Although it has caught on as one of the trendiest business buzzwords, it continues to be complex – and is often bogged down in political and social contentiousness – as more and more businesses and industries are walking the walk of environmental stewardship.
As the list of eco-minded industries grow – from food and hospitality, retail, the gamut of consumer products and agriculture to ‘green financing’ and other B2B ventures and even mattress recycling – energy-driven Alberta continues as a world leader for dynamic environmental stewardship in the energy sector.
“Environmental leadership is critical for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry to become a global supplier of choice,” says Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). “Such policies should be developed with a balanced approach to attract investment, spur innovation, grow jobs and advance the country’s competitiveness while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
“Both Alberta and British Columbia have taken significant steps to address GHG emissions since late 2007. This balance will position Canada on the international stage to respond to global energy needs.”
Last year, the U.S. took a controversial step backward when it left the North American Climate, Clean Energy and Environment Partnership and abandoned its climate change commitments.
Canada is ambitiously and aggressively moving forward.
At the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, the Centre for Corporate Sustainability has become a globally-respected leader for enabling partnerships among researchers, industry experts, government officials and community representatives to jointly generate dialogue, create best practices and disseminate knowledge to find balance in environmental, social and economic approaches in energy.
“A lot more companies are studying targets and trying to reduce their emissions,” says Dr. Irene Herremans, a professor in sustainable energy development (SEDV) at Haskayne. “Many energy companies are getting pressure from institutions and their peers, more resolutions are being set and there is a definite push toward compliance.
“Sooner or later, push comes to shove and industries are understanding what climate change is all about. There are a lot more board oversight and sustainability committees. There is very positive momentum.” She adds if the board takes it seriously, compliance can make a real difference in a company’s performance.
“A lot more companies are studying targets and trying to reduce their emissions,” she adds from experience. “And companies are definitely motivated by more than just complying with regulations. It’s often a matter of being motivated by social responsibility.”
McMillan enthusiastically points out, “Canada has one of the world’s toughest carbon policies based on both price and stringency and is also a leader in reducing methane emissions in the energy industry. World-class regulatory standards and innovative technologies help define Canada’s leadership position.
“Innovation can break the link between energy growth and emissions growth, and Canada is showing the world how oil and natural gas can lead the way.”
In addition to industry and corporate action to be more environmentally active and responsible, Herremans explains the environmental stewardship focus often begins in the classroom. “In the SEDV program at Haskayne, we are educating students who have worked in the energy sector and many are getting jobs in the field of reducing GHG emissions. And we work closely with a lot of companies which come in to recruit students for environmental projects they want done.”
As CAPP has underscored in various studies and proposals, energy industry investment is also a vital factor when it comes to environmental stewardship. “An ongoing commitment to invest funds into technology and innovation to allow substantial progression in a lower-emission energy system will generate more revenue for government, communities and industry,” McMillan explains.
“Responsible development grows the industry, which in turn grows the economy while innovation and technology offer opportunities for job creation. When it comes to policies and regulations, striking a balance is important. Cumulative costs undermine our international competitiveness at a time when our energy industry is already cost-constrained, and faces intense competition for global investment.”
Internationally respected, Calgary’s Questor Technology has been an industry leader in environmental stewardship for more than 20 years – before going green or clean was a popular, profitable or the regulated thing to do. The company manufactures and services high-efficiency waste gas incinerator systems and combustion and burner-related oilfield technologies mostly in Canada and the U.S. as well as projects in the Caribbean, western Europe, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia and China.
Although Questor focuses primarily in oil and gas, its emission-reducing technology is also used by other industries, including landfills, water and sewage treatment, tire recycling and agriculture.
“In 1999, everyone said I was crazy,” recalls Audrey Mascarenhas, the career engineer and dynamic Questor president and CEO. “We didn’t know much about emissions and climate change but we saw the black puffs of smoke and knew that something was not right. Most people wondered how taking all those gas streams and doing something about it can make any business sense.”
Fast forward to 2018 and Questor is a distinguished and innovative world leader in environmental stewardship. “With a focus on solid engineering design, our products enable our clients to operate cost effectively in an environmentally-responsible and sustainable manner,” Mascarenhas says.
“The incinerators provide a safe, efficient, clean and reliable method of waste gas destruction that not only ensures protection of the environment but also provides customers with cost-effective solutions.”
She adds that any effort to impact climate change is a plus, but cautions that industry’s emphasis on CO2 emissions may be misleading. “One of our biggest concerns is how we handle waste gas and putting it into the atmosphere.
“Industry emissions are three to four times higher than we initially thought they were,” Mascarenhas admits. “But it’s important to understand that methane is over 80 times worse than CO2. Every time we put a molecule of methane into the air, it does more damage than CO2.”
The 33-year oil and gas industry veteran is upbeat and positive about environmental stewardship but she is also professional and blunt about Canadian progress. “I love Canada and I want Canada to be great. But there are lots of different camps and polarizing climate change conversations in Canada. I am very excited to see some areas, like Colorado, embrace effective and tough rules to improve air quality.
“For various reasons, Canada has delayed the compliance rules about methane emissions until 2025.”
Another Calgary bright idea is also an interesting and unique example of smart business combining with environmental stewardship. Shawn Cable, the Calgary-based former professional lacrosse player and supply-chain management student, noticed there were discarded mattresses – lots of discarded mattresses – being hauled off to landfill sites.
“It gave me an idea,” he says. “I told myself I may be crazy and realized that recycling mattresses could be risky, but the business plan made sense. I believed in it; I always wanted to work for myself and have an environmental impact.”
It’s how Re-Matt began in 2014. Disassembling discarded mattresses and distributing the components – foam, steel, cotton and wood – to local and regional recycling partners. Today, Re-Matt business is booming as Cable and his partner, Ian Gregory, recycle mattress materials in Calgary and Western Canada with 15 staff members.
“Foam is the most valuable,” Cable explains. “It is ground up and turned into new underlay. Then the metal, the cardboards, the plastics and the felt.”
His inventive Calgary business may not be considered traditional environmental stewardship, but Cable enthusiastically points out, “We feel good about creating jobs, impacting the environment and diverting discarded mattresses from landfill sites.”