This year, a dozen Canadian companies were named to the Global Cleantech 100—more than from any other country except the United States (Getty Images/Luis Alvarez)
With climate change top-of-mind and events like the disastrous Australian fires showing us that there really is something to worry about, technology that doesn’t harm the environment is becoming increasingly important. If it does some good, that’s even better.
Both government and industry have realized this, and are increasingly focusing on encouraging what they’ve come to call cleantech, defined as “any product or service that has a net positive impact on the environment,” says Lynn Côté, Cleantech lead at Export Development Canada (EDC), adding: “There’s typically some type of technology in there.”
It’s a broad category, she notes, encompassing technologies that can address water and soil issues, as well as air quality, emissions, alternative proteins, renewable energy, smart cities, smart grids, and more. It’s growing all the time, and Canada is a world leader. This year, a dozen Canadian companies were named to the Global Cleantech 100—more than from any other country except the United States.
To encourage more Canadian businesses to explore the estimated US$2.5 trillion opportunity in the global cleantech market, EDC produced the webinar Canadian cleantech: Get funding to go global in November 2019, which explains opportunities, reveals key export markets and provides resources, funding sources and investment opportunities.
One comprehensive source of information, Côté says, is the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) Clean Growth Hub.
“There are some representatives there [on the Hub] from pretty much every government department that touches cleantech companies,” she says. “And a lot of companies who are not sure how to navigate the acronyms, and all the service providers would go there and say, ‘OK, this is what I’m doing, this is the kind of help I need like, where should I go? How does this program work?’ And they’ll refer people to agencies such as ourselves, will talk about programs, will send them to the right web pages to find information. It’s sort of a collective of the Government of Canada and has been working quite well to help Canadian companies figure out what’s available at the federal level.”
The projects have changed over the years, Côté notes. Originally, she saw a lot of capital-intensive initiatives that needed funding for infrastructure—things like building plants to produce biofuels or building renewable power generation facilities. But now projects like solar panels and windmills are bankable; she’s seeing large investment firms and pension funds investing in them.
Today, she says, newer companies tend to span a wider range of industries and are less capital-intensive. “There’s a lot of data-driven type companies that are using artificial intelligence to provide information,” she explains. “And we’re seeing a lot of that in agriculture. These new tools are providing insights to farmers on how much water is required, so you don’t waste as much water, how much fertilizer, pesticides, insecticides. The variety of stuff, the focus on data to make smart decisions whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s in a city on when to put the lights on, when to change traffic lights—lots of real smart stuff is happening. Data is quite a bit far away from what people think about cleantech: solar panels and windmills.”
Another big change she’s seen is in attitudes towards climate change. It’s gone from the realm of just the environmentalist to something bankers and financial people worry about.
“Probably the tipping point for all that was the Paris Agreement. People started paying attention and said, OK, there’s all this excitement, what was that about? What did we commit to doing, what does it mean in real life?” says Côté. “But when you get the bankers on board, sort of the last bastion, then you’ve won, because they were able to democratize the notion, saying, ‘If you don't care about climate change, the environment, or the future of the planet for your children and grandchildren, you might actually care about your investments and your money and your ability to make a living or to live off your investments once you retire.’”
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