The article “Innovation is key to new economy,” originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal on Tuesday January 26, 2016.
Let’s step beyond the polarized and polarizing narratives that in recent years have kept us stuck in camps and inhibited our culture of innovation. This is not about good guys and bad guys, dirty versus clean industries, people who support oil and gas and people who do not. Building a resilient economy for a low-carbon future will require the resources and capabilities of Albertans from all sectors of society.
In tough times, it is tempting to look back instead of looking forward. Hold on tight; wait for things to return to normal.
For Alberta in early 2016, we face job losses, budget cuts and credit rating drops — emphasizing the extent to which our economic vitality depends on oil and gas. It is tempting to long for the past and hope that a rebound in the price of oil is imminent so the good times can return.
Another temptation is to want to pick new sectors and technologies that might help us diversify our economy — find some new baskets for our eggs.
Were it only so simple.
The most innovative companies in the world know that long-term competitive success in a dynamic global economy lies less in focusing on any specific technology and more in building a culture of innovation.
Google, for example, relentlessly seeks to foster a culture that breeds new ideas and breakthroughs. It starts with how they hire — targeting people who are open to new ideas, highly adept at adapting to change, and interested and passionate about a wide range of things. They then support these people by ensuring they have time to pursue their creative ideas, reducing hierarchy and other institutional barriers, and fostering a highly collaborative work environment that constantly brings new people and ideas into contact with one another.
How can Alberta renew our culture of innovation to help us leverage our strengths and assets for building the economy that the future requires of us?
First, let’s identify the big challenges and accept that we don’t know the answers. For example, we don’t yet know how to dramatically lower the carbon intensity of oilsands production or how to transform carbon dioxide into carbon-based materials instead of releasing it to the atmosphere. But we know we’ll need to do so if our vast hydrocarbon resources are going to continue to be a source of prosperity in the low-carbon global economy that the world wants to build. Not quite having the answers yet to grand challenges like these creates an enormous opening for innovation.
Next, let’s create the ecosystem that breeds transformative new ideas. This means more than supporting research and development and investing in new technology ventures. Let’s also create opportunities for the scores of innovators and influencers in Alberta to interact with one another in unpredictable ways, where the outcomes are not pre-determined.
Let’s make sure this effort goes out of its way to bring “strange bedfellows” together — technology innovators with artists, environmental activists with community leaders, oil and gas executives with students, clean technology pioneers with First Nations leaders.
Furthermore, let’s step beyond the polarized and polarizing narratives that in recent years have kept us stuck in camps and inhibited our culture of innovation. This is not about good guys and bad guys, dirty versus clean industries, people who support oil and gas and people who do not. Building a resilient economy for a low-carbon future will require the resources and capabilities of Albertans from all sectors of society.
The good news is that many Albertans from a wide range of backgrounds are more than ready for this challenge and are already rolling up their sleeves.
Audrey Mascarenhas, for example, leads an oilfields service company, Questor Technology, that is exporting technology and know-how to turn waste emissions into energy and dramatically improve efficiency and air quality. Apoorv Sinha is an entrepreneur and chemical engineer whose company, Carbon Upcycling, is testing and developing technology to turn carbon dioxide into carbon-based nano-fibres. Meera Nathwani-Crowe is driving environmental performance improvement efforts at Shell Canada, seeking and implementing technology solutions, such as Shell’s new Quest carbon capture and storage project in Fort Saskatchewan. Jennifer Martin leads the Calgary science centre, Telus Spark, and is helping realize a vision to engage the Alberta public in the role and power of science in innovation and energy transition.
Their stories and achievements don’t tend to dominate headlines, but these individuals and many like them are going to be the driving force for our future prosperity. They are a part of a growing wave of people across Alberta who want to be a part of building the economy that the future requires.
They and 36 other people from a wide range of backgrounds called the “Energy Futures Lab Fellows” will gather in Edmonton January 25th to 27 to explore opportunities to collaborate. Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips will address the group Tuesday evening.
Their message to her and to all Albertans: we can do this.
Source: Edmonton Journal
Chad Park is the Director of the Energy Futures Lab and Executive Director of the Natural Step Canada