Accelerating clean innovation

COSIA’s Innovation Summit took place at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel from March 31 to April 2, 2015. The conference consisted of five streams, focused on the work being conducted by member companies in each of the four Environmental Priority Areas (EPAs) and Monitoring. The second and third day of the conference featured a sixth stream focused purely on the concept of Innovation and how it can be fostered at both an individual and corporate level.

Each issue of Collaborator spotlights the work done by one of our members to integrate COSIA as a tool for innovation into their organization, in order to inspire our members and organizations outside of COSIA — and within the oil and gas industry — to enable innovation within their own organizations. In this issue, we examine how academic groups are “Making Innovation Happen” and, in turn, are helping organizations achieve their goals.

Stewart Elgie, professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa (U of O), founded Sustainable Prosperity, Canada’s major green economy think tank and policy-research network. Stewart moderated a series of presentations at the summit about accelerating clean innovation by bringing together top Canadian and international experts from academia, government and industry. 

“How do we get there? What is the pathway to making us better at coming up with clean, resource-efficient innovations,” Stewart asked. “We have to be better than our competitors at lowering our environmental and resource footprint and do it in a cost-effective way — the essence of what COSIA is trying to do.” Stewart discussed the need to drive more investment to resource- and energy-efficiency in a way that integrates it across the economy.   

Geoff McCarney, Research Director at Sustainable Prosperity, joined Stewart to talk about the complexities of the innovation challenge in Canada and what he referred to as a “push/pull” system. He discussed the push in terms of putting policies in place to support research and development. On the other side, there is a market pull, and the need for someone to invest in what’s being developed. 

Some of the challenges align with COSIA’s collaborative approach, according to Geoff, who discussed the “knowledge spillover” factor. “Why are you going to invest in R&D if your competitors may benefit from the knowledge you create? COSIA is trying to resolve this problem in an interesting way,” he said, referring to COSIA’s unique collaborative model. 

Jeremy de Beer, law professor at the U of O, raised the topic of open innovation and how the private sector can structure business arrangements itself in order to make innovation happen. “COSIA is a great example of an industry sector that has taken action, and that is a positive development because, when we look at how innovation happens in the twenty first century, it is becoming increasingly clear that open innovation is more than just a trend,” he said.

Jeremy noted other innovators can learn from COSIA through clarity of terms in how members engage with each other and through factors like environmental performance indicators. 

The final panellist in the session was John Alic, author and clean innovation expert, who discussed energy-climate innovation. John explained some of the complications the world is facing with climate change and why it’s so difficult from a technological systematic-change perspective. “The only way we are going to deal with climate change is to innovate,” said John. “There are going to be hundreds of thousands of innovations that are going to be necessary. Incremental innovations will help us get out of the climate-change box. Out of the accumulation of the incremental innovations, there will be long-term, radical change.”