As originally published in the Toronto Star.
Corporations and governments have set ambitious net-zero targets. Now it's time to implement solutions.
Our Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years. Humans have been here for only a scant fraction of that time. And yet in the past 250 years we've destroyed more than 50 per cent of the Earth's forests and tipped the scale beyond sustainability.
In Canada, large companies and governments are waking up to our climate emergency and setting ambitious net-zero targets. From pension funds to the oilpatch, from municipalities to the federal government, organizations and leaders across the country are pushing for change. You only have to observe the increasing toll of heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods to appreciate why this is so necessary.
It's one thing to set a strategy; it's far harder to implement solutions, especially with commitments that stretch beyond the horizon where it's difficult to know exactly how change will be delivered. Despite good intentions and increasing stakeholder pressure to act, most leaders will find it easier to endorse resolutions than to deploy actual solutions.
And it's not because there is a lack of viable solutions available. Canada's clean technology ventures are driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. Our country has 13 of the top 100 Global Cleantech companies, second only to the United States. But the gap between innovation and implementation remains, and too many of our great companies fail to get their products adopted broadly.
There is, however, no pathway to net zero without climate technology. Even though many of the Canadian organizations that should be buying these products are working to figure out how to reduce emissions from their fleets, make their buildings run more efficiently and gain access to cleaner energy, they don't necessarily know how to drive the necessary change at scale.
Corporations definitely see the need — they are striving to meet new ESG targets alongside maintaining their competitive advantage, gaining market share and reducing risk for their investors, shareholders, regulators and customers. They know they will need to work with startups to achieve their sustainability goals. The difficulty has been breaking down the traditional gap between corporations and startups.
Corporations tend to avoid partnering with startups due to a range of real or perceived barriers, ranging from lack of awareness about what technologies are available, to fears about the risk of working with unproven or emerging technologies. But in the face of undeniable scientific evidence, global norms are changing and a zero-risk attitude may turn out to be the biggest risk of all.
That's the critical gap. It's similar for governments, but with the complicating factor that they also need to follow procurement rules and trade agreements. For many understaffed startups, these requirements only serve to widen the gap into a chasm.
To help bridge that chasm, KPMG and MaRS Discovery District recently joined forces. The new collaboration, known as the Climate Impact Accelerator, aims to enable corporations to move more quickly through pilot projects toward commercial-scale development.
The project pairs KPMG's client relationships and innovation architecture model with MaRS' venture relationships and innovation adoption experience, and it will work to identify ventures with GHG-reducing technologies that are ready to deploy. The goal is to help governments and corporations adopt Canadian technologies and scale them to drive meaningful and measurable impact on climate change.
The startups that will be part of this collaboration bring promising solutions, such as BrainBox AI, a Montreal company that can slash a new or legacy building's energy costs by 25 per cent and its carbon footprint by 40 per cent by optimizing HVAC systems based on predictive data ranging from local weather forecasts to previous use trends. The tech saves money for its customers and requires no changes to an existing building's structure, which means it can be easily retrofitted or built into planning and construction.
The company's systems have now been installed in more than 100 million square feet of real estate in more than 20 countries.
There's also Peak Power, a startup that plugs distributed energy sources — think on-site electric vehicles and battery storage units — into a building's power supply so it can use energy more efficiently. It's already found customers in New York, California and Toronto, where it's easy to imagine increasing demand driven by the updated green standards.
"We have to convince the sector to follow our lead," says chief strategy officer Imran Noorani.
Some of these corporate and government targets will be achieved organically, but we can't be passive about making our future both environmentally and economically sustainable. The best path to hitting our ambitious targets is to forge strong partnerships between innovative young ventures, large companies and government procurement. We need to help bridge the gaps to implement the change required.
Yung Wu is the CEO of MaRS Discovery District and Armughan Ahmad is the president and managing partner of digital at KPMG in Canada. Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, has partnered with MaRS to highlight innovation in Canadian companies.
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