On the Road to a Net Zero Economy, We Can’t Forget About People

Guest content by Christine Bergeron, President and CEO of Vancity.


As British Columbians begin to rebuild from the wreckage of the latest extreme weather event, it’s clear that the climate emergency is here. To prevent further warming that will result in even more catastrophic consequences for people and the planet, we need to focus our efforts and ingenuity on the transition to a net-zero economy. This transition was the focus of the most recent global climate summit, COP26, and will continue to be front and center in the decades leading up to 2050. There are tremendous economic upsides to getting it right: a trillion-dollar economic opportunity, new jobs, and a boon for innovative solutions and products.

It’s clear that the climate crisis, and the actions we take to address it, affect every one of us. But not everyone is affected equally. As we build our net-zero future, it is critical to consider what human shape this economic transition will take. We’ve seen this movie before. Following the 2008 recession, the economy rebounded quite strongly. People? Not so much. Many were left jobless or in worse jobs than before the recession. Wages eroded and debt levels skyrocketed while housing became increasingly unaffordable for many.

We can’t allow this to happen again, especially since the reverberations of this transition are going to last longer than any recession. We won’t be successful if people are alienated from the climate fight because they pay a hefty price for the transition – for example, those who are already economically disadvantaged, or people and communities whose livelihood depends on emissions-heavy industries that we must now turn away from.

Canada, in particular, must be mindful of addressing the human costs of a net-zero transition. A recent study found that sectors vulnerable to the impact of this transition account for 70% of Canada’s exports, and more than $300bn in export revenues and investments. In human terms, that translates to 800,000 Canadian jobs located in every province and territory.

Those are just the employment impacts. Not everyone has the same ability to withstand the impacts and adapt to the new net-zero “normal.” We can’t successfully transition to a net-zero economy if only those who can afford to adapt make it through the transition intact.


A People-First Approach to Net Zero

We have to approach the net-zero transition through a people-first lens. What does this mean? It means identifying how the climate emergency, and our responses to it, are impacting people – for example, workers and communities relying on high-emissions sectors. It means understanding how existing systemic barriers and inequities make those impacts worse for some people, or limit their ability to mitigate and adapt – for example, lower-income people living in higher-risk neighborhoods because those same climate risks are making homes there more affordable. And it means having a plan of action for governments, businesses, unions, and communities to work together to address this head-on.

In Canada, a people-first approach is especially critical in the energy sector, traditionally a key driver of Canada’s economy. It’s clear we must transition most of our energy production to clean-energy sources. Prime Minister Trudeau announced at COP26 that “Canada has set a goal of selling only zero-emission cars and establishing a net-zero emissions electricity grid by 2035.” Arguably this is not soon enough based on global warming projections, and yet is also very aggressive based on how long it has taken to make major industry shifts in the past.


Converting Energy Risks to Opportunities in Canada

Renewables currently provide only about 16% of Canada’s total supply of energy for electricity, heating and transportation. While that’s a higher proportion than what we see globally (13.4%) or in OECD countries (10.5%), it demonstrates just how much change needs to occur in order to meet our international commitments and to truly shift to a net-zero economy.

There’s a similar mix of room for change and potential for growth in clean-energy exports. The global renewable energy market had total revenues of $692.8bn (USD) in 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% between 2016 and 2020. Canada’s clean-energy exports totaled only $21bn in 2019. This represents an annual growth rate of 9.7% since 2014, three times faster than all Canadian product exports over the same period. But clean-energy exports still totaled only 5.5% of Canada’s product exports in 2019.

There is a clear opportunity for the Canadian economy as it begins to wean itself off oil and gas. Industry advocates expect that by 2030, Canada’s clean-energy sector will grow its GDP by 58% and its workforce by nearly 50%, adding more than 200,000 jobs. This growth will help offset the effects of oil-and-gas contraction at the macro level.

