The world is changing. Climate policies are being institutionalized at a global level, and our relationship status with fossil fuels is starting to get “complicated”. The most advanced economic players have already taken heed and are forging a new economic path using clean innovation.

In December 2015, at the COP21 Climate Change Summit, Canada made its own stance. We told the world we recognize the need to transition and we committed to making it happen. However, in Alberta we are facing a unique set of challenges. A large sprawling province heavily dependent on fossil fuels with a plethora of knock-on effects from a long period of depressed oil and natural gas prices, unemployment soaring to an unsettling 7.8%, all on top of the pressure to meet climate goals. Oh, and winter is coming.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom, we have the tools required to craft an energy industry fit for our future. We are lucky enough to have an abundance of natural resources and assets, a long history of hydrocarbon expertise and a province full of determined and optimistic people. A prime example being the Iron and Earth initiative – an army of oilsands workers committed to catalyzing the growth of the renewable and sustainable energy industry.

So, what is Sustainable Development?

In simple terms, sustainable development is the act of meeting our current energy needs without hindering future generations from meeting their own. However, the word “Sustainability” has been traditionally met with nose crinkling and eye rolling. This is because sustainable development is subconsciously linked with radical environmentalism, regulatory red tape, and loss of profits. The perception of sustainable development being the antithesis of prosperity needs to be addressed.

Albertan trailblazers like Imaginea CEO, Suzanne West, are playing their part in reframing the view on sustainability. West insists we can meet our climate commitments, make a profit and still embrace the industry that is the backbone of our economy. West says the problem with fossil fuels is not what we are producing, rather it is how they are being produced; “Hydrogen and Carbon are not evil, what we are doing with them is just not that cool.”

Whether you agree with Suzanne’s sentiments or not, our prosperity challenges must be met head on with world-class innovation.

One company that knows a lot about innovating their way out of adversity is General Electric. The sole survivor of the original twelve Jones Industrial Index companies in 1896, GE is no stranger to taking risks and disruption. They credit their long term success to forward thinking innovation and have contributed to addressing Alberta’s challenges by investing in an Innovation Centre in Calgary. GE insist that “Innovation is the primary lever for a more competitive economy” but we must not forget “The key to successful innovation is collaboration.”

Our challenges are systematic and cannot be solved in isolation. We need cohesion across the broad spectrum of energy. This means companies, associations and thought leaders traditionally in opposing camps need to unite. Oil and Gas companies, non-government environmental organizations, renewable and clean tech companies, academics, policy pushers, policy makers, representatives of workers and minority groups need to collaborate.

But, what does collaboration really mean?

Energy Futures Lab believes collaboration is about the sharing of alternative visions with a focus on experimentation and innovation. The eclectic fellowship of energy experts, government officials, and minority groups has been dubbed one of Alberta’s leading brain trusts by Kali Taylor, co-founder and Executive Director of Student Energy. Chad Park, Director of EFL, believes this is because the Lab is a place of trust where people with opposing views can co-create solutions to mutual problems. Park asserts the crucial element is agreement on the end goal, then, regardless of where we stand on the issues, we can collaborate with this end in mind. He calls this backcasting.

We can agree our energy goals have to be future-facing – we have to simultaneously develop new, carbon net-neutral, sources of energy while reducing the carbon footprint of our current sources. We agree we must produce reliable, affordable energy, accessible to everyone. We agree any transition we make must continue to provide economic prosperity. What we don’t have to agree on is the details. We don’t have to agree on the paths we take to reach our common goals. In fact, the kind of groundbreaking innovation this province needs will be dependent on positive dissension. We have to agree to collaborate, to challenge each other, we must agree to disagree, together.

At McLaren Dion Edge, we may not know the answers to the challenges we face, but we believe our future opportunities will arise from our past successes. We believe, by bringing together a broad spectrum of talent, we will be one step closer to being a world leader in sustainable energy. We can disagree on how we reframe our challenges into opportunities, but we have to agree to act.

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