GLOBE 2012: Blood and Pain
“Innovation is blood and pain. Nobody does this because they want to; you innovate because something forced you to innovate.” That was Robert Ouellette, editor and founder at MESH cities, speaking on our sustainable cities panel yesterday. Earlier in the day, Paul Clements-Hunt said he wanted to see “blood” during a session he moderated on new ecological economic models.
Why all the violence? Ouellette, Clements-Hunt, and others at GLOBE this year are just saying what we all know but sometimes need to hear: change is painful.
During our session yesterday, one audience member asked how he can sell an integrated transit plan that incorporates energy efficiency to other city departments. “People ask, why do we need this?” said this member of a sustainability department of two people.
Ouellette said getting the public on side is a big part of success—in fact, public demand has steered some innovative urban plans. Brian Castelli with the Alliance to Save Energy said, “Don’t tell them it’s green, tell them it will save money.”
Of course, there’s no simple guide to pushing true integration across departments, agencies, and jurisdictions for more efficient infrastructure planning and development. Everyone wants to innovate, in theory, but fear stands in the way—fear of giving up the advantage to someone else, fear of bearing all the risk. SNC-Lavalin’s Ron Aitken said there’s one rule for any company looking to contribute contribute to a meaningful dialogue about sustainable choices for infrastructure projects: “Check your logo at the door.”
“No one wants to go first,” said Paul Lander, chair of the ASLA Water Conservation Network. “In terms of taking a risk on something innovative, everyone wants to be second.”
That may be what’s tripping up governments like the Province of Ontario that are looking to become leaders in innovative, clean technologies and build an economy on green manufacturing. They want to be leaders, but they don’t want to go first.
Ontario had better act fast, or it may find that it’s too late. Countries like Denmark, Germany, and China are pulling way ahead in the cleantech race to market.
I sat down with Michael Rosenfeld with United Kingdom Trade and Investment, yesterday to talk about the more than 20 British companies in the low-carbon and sustainability sectors breaking into North America. For example, Intelligent Energy, a U.K.-based fuel cell and clean power developer, has already established operations in California and is now looking for partnerships in Canada. Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon, a UK-based hydropower turbine company, is looking to extend its footprint in Canada—it already has an office in British Columbia.
While Ontario debates the merits and drawbacks of investing in offshore wind development, the United Kingdom is moving into the third and final stage of its plan to develop 33 gigawatts of offshore generation.
British Columbia, on the other hand, is well positioned to capitalize on the United Kingdom’s zeal for a low-carbon economy. Rosenfeld leads the UK Know How’s North American West Coast initiative (the campaign also focuses on China, India, and Brazil). He says British Columbia is on the radar because of its robust venture capital sector, which is ready to fund cleantech. “The regulations are in place to support a low-carbon economy, and the appetite for cleantech exists,” said Rosenfeld. “There are 250 cleantech companies in British Columbia.”
There are also any number of Canadian cleantech companies exhibiting at GLOBE—but governments, both local and provincial, need to be ready to take a risk and feel the pain. If they’re not, others will be.