The question is, can Canada translate this growth into real opportunities for those people and communities who are no longer able to rely on oil and gas for their livelihoods, such as oil-and-gas workers, equipment suppliers and other local service providers? How do we reskill these individuals to capitalize on the new job opportunities? And how do we ensure that groups that were historically left out of the oil-and-gas boom, such as First Nations members and women, are included in the new energy growth opportunity?

There needs to be a deliberate effort on the part of governments, the private sector, workers and communities to make this transition fair – and successful. Re-skilling initiatives and building worker awareness of their transferable skills have been developed by both unions and non-union organizations, such as Iron & Earth. Scaling up and fully resourcing such initiatives will require collaboration between governments and employers.

Ensuring that Canada’s clean-energy future proceeds through true partnership with Indigenous peoples is also critical to advancing both the just transition and Reconciliation. The clean-energy sector is increasingly recognizing this. As of Nov 11, 2021, Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) – a pan-Canadian social enterprise working to advance Indigenous inclusion in Canada’s energy futures economy – has mapped 197 clean-energy projects across Canada that have significant Indigenous involvement. ICE notes that these projects are generating jobs and training opportunities for Indigenous people, and providing a more consistent flow of revenue to meet community needs.


The Role of Financial Institutions in the Net-Zero Transition

It is imperative that financial institutions change what they fund. This means transitioning from emissions-heavy industries to cleaner jobs and industries, as well as factoring climate risks and social benefits into the assessment of loan requests and investment decisions. Financial institutions can also do more to support businesses in identifying and disclosing climate-related risks.

The climate crisis also requires that financial institutions put people first. This means helping people access and manage their finances when forced from their communities by severe climate events, such as the recent flooding in Merritt and Princeton or the forest fire at Lytton.  Financial institutions can also use the tools at their disposal to encourage just-transition initiatives and lead systemic change.

For example, we introduced Canada’s first Responsible Investment (RI) mutual fund 35 years ago, and we became the first financial institution in North America to be carbon neutral in our operations nearly 15 years ago. Today, RI is an entrenched component of the investment world, and significant reductions in operational emissions are part of most large Canadian banks’ climate-action plans. We continue to finance changemakers in areas such as affordable housing, green technology, equity, and financial inclusion.

These examples highlight how the private sector can show leadership in support of a just transition. But more support is required. Systemic challenges need system-wide solutions, and such solutions require governments to also step up and lead, putting people first. That is the next key step for the just transition.


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Why Digitizing the Energy Sector Makes Economic and Environmental Sense

By Tomas van Stee, CEO & Founder EnPowered 


The simple truth of the matter is that we are not moving fast enough to dampen, let alone reverse, the impacts of climate change. We all recognize the existential threat of climate change, and everyone wants to save money on their energy bills. This means that more large commercial and industrial energy users are looking to adopt cleantech to lower expenses and emissions, and fortunately, most of the technology we need to tackle climate change is already available

We may have the technologies we need, but how the energy sector is organized is slowing down the rate of cleantech adoption. We’ve spent the last century erecting a global electricity infrastructure based on fossil fuels, so any attempt to modernize and innovate runs up against resistance. Whether from entrenched interests or just the simple fact that grid reliability trumps everything else, this resistance prevents the rapid sea changes we need to preserve the environment. We need reliability and we need to innovate the electricity system without losing the stability of that system. Digitalization lets us do both.

When it comes to the energy sector, ‘digitalization’ refers to the ongoing and accelerating effort to give energy users access to their usage data, as well as helping them understand it, so they can make more informed decisions. At EnPowered we leverage digitalization for two main goals: 1) simplifying the complex world of energy prices, and 2) simplifying complex energy asset purchasing decisions.


Energy prices are complicated — digitalization can help.

Energy prices and electricity bills (with their multitude of charges) are extremely complex, and most large energy users lack the time or expertise to navigate obscure industry jargon. While other industries have provided energy users with highly granular, personalized data, our energy bills are still largely impersonal. By this I mean that they do not reflect the complexity and nuance of our energy habits, instead boiling down usage to a few line items at best.

