This post was written by Cleantech Program Director, Burak Evren, as a reflection on the clean technology space in Canada during 2021 and what he thinks we can expect, as well as what he hopes for, as we enter 2022.
Twenty-two months ago, we woke up to a new reality in our lives. Most of us were not expecting to change the way we live. We all had travel plans, someone to see, a meeting to attend, or just a lunch plan to go out with friends but the pandemic stopped that from happening overnight. The great science of vaccines gave us a glimpse of hope, but anti-vaccine people, an increasing amount of fake news, manipulation, and misleading information led to where we are now. Our social lives have been broken heavily, humanity has come to the realization of how connected we are, and no one is immune to issues surrounding this pandemic and more calamities to come like this one.
Impacts on the average person
So, what does this have to do with clean technologies, the circular economy, sustainability, or the average person’s daily life? Climate change, pollution, the side impacts of pollution on a person’s physical and mental health, and the increasing inequality in wealth distribution are all slowly changing our lives. Still, the overall impact is no different from the pandemic we are in now. As new generations are experiencing an increasing pressure to live a stable, yet sustainable life compared to their parents and grandparents, the willingness to change the norms is becoming harder and more complex for everyone. From housing affordability to putting food on the table – every aspect is becoming harder and, with the increasing effects of climate change and scarcity of resources, it will become even more challenging in the near future.
Is it all doom and gloom?
Is it really all dark and gloomy for the years to come? It doesn’t have to be, if we can wrap our heads around, and implement the efforts needed, to make the world a better place to live for all of us. Air pollution in India is a concern for every living person on the planet. Overfishing, unethical mining practices, harmful oil and gas industry applications, deforestation anywhere in the world – these are all issues that we as a global society can’t close our eyes to. The responsibility falls onto each of us and we can’t wait until bureaucrats or governments decide that it’s the right time to take action. Policies are built by the priorities of the people and an immediate plan can only be designed by our desire to make a change in these areas.
Impacts on businesses, supply chains, and the solutions available
What is the impact of all of these changes on business life? We see more and more challenges in the supply chain brought on by the pandemic, climate disasters, and a manufacturing stream that’s highly reliant on the global marketplace. It’s become clear that supply chain routes need to be shorter and access to local supplies will become more critical, which will significantly impact local farming, water reservoirs, and soil quality. Every piece of land is becoming more and more valuable as our very lives will be dependent on the quality and cleanliness of it. Regenerative farming will take over all other practices; we all want healthy, natural, sustainable food with a minimum carbon footprint. Our energy needs will increase and the importance of renewable energy, microgrid applications, and small-scale energy generation practices with zero carbon emissions will need to become the norm. We’ll turn to wind, sun, hydrogen, and small-scale nuclear energy (even fusion) at an increasingly rapid pace as we need to move further away from fossil fuel-burning energy sources.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are already a reality today, but even EVs are not fool-proof when it comes to a zero carbon footprint. We will see more hydrogen-powered transportation, especially in commercial applications, as the number of cars for short commutes will need to grow. The way we look at waste also needs to change; we need to reduce waste dramatically and make waste management commercially valuable so that the companies will be more willing to invest in waste reduction initiatives. Until now, recycling-related waste reduction policies were too high-cost or the amount of waste was too large that no operation was able to process the vast quantities. Moving forward, we need to find and develop meaningful, commercially viable ways to have long-lasting impacts on this problem. The world must learn how to use its waste in a circular economy model because we don’t have infinite resources and we can’t wait until the resources available are depleted to start tackling this issue – by that point, it will be much too late.
What are the next steps?
All of these varying requirements bring us to the next steps of this discussion. What is the path we must follow to achieve the critical changes needed? Within Alacrity, we’ve had discussions around these topics and have found ways to provide guidance to our portfolio companies, making them aware of issues like these because they apply to every industry.
Raising awareness, while helping every company measure and reduce their negative impact on the environment and society overall, requires a framework that can be repeatedly applied with meaningful results. This framework must include carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, the social impact that every company has on their community, internal policies and practices, and directives that make every organization’s operations contribute to a better and more equal society with excellent working conditions for every individual.
Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks
ESG frameworks have been in circulation for a long time, most commonly known previously as corporate social responsibility, but not enough importance or priority was given to them. They were more like nice-to-have afterthoughts that only highly successful corporations implemented. The cost of measuring and reporting the basics of a company’s operations can also be incredibly expensive and inaccessible for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), either due to a lack of human resources to do the work internally or the lack of financial resources to hire external expertise. As well, requirements for companies at the SME stage have traditionally been overlooked by investors and creditors until a company becomes large enough (over 500 employees) or goes public to be under more rigorous scrutiny. However, this is changing dramatically as the push towards net-zero by 2050 gets stronger. Companies, both big and small, are increasingly being required to measure, report, and build a framework to use where they can be accountable for the impact they create in society and on the environment. Alacrity is currently working on plans to support Western Canadian companies in their journey to be ESG-compliant. This standard-setting practice aims to positively impact the environment and the communities we live in simultaneously in order to ensure a better life for everyone.
New year, new us?
With rapidly changing trends in investment, consumption habits, and supply chains, every industry has to change and consider operational impacts. Established enterprises need disruptive innovation from smaller companies with bright ideas, opening the door for many SMEs to transform industries quickly. While we’re not quite there today, we need to work towards a cleaner, more responsible, more equal, and a more livable world for tomorrow.
We have started 2021 on a negative note, but we are welcoming 2022 with a positive attitude. While we know it is difficult to change things, we also know that we as people are the catalyst for change and Alacrity is happy to be a part of a positive change in direction, in collaboration with all of the companies, partners, and stakeholders we engage with. Welcome, 2022!