sixth year, it is a place where organic produce, electric cars and non-toxic cosmetics take centre stage. Aside from all the eco-conscious consumerism, environmental NGOs such as Sierra Club Ontario, David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence were among a number of groups present to educate young and old about the importance of protecting Canada's air, water and land: the natural resources on which our quality of life-and our economy-depend.
The show's offerings also wouldn't be complete without hosting a number of panels on the main stage to discuss relevant regional and national environmental issues (the oil sands were not on the official agenda, but there was plenty of talk). Here is how the conversations unfolded in two very distinct panel presentations. This is part 1 of 2 posts that provide highlights from the Business Forum panel.
Highlights From Panel "Corporate Venturing: The Arms Race for the Best Cleantech Opportunities"
The Business Forum was the show's opening event, with a strong presence from Canada's corporate and entrepreneurial crowd. The discussion revolved around cleantech investment and included representation by Cenovus and Enbridge Inc. The panel explored the question of whether corporate investment in clean technologies should be increased. The role of venture capitalism was also clarified. This is especially important because the traditional model of venture capitalism doesn't work in all areas of cleantech. In particular, cleantech is capital intensive, so growing a start-up company may require a longer-term investment than in other sectors. That means corporate investment can and should step in.
Most of the current corporate investment is in utility-type projects such as solar and wind, not in emerging technologies markets. However, for Enbridge, investing in existing assets makes sense. Not only because less money needs to be spent on capital projects, but also because the company is "a necessary part of the equation" when it comes to renewable energy - it simply makes business sense.
One of the panellists noted that greater dollars should also be allocated toward "clean-up technologies" that are designed to mitigate pollution from resource- intensive industries such as mining and oil sands. It was also stated that corporate investment is all the more important since there isn't much enforcement of pollution abatement.
For Cenovus, investment in cleantech is closely tied to how much risk the company is able to take. Specifically, there is a need to see some proof of success through demonstration projects before hundreds of millions of investment dollars can be deployed. The company noted that there is "phenomenal" pressure to come up with clean technologies for pollution abatement. The more pressure is placed on governments, the more it is felt by industry.
For the oil and gas industry - especially oil sands - investing in cleantech is strategic, but not without the risk of greenwashing. Both Enbridge and Cenovus agreed that some greenwashing may occur in the industry, but noted that when it happens, it's not without significant risk to company's operations and bottom line, as well as its reputation.
The Bigger Picture
Summing up the dialogue on clean technologies and the future of energy and fuel production, Dr. Vicky J. Sharpe of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) noted that North America energy costs are relatively low and the discourse is very different than elsewhere in the world. She explained that this fact has led to Canadian cleantech having better markets outside of North America. "We constantly talk about prices at the pump instead of whether we can continue with business as usual."
In Part 2 Highlights from a panel on the 2012 federal budget will be provided, setting in context what business-as-usual in energy production may look like in Canada.
Image: Solar Panels at the 2012 Green Living Show by Meirav Even-Har