The lack of actionable information in our electricity bills makes it harder to answer the two main questions that energy users frequently ask, namely, ”when is my energy more expensive?”, and ”when is it dirtier?”, i.e.. more carbon intensive. 

While tech like automated building control systems, industrial-scale batteries, and behind-the-meter generation solutions are increasingly being adopted, we lack the data insights to fully leverage the power of these assets.

Enabling automated price signals and responses (i.e., enabling your internet-connected energy assets to receive and respond to price changes) is priority number one because following energy pricing and demand in real time is a full-time job. In fact, we have employees at EnPowered whose very job is precisely that. The majority of companies will not have the means (or desire) to employ full-time energy managers; a smart, personalized, automated system is the only viable, scalable long-term solution.

Ensuring digital assets (e.g., building automation systems) are connected to the grid and each other will go a long way towards a greener, cleaner, more flexible, and more stable electricity system. The potential of digitization promises to seamlessly avoid peak pricing, shift to greener energy sources as they become available, and utilize energy storage.


Digitalization can simplify energy asset-purchasing decisions.

Dealing with market fluctuations and ensuring communication between assets and the grid is only half the battle for large commercial and industrial energy users. Equally important is giving these energy users access to capital to reduce risk. Good data can only go so far. Concerns over capital risks continue to stall energy efficiency and cleantech projects, often despite proven ROI. This is where EnPowered is looking to play a leading role. We aim to support energy users who often have no insight into after-the-fact savings once they have selected and installed an energy solution.

Tying these costs and savings together in a transparent, easy-to-understand manner is key to reducing consumer uncertainty and lowering the perceived risks surrounding solution purchases. For example, converting daunting upfront capital expenses into more manageable operating costs makes billing and performance monitoring more accessible. 

In addition, utilizing these future savings as a funding source opens the door to a wave of backlogged or stalled projects. For example, you could pay for an HVAC upgrade by leveraging your future energy savings. And once that project has been paid off, your energy costs will be even lower. This means you can create a positive feedback loop of lower costs leading to more savings and more projects undertaken, creating even lower costs. 

Many of these stalled projects (such as the lighting retrofit that has been repeatedly put off, or the battery that’s been on your company’s wishlist for years) get hung up on securing adequate capital or by hesitating and waiting for better energy rates. All this waiting costs energy users money since they could be putting those savings towards future upgrades.


Why we need to empower energy users and partners.

If these weren’t enough reasons to push for the digitalization of the energy sector, there is another norm that digitization can up-end: how users and partners interact with the grid. As things stand, we are not moving fast enough on climate change, in part because of an outdated view of the consumer-producer relationship. In other words, we need to move away from only having information flow in a top-down, one-way direction; namely, from producers to consumers, with little opportunity for meaningful dialogue. 

The enertech (energy technology) community has been talking about empowering energy users to produce their own electricity (e.g., installing rooftop solar panels) and to sell it back to the grid for over twenty years — in a word, to become “prosumers,” i.e., both producers and consumers of energy — but it’s only with the dawn of digitized energy that we are drawing close to fulfilling that promise.

Navigating energy markets, digitizing energy assets, unlocking stalled projects with funding from energy savings, and promoting prosumers: these are the challenges that EnPowered is tackling. But no one company can solve these structural issues alone, and we are always seeking to collaborate with like-minded organizations. Digitizing the energy sector will require an entire ecosystem of partners working in collaboration and establishing a virtual energy movement to bring about energy’s digital future.


Tomas van Stee spoke at Can the Four “D’s” of Electricity Disruption Get Us to Net Zero? During Destination Net Zero: Energy and Transportation Days. Read more about the 10 actions we need to take in the energy and transportation sectors in the next 10 years to get to net zero.

