Open Letter on Innovation and Growing the Canadian Green Economy
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
I was present in Vancouver during Globe 2016 when you delivered the opening remarks. Your main point, namely that the world needs to transition to a Green Economy and that, with a supportive Government, the inventiveness of the Canadian people gives you confidence that we will play a leading role globally in this transition, was as inspiring and motivating as any I have heard recently. However, innovation by itself does not secure success in this difficult mission.
Despite being exceptionally innovative, Canadians are “supersizing” everyday behavior that is leading the world to catastrophic consequences. Recent data published by the World Bank shows that, on a per capita basis, Canada produces the most waste on the planet. In July, 2019, the National Observer revealed that Canadians consume more fossil fuels per capita than any country other than Saudi Arabia. According to Climate Transparency’s fourth annual review of G20 member’s climate policies in 2018, Canada has the highest per capita GHG emissions of all G20 members, at nearly three times the average! Our GHG emissions have increased by 19% since 1990, 5% since 2009 and have continued to increase since the Paris Accord. Recognizing openly where we are in the “sustainable living” scale, allows us to correctly assess the challenge and the need for ingenuity and perseverance from all Canadians, including our Government.
Canada has not found itself at the bottom of sustainability rankings by incompetence or bad intent. We have a huge country, a small population, a Confederation that allows many authorities to make decisions without a central environmental and economic policy, and a tradition of an economy based on the exploitation of nature’s resources in remote regions. For the past 70 years, the global economy has grown based on a global super grid. It is almost predictable that the implementation of this super grid in Canada would result in the least efficient outcome.
Transitioning to a Green Economy will require an entirely new infrastructure in most of our activities, including housing, transportation, energy, water, food production, and waste management.
Many Canadian companies have led the world in developing the technology needed for this new infrastructure. Most of these companies are forced to move abroad to scale up as Canada does not offer a significant market for its home-grown cleantech products.
I offer the experience of my company, Terragon Environmental Technologies Inc. (Terragon), as a Canadian company that has innovated world leading cleantech products. Having received great support from various Government institutions, Terragon is currently facing challenges to scale up its operations and serve a global market.
Terragon was founded in 2004 on a mission to enable people to use their daily by-products on-site instead of rejecting them as waste. The first technology we created was a boiler that can use most of the materials we reject as garbage for fuel while maintaining very clean emissions. The first organization to support this innovation was the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), followed by support from the US Office of Naval Research, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). By 2014, the technology won the Innovation Award at the Globe Conference. Awards in the USA, the UK and Germany followed as the technology became the preferred option for waste management in many applications, including cruise ships and other vessels. Unfortunately, success in the international markets has not offered significant opportunities within Canada, which is the main force pulling innovative cleantech Canadian companies to scale up their operations abroad.
So, why hasn’t the impressive investment of the Canadian Government in Cleantech Innovation and the success of the Canadian people in developing world leading products not led to success in creating a Canadian Green Economy? A primary factor is that we do not normally use cleantech in Canada as our status in the “sustainable living” ranking suggests. Another factor being that the Government is limited in its ability to implement a critical shift in the way it operates by applying its own environmental and economic policies to its purchasing practices.
Over the 30 years that I have worked with Federal and Provincial Government officials, I have met mostly competent and well motivated people. However, the “Silos” of authority that dominate our political system make it difficult to implement the transition to the Green Economy and meet the Government’s own environmental and economic objectives. For example, Canada will spend about $80 billion over the next decade to renew the aging fleets of the RCN and the CCG. Over 40 new ships will be built in three large Canadian shipyards. Yet, none of the people designing these ships was asked to consider any desire from the Government to use Canadian cleantech or to ensure that the ships perform at a higher environmental standard than required by current IMO regulations. Many of the ships will use polluting marine incinerators, which are already banned from operating near land and may be banned from operating in the Arctic by the time the ships sail. Others will store the garbage onboard and discharge it at visiting ports.
Meanwhile, our Ministry of Transport is adrift. In 2016, Transport Canada (TC) sponsored Terragon’s technology to IMO as being so much cleaner than marine incinerators that it required an entirely new classification and standard specification. Three years later, TC has informed Terragon that it will not sponsor the clean technology again as it is focused on other matters, including delaying important additions to IMO’s Polar Code designed to prevent the emission of dangerous ice-melting particulates, known as Black Carbon, commonly emitted from heavy fuels and incinerators. Consequently, Terragon’s technology, whose development was funded by Canadian taxpayers and whose commercialization can deliver exactly the benefits desired by our Government, will now be sponsored at IMO by commercial cruise lines and foreign flag states.
While focusing my example on the Canadian fleet, many similar situations for land-based operations exist. Canada’s waste management practices are behind modern waste management practices across the board. The problem is most obvious in our remote communities, including our Northern Aboriginal communities. One can observe the common practice of open pit burning of garbage, and suffer from the black and carcinogenic smoke emitted regularly, by visiting the newly opened Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Yet, the Canadian Government is funding over $400 million in the coming years so that our remote communities can move their waste further away from their habitats and into established municipal waste management landfills. Instead of funding a new sustainable infrastructure, we continue to enrich the conventional practices that have brought us to the worst environmental behaviour as compared to all other economically developed countries.
This practice has to stop now! Canada’s innovation is world class, as is your vision for the future. Now, all Canadian investment in infrastructure, being ships, bridges, power stations, schools, hospitals or communities, must focus on reducing our environmental impact and creating a Canadian Green Economy. If we fail, our people will simply be funding the innovation of cleantech while neither benefiting from its use nor creating world class Canadian cleantech companies that are able to scale up in Canada.
Having spoken to a number of political leaders, it appears that my suggestion, i.e. for the Government to invest mostly in the new infrastructure that has been developed by world-leading Canadian cleantech innovators, is extremely difficult to implement. The Federal and Provincial Government’s “Silos of Authority”, international trade agreements, powerful business interests and the ingrained practices of Canadians, can only allow us to continue behaving as we have to date. Our children will rightfully condemn us for this!
Maybe you, as the Canadian Prime Minister that has expressed the need for change more inspirationally than those that preceded, can find the way to break down the Silos and get all our Federal and Provincial investment to be evaluated based on the policies and vision that you so clearly articulated at Globe 2016. Canada’s youth, along with their parents and grandparents, will greatly appreciate and support your leadership in this effort. We will also protest against forces that will resist the change.
Canadian innovators are showing the path to sustainable, healthy living. The Government, who funded these innovations, must now bring their benefits to all of our operations and our people. If we can commit to buy the world’s best cleantech for all of our own operations, Canadian cleantech companies will thrive in Canada and export our products to the world.
Innovation is life giving, but only access to market can grow the Canadian Green Economy.
Thank you kindly for your consideration,
Dr. Panayotis (Peter) Tsantrizos, President, CEO, Terragon Environmental Technologies Inc.