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Climate Change & Technology: Shifting Mindsets towards Innovation Adoption webinar

In response to a rapidly growing interest in how Canadian businesses and governments are championing technological innovation to develop climate change solutions, the UN Global Compact Network Canada was pleased to host the third session of the Raising Corporate Ambition for Environmental Sustainability: Canada’s Road to COP27 webinar series titled “Climate Change & Technology: Shifting Mindsets Toward Innovation Adoption”. This session highlighted noteworthy efforts being made by prominent corporate, start-up and government leaders to accelerate technological innovation adoption in order to address the climate emergency. Hosted by Daria Naglic, Senior Manager, Programmes & Business Relations at the UN Global Compact Network Canada, the panel discussion featured Tom Chervinsky, Head of External Affairs & Social Capitalism, Public Policy Team at TELUS; Louis-Philippe Gagné, Manager of the Net-Zero Challenge at Environment and Climate Change Canada; Namit Nath Bhargava, Market Unit Lead of Canada Sustainability Services at Accenture; and Paige Whitehead, the CEO and Co-founder of Nyoka.

From rural farmers growing more food with less input, to local communities receiving prescription drugs through digital orders instead of relying on long-distance driving, Tom Chervinsky opened the conversation by noting the huge potential of smart digital policies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Louis-Philippe Gagné concurred, adding that numerous technological processes, such as carbon capture, electrical heating, and video conferencing, are essential for bridging the gap between socioeconomic development and environmental performance. Paige Whitehead, in broadening the definition of technology, stated that technology goes far beyond software and computers, as it is an all-encompassing system which comprises everything that humans have created overtime. From flooring on our feet, to paint additives and cushioning that we use, Paige advised that society must give greater attention to how we can better understand and manage carbon from its source, to processing, to reclamation.

Although the development of technology was initially driven by the need to serve the growing demands of billions of people, Namit Nath Bhargava noted that very little thought has been paid to what occurs after its development and how its systems can be made more inclusive. To close this gap, Namit asserted that public-private partnerships must continue to develop, test, and most importantly, invest in innovative ideas. For instance, it was reported that more consumers purchased electric vehicles (EVs) after governments and private firms joined forces to promote the usage of EVs through major incentives and the construction of accessible charging infrastructures. However, despite the existence of groundbreaking technology, Paige mentioned that far too many businesses struggle due to a lack of financial support to scale up solutions in comparison to larger industries. Paige recommended that governments should invest more in technological innovation before it becomes profitable, taking into account the fact that sustainable solutions frequently come with a plethora of other advantages. For example, Nyoka developed a sustainable commercial fishing lure that is not only more long-lasting, but also offers lower delivery costs due to its lighter weight and volume. Similarly, Tom Chervinsky also emphasized that Canadian businesses should take the lead in adopting more energy-efficient solutions rather than waiting until a technology has already been universally accepted. To promote early adoption, institutions can establish sustainable standards before products are developed, taking the example of Marine Stewardship Council’s requirement that all marine gear must be biodegradable in order to be certified.

According to Louis-Philippe, one of the ways that the federal government assists companies in their pursuit of leveraging technology to accomplish climate objectives is through the Strategic Innovation Fund, which allocates $200 million to innovative sectors like clean technology and bioscience, among many others. Several government departments are also employing performance-based standards, a regulatory framework that specifies the expected environmental outcome but not the means or technology by which the result is to be attained, allowing for flexibility, creativity, and the opportunity for enterprises to use new technologies. As well, credit systems are also advantageous in that unregulated businesses can make profits by developing technologies and selling credits to regulated industries.

Tom Chervinsky pointed out that a significant challenge to technology adoption is ensuring accessibility and connectivity to everyone, particularly those in remote and Indigenous communities. Paige also agreed that technology adoption in terms of scale, speed, and distribution is moving far too slowly to meet current climate targets, owing to significant financial commitments and structural changes required to implement new business models and transition out of manufacturing warehouses. This, according to Tom, is why there should be a stronger push towards stakeholder capitalism, whereby governments incentivize purpose-driven businesses to tackle complex problems and reward them for leveraging technology to make the world a better place. For instance, sustainability-linked bonds, which require companies to pay extra returns if they do not meet their sustainability targets, is one way this reward can be played out. Namit echoed this idea, claiming that organizations are motivated to alter their behaviour when faced with a reputation risk of losing their shareholder value if they fail to meet their environmental targets. Beyond governments and businesses, Namit argued that we should urge individual communities to tie investments to performance. A large number of households, for instance, now use renewable energy and sell the excess amount, increasing their motivation to continue renewable practices.

Education is a crucial topic when it comes to technological innovation, as it is dangerous to assume that all businesses are knowledgeable about climate change, as Louis-Philippe noted. In reality, many companies lack the capacity to measure their own carbon footprint, which is why the federal government frequently intervenes to get them started on calculating their operational and commuting emissions, as well as energy savings. As well, since education is not available to everyone around the world, Paige stated that Canada should leverage its extensive knowledge, wealth and technology to help countries cultivate their own food sustainably.

On a closing note, the speakers shared that while the federal government must continue to educate, consult with stakeholders, and communicate funding programs, businesses should also participate in information-sharing, seek funding opportunities, engage in advocacy work, and prevent greenwashing through transparent and accountable frameworks. By developing a more unified approach to measure, report and drive technological adoption, this can establish a cohesive voice and consolidated standard towards net zero emissions across a wide range of industries.

To learn more about how businesses are navigating biodiversity loss and adopting nature-based solutions, join us for the last installment of our series on “Overcoming Barriers: How Protecting Nature Can Future-proof Business and Mitigate Climate Change” on Thursday, November 24, from 3PM to 4PM ET.

20 October 2022

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