10x10 Outcomes Report: Energy and Transportation Days

10×10 Outcomes Report: Energy and Transportation Days

We are at the beginning of the most decisive decade in our lifetimes. What we do in the next 10 years will set the course for our net-zero future. To meet the moment, GLOBE Series launched Destination Net Zero Events—a three-event series culminating in GLOBE Forum 2022, the largest and longest-running sustainability conference in North America.

We’re embedding action and accountability into these events with the 10×10: 10 actions in 10 years we need to take to get to net zero. The actions identified in the Energy and Transportation Days event, which took place virtually October 26-27, 2021, are summarized in the 10×10 Outcomes Report. These outcomes will feed into the final 10×10 that is produced after Forum.

Report (pdf)

Q&A with Susannah Pierce, President & Country Chair, and GM Renewables and Energy Solutions, Shell Canada


As the impacts of climate change take hold and organizations and governments the world over commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, the world is shining a brighter spotlight on energy than ever before. What kind of system transformation is needed to get to a lower-carbon world? How can we ensure that new energy systems are just and equitable? How do we bridge the gap between net-zero targets and the actions needed to achieve them? 

In the midst of this global conversation, Susannah Pierce boldly stepped into the role of President & Country Chair, and GM Renewables and Energy Solutions for Shell Canada. Susannah has over two decades of experience in the energy sector and previously served as Director of Corporate Affairs for the LNG Canada project. GLOBE Series Managing Director, Elizabeth Shirt, met with Susannah to learn more about her vision for Shell Canada. 


Click on the play button below to watch the video or scroll down for the interview transcript. 



Elizabeth Shirt: Good morning and good afternoon from the territory of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, where I have the privilege of making my home office—a beautiful part of what is also known as North Vancouver. Thank you so much for joining us today. 

The race to net zero is on. Canada has tabled legislation to join governments and companies around the world in committing to a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The record heat here in B.C. and across Canada is a reminder that the climate crisis isn’t far off or intangible. It’s real, it’s urgent and it’s happening now. At the same time, we know that more than half of Canada’s current emissions are produced by oil, gas, and transportation, meaning there is no way we can achieve this ambitious target without energy system transformation. 

As the new President and Country Chair of Shell Canada, Susannah Pierce works at the heart of this transformation. She joins me today to discuss what a net-zero future means for Shell. Welcome Susannah and thanks for joining me. 

Susannah Pierce: It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me. I’m actually calling in myself from the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish Nations, which is here in Vancouver. It’s so wonderful to be next door! 

ES: Fantastic. We’re just down the road from one another. Susannah, first of all, I really want to congratulate you on becoming the new President and Country Chair of Shell Canada. And I wanted to start by just asking if you could share your vision for this position and talk a little bit about your first priorities in the role. 

SP: It was a privilege to be considered to do this job because it is such a pivotal time for the energy sector. If I had to choose a company to be in a leadership position with, it would be Shell, because I think Shell is genuinely trying to tackle this challenge as one of the major energy companies in the world. I think it has the wherewithal to make significant changes. 

I’ve asked myself a number of times: do I want to be outside trying to influence change, or do I want to be inside trying to influence change? Being inside influencing change, I think, is where we can have the greater impact. I’ve seen it just in the first couple of months that I’ve been on scene through the level of activity trying to transition our company from one that had traditionally produced oil and gas into one which is a leader in new technologies and new energy systems that can achieve our net-zero ambitions. 

My vision really is to help with that transition, to accelerate it as much as I can, and also to enable the company to have a renewed relationship with communities, with Indigenous communities, and with partners, because partners are critical to the delivery of the transition. Finally, the other piece that I think sometimes gets lost as we talk about how to get to net zero—it’s customers. When we consider Shell’s own footprint in Scope 1, 2 and 3, most of the emissions are at the end user or consumer level. So, we will not be able to get to net zero and we will not be able to get to the Paris Agreement goals without customers coming along with us. So, that’s got to be a critical focus of mine as well. 

