Monday, June 14, 2010

Canadian Responsible Investment Conference Update: Innovations in Cleantech Investing

It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention, but Nicholas Parker of the Cleantech Venture Network says that proverb needs to be updated to reflect our changing world. These days, mother nature is the new necessity of innovation. Nicholas Parker spoke on Monday at the opening of the 2010 Canadian Responsible Investment Conference in Toronto.

Across the world we're facing environmental crises from every angle, ranging from soil degradation to water shortages to the serious risk of catastrophic climate change. These are symptoms of a greater problem that is built into our lives. Every day, we're consuming more resources than we need, wasting as much as we're using.

We've gone down a path of ecological overshoot that has us pretending that we have the resources of 1.5 planets rather than just the one, Parker says. While some are still heedlessly skipping down this path toward a cliff, others are waving their arms madly trying to communicate the error of our ways before it's too late.

Others still are pointing out the alternative path. The opportunities path.

Parker did not mince words in the description of the challenges that face us, but cleantech, he said, is about grasping the opportunities that are being presented by these challenges.

Cleantech is basically doing more with less, but it is also about adding value in order to ensure economic sustainability. It includes renewable energy as an important piece, but it's about more than that. It's about making the necessary changes in order to meet our needs in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible. In a nutshell, he said, it's the reformation and transformation of everything we do.

No small task.

It's a description that would overwhelm many, but Parker seems to maintain the energy of an entrepreneur who has spotted his market gap. Perhaps because the last five years have seen a shift and major growth in cleantech, garnering interest from huge players in the old economy like Walmart and GE. It's a shift which has made cleantech the largest venture capital category in the U.S. and has led to the establishment of policies with foresight, like the Green Energy Act in Ontario. But it's not enough to just make space for cleantech, the opportunities for developing cutting edge cleantech organizations also need to be seized. According to Parker, seizing opportunity has not been Canada's strong point.

The race to cleaner economies has become the new space race and Canada is being left behind. Parker pointed out that while countries like China and Korea directed huge portions of their "Great Recession" stimulus packages to green spending, Canada largely missed the opportunity to kick start its own clean economy.

Parker sent his audience away with these seeds of competition planted. While cleantech may be a nebulous bundle of innovation and transformation whose actual components are hard to nail down, the point remains that we urgently need to foster environmentally and socially responsible innovation in this opportunity to re-shape the way that we live.

Laura Tozer is Program Coordinator at the Community Energy Partnerships Program ( The CEPP provides up to $200,000 grants to support community owned renewable energy projects in Ontario.

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