ES: Awesome. That customer piece is so important to get us where we need to go. Susannah, Royal Dutch Shell recently announced it will accelerate emissions reduction plans in response to a court order in the Netherlands. How is this going to affect Canadian operations? How are you going to ensure that your plans are ambitious enough to respond? 

SP: It’s a great question, because the decision that came out of the District Court in The Hague was a bit of a surprise in that we were surprised that one company would be targeted to achieve and accelerate its transition to net zero, because, as I just said, it takes more than one company. It takes an entire ecosystem to achieve our climate ambitions. So, we were surprised by the decision, which was to accelerate our transition to net zero and reduce our emissions by 45% by 2030. It’s ambitious. 

Our reaction to that was to ask: “What more can we do?” It renews our effort. I think it increases our ambition to do more and to work with others to do more, including our customers, governments, and all the stakeholders and partners that can help us. That decision helped us realize that we cannot do this alone and we’ve got to work together with all those parties. As I said at the beginning, I think the other key thing is bringing society with us—helping people realize the benefits of the energy system we’re creating, which speaks to the relationships we have with communities and governments as well. 

ES: Absolutely, a challenge on a global scale. Susannah, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the global level, we’ve heard the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report recommending no new oil and gas developments. You already talked about development having been at the heart of Shell’s history, and it is a part of the current business model. You’ve made this tremendous 2050 commitment. How do you reconcile that IEA report with your climate targets? What can Canadian consumers expect from Shell in the next three decades? 

SP: The IEA report, just like Shell scenarios, is a pathway to net zero. Just like any pathway or scenario, you’ll have different inputs and different variables, which will lead to a particular outcome. So, the IEA report has various variables and inputs to lead to that specific outcome, as does Shell’s own strategy, which actually already includes the fact that we are transitioning from oil and gas. We reached peak oil in 2019 and we will see no new frontier exploration by 2025. I just want to make a comment on that one too, because new frontier exploration does not mean that we continue to produce from perhaps even more carbon-intensive barrels. It allows us to get the best barrels. It allows us to find the lowest-carbon and the most-productive barrels. As we’ve already made these commitments, of course, we’re going to continue to look at how we’re progressing against our overall net-zero commitment as we move forward. But there’s a lot of consistency there, and as I said, if you look at what goes in and what comes out, you can see that there are multiple pathways to net zero. The IEA produced one and we have one as well. 

ES: So, exciting times, Susannah, because you’re not alone in making a net-zero commitment. Many major corporations are doing the same, but don’t necessarily have clear plans in place to achieve them. Is this greenwashing in your mind? Should companies lead with that ambition or strategy and plans? What comes first? 

SP: I would be hesitant to say that you should put a goal out there, if you have absolutely no intention or plan for getting there, especially because I’ve always been a bit of a proponent of setting targets and making them public simply because then you’re held accountable publicly. So, I support that. 

I think the other thing which Shell has done is that it was the first energy company to say that it’s actually going to go for a shareholder vote for its energy transition strategy, and then be held accountable for that transition strategy and progress every year and provide an update to shareholders every three years. So, you can see that we are not only setting a goal, we’re setting the milestones to be held accountable. 

Other companies will have other plans and other methods of achieving their net-zero commitments. I think it’s up to each one of us—investors, communities, what have you—to comment on them, to look at them, and to hold those companies accountable. But what I have seen, which I think speaks to the fact that we are in a new space in terms of collaboration, is joint partnerships in achieving a net-zero commitment. So, you’ll see companies like ours partner with Rolls-Royce to create sustainable aviation fuels, or with Amazon to provide renewable power, because we also share climate ambitions and goals. You’ll see us partnering with Microsoft, similarly, to try and jointly achieve our climate goals. 

So, I think greenwashing is going to be determined by how successful each company is in achieving the goals they set forth. The jury can still be out, but from the Shell perspective, what we have done is set those times for those juries to take a look at how we’re doing, and I think that’s an even better process for addressing the concern of greenwashing. 

ES: Fantastic, thanks, Susannah. You said that it takes collaboration and partnerships. We’ve talked about how this transformation is going to affect all segments of the economy. As we make that transition, how do we ensure that workers have access to the reskilling and upskilling programs that they’re going to need to continue to be part of the clean economy? How do we make sure that no one’s left behind? 

SP: It’s a fantastic question because we can’t ignore the fact that this will have an impact on real jobs, on real people, and on families. I mean, just witness the stress that has happened to families over COVID-19—various sectors where you can’t go to work and you don’t know where you’re going to get money to feed your kids, to pay for clothes, or to do the things you used to do. There’s going to be some real dislocations if we are not on our front foot. 

I was pleased to see that in this year’s federal budget there were some funds allocated for the transition. I think that’s going to be critical, because the types of skills that you have today—refinery, for example—while they might be applicable to a certain extent, you’re still going to have to have some new skills and development, particularly as you look at the digital transformation that’s also happening along with the energy transformation. For me, I think it’s looking forward saying, “What are those jobs of the future?” Because the number of jobs that we have right now—at the gas plant, for example—are not the same number of jobs we’re going to have at a solar facility or wind farm. What are the skills we need for the different types of jobs that we will need? How do we create that roadmap or blueprint? Not only just serving ourselves, but in partnership with communities and Indigenous communities that have already been benefiting from these operations in their territories, as well as in partnership with academic institutions, universities, and governments. We have to all see the same roadmap to an extent, to really be successful in it, so that we can also help influence the kids that are coming behind us, because training kids today for jobs that won’t be here when they get out of school doesn’t make any sense. So, I’m a big proponent of looking forward and working in a collaborative fashion with all of those involved, so that we can create the right sort of blueprint for those future jobs. 

ES: Let’s pull the thread a little further, Susannah, because in this transition, we also have opportunities to include groups that historically have not necessarily been part of the energy sector. I’m thinking of women and people of colour. How is Shell looking at that opportunity? 

SP: From the gender point of view, indeed we’ve made a very deliberate effort to increase the number of women in leadership positions. I’m probably a product of that myself. I also have a very keen eye on what we’re doing to ensure there’s equity within our leadership positions. But then, also as it relates to BIPOCs (Black and Indigenous People of Colour), let’s really make sure that our baseline—where we are today—is transparent, so we know where we need to get to. Because my ambition is that our company represents a society in which we operate. That’s across the board—inside and outside the house. How are we working with our suppliers? How are we working to develop businesses and communities where we operate so they can benefit from the work that we’re doing? Granted, I’m still just a couple of months in but, looking at another roadmap towards where we want to be, it has to start with data—where we are and collecting that, and then establishing a plan, working with businesses in Canada to get there. So, we’ve got a lot more work to do, but I’m happy that we’ve seen some progress and a commitment to get there. Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen multiple transitions. We’ve seen new transparency in a way we never have. Society is also having influence inside the corporation on how we address some of these issues. I want to be right at the centre of that. 

ES: Susannah, we’ve reached the fun part of the interview—the rapid-fire round. Are you ready? 

SP: I think so. 

ES: Give us the first answer that comes to mind. What book is on your nightstand? 

SP: Okay, so I have a couple. The first one is Mark Carney’s Value(s): Building a Better World for All. I’ve started it. It’s a good thick book, but Mark Carney is obviously a thought leader and a very respected individual. I’m glad to see his book written and published. I believe in the fact that we need to re-evaluate values. So, I think it’s a very important book to read. I’ve actually shared it with a number of folks on my team. 

The other one is a book by Bob Roth about transcendental meditation. I’ve been doing transcendental meditation for some time now. It’s another way of allowing me personally to see the world differently, and in a place of calm and peace. So, that’s another book I have on my bedside table. 

I have one more, and that is by Kate Baer and it’s a book of poetry. It’s called What Kind of Woman. It’s an awesome book, especially for mothers. I’m a single mom and it’s a good book for us to feel empowered and then also to empower our daughters. I highly recommend that one too. 

ES: Another way to understand what motivates you: what is your favorite motivational quote? 

SP: I have a bunch, but Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” I apply it to my life. I apply it to my kids’ life. I think we can apply it to the companies in which we work as well. 

ES: Love it. Susannah, what’s the proudest accomplishment of your career? 

SP: The proudest accomplishment of my career is actually the decision I made about nine years ago to leave a job to come back to Canada for my two kids. I was a single mom over in The Hague doing this big job, and I realized that I couldn’t be a good mom and a good worker unless I had the right balance. So, I made the decision to come back to Canada. That was my proudest moment, I think, partly because I had to come to terms with my own professional ambition and the needs of my family, and I made the right choice. 

ES: Amazing. Okay tough one: describe the future of energy in one word. 

SP: Inclusive. 

ES: Awesome. On that note, Susannah, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure. Love what we’ve heard in terms of what it takes to reach that net-zero target. We need ambition. We need action. We need accountability. And more than anything, we got to work together. It takes a village. It takes collaboration. I’m so excited to see where this journey takes Shell and the next steps with you at the helm here in Canada. Thanks again for joining me today. 

For more on the race to net zero, including our Destination Net Zero Events, you can check out www.globeseries.com. Our first event is the Energy and Transportation Days, held Sept. 28 and 29 of this year. We hope to see you there. Susannah, thanks again, and thanks to all of you for attending.

Picture of Jon Mitchell Suncor

GLOBE Capital Q&A: Jon Mitchell, Vice President, Sustainability, Suncor


Jon Mitchell, Vice President, Sustainability, Suncor joined the panel on Digital Transformation: Enabler or Enemy of a Resilient Future at GLOBE Capital to discuss the nexus of the energy transformation and digitalization. The months since the conference have been busy for Mr. Mitchell, with Suncor’s Investor Day in May and the launch of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative in June, followed by the company’s annual Report on Sustainability and Climate issued in July. We followed up with Mr. Mitchell to learn more about what net zero means for Suncor. 


In late spring, you held your 2021 Investor Day and your strategy figured prominently. Tell us about your sustainability plans within the context of your strategy. 

Our strategy is to be Canada’s leading energy company by growing our business in low greenhouse gas (GHG) fuels, electricity, and hydrogen, while sustaining and optimizing our existing hydrocarbon business and transforming our GHG footprint. All of this is enabled by our expertise, long-life resources, integrated business model, strong connection to customers, and world-class environment, social and governance (ESG) performance. It’s important to note that we don’t have a separate sustainability strategy—sustainability and the energy transition are integrated within the business strategy. It was our objective at the outset to ensure they were neither distinct from one another nor independent conversations.  

As part of our strategy, one of our six strategic objectives is to become a netzero company by 2050. To get there, we will be reducing emissions from our base business; expanding our lowemissions power, renewable fuels and hydrogen businesses; and working with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders on reducing emissions elsewhere. To measure our progress, we’ve set a new target to reduce emissions across our value chain by 10 MT per year by 2030. 


ESG investing has recently expanded into a USD$30 trillion-plus business. We’ve seen more and more investors seizing opportunities in the clean economy and advocating for the disclosure of climate-related business risks through the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosure (TCFD), for example. How has this impacted investor relations at Suncor? Are your sustainability and IR teams working more closely together?   

We’re fortunate that our investor relations and sustainability teams have always had a close working relationship, and over the past few years the collaboration between our teams has grown even more. Along with my colleagues from finance, I regularly meet with our investors, bankers, and insurers to discuss all aspects of our climate strategy, ESG performance and our actions to continually improve our disclosure. This is to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the investment community and that they have the information they need to make informed decisions about the material ESG issues that are shaping our business.  

Suncor was an early adopter of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) oil and gas standards. We were also the first oil company in North America to signal support for the TCFD. We recently published our fifth stand-alone climate report and have been continuously progressing our alignment with the TCFD recommendations. 


The Canadian government has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, alongside over 100 countries and many of the world’s largest corporations. To achieve this target on a global scale, the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report recommends no new oil and gas developments. What does a net-zero future mean for Suncor and its sustainability strategy? 

The drive to accelerate climate ambitions and net-zero commitments, both by governments and industry, is going to materially shift corporate strategies for decades to come. Suncor continues to progress along our sustainability journey and our strategy reflects our view of what is required to thrive as the energy system shifts to realize a netzero future. Suncor’s strategy is aligned with the Paris Agreement and recognizes the need for the world to reach netzero emissions by 2050. We also support Canada’s efforts to develop enabling policies, fiscal programs and regulations to provide predictability for the long-term, large-scale investments needed to achieve our country’s netzero aspirations. Our purposeto provide trusted energy while caring for each other and the earthsignals our intention to be a leading player in the energy transition. For us, that means reducing emissions in our base business and continuing to expand into lowGHG lines of business while working with customers and suppliers to help them reduce their emissions. 

In their report, the IEA presents what it emphasizes is one possible route toward netzero emissions in the energy sector. It should not be construed as a recommendation, but rather a scenario, and not the only scenario to realize the netzero future we are all aspiring to achieve. Suncor continues to explore multiple scenarios and opportunities to reach netzero emissions. Suncor also considers other key guidance, including the 2018 1.5°C report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that outlined 90 possible scenarios for reaching net-zero emissions. In the end, all sectors must reduce their emissions substantially and as quickly as possible, and the oil sands sector is no exception. In Canada, the oil sands sector has set itself the goal of doing exactly this through its recent Pathways announcement. 

The oil sands sector is well positioned to advance the technology, innovation, and investment needed to reach net zero. To bet otherwise underestimates the determination and talent that exists in these companies, and the power in the art of the possible. 


Canada’s Net Zero Future report by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices suggests there is a role for both safe bets (established solutions) and wild cards (unproven yet innovative tech) on the road to net zero. In terms of reducing emissions, what are the safe bets for Suncor and what are the wild cards? 

As a company with a long history of successful innovation and technology development, we think the framing of safe bets and wild cards has the potential to oversimplify or discount solutions.  Reducing emissions and preventing climate change is one of the most challenging and complex issues facing the world today. It will require tremendous innovation, collaboration, and all kinds of technologies, some of which have not been invented yet. We encourage a multitude of options because, as history has shown us, what is perceived as a wild card today may be a sure bet tomorrowand vice versa. For example, in 1900, the electric car would have been considered a safe bet and the internal combustion engine a wild card. In the 1990s, the electric car would have been a wild card, but today it is a safe bet. To build on the analogy used by the CICC, in the card games I’ve played, the wild cards are the most powerful cards in the deck, so we shouldn’t underestimate the role they will play in realizing our climate objectives. Ultimately to win, or in this case meet our objectives, all cards in the deck need to be played. 


There is an opportunity to empower and employ people who have been historically underrepresented in the energy sector—women, people of colour, and Indigenous peoples for example. What is Suncor doing to ensure that future talent and diverse perspectives are part of the energy future?  

As a people-focused and purpose-driven company, we have a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion, ensuring women, people of colour and Indigenous peoples feel included and represented in our workforce. Recent conversations and events over the last few years are shedding an even greater light on how critically important this is in our society and encouraging us to do more to address systemic racism and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We’re learning more as a company and offering programs, training, and forums to challenge our blind spots and our own biases to create a workplace that’s a great place for everyone.   

We recently refreshed our social goal to the Journey of Reconciliation to reflect our continued transformation both within our organization and in our relationships with Indigenous peoples. It’s a journey that will require hard work and some uncomfortable reflections, but it’s necessary. It will require us to further foster a culture of inclusion, humility, and honesty, as well as a willingness to shift our mindsets and behaviours. On a personal note, I’ve had the privilege of participating in some of our Indigenous-led education programs that help to build a deeper understanding of the rich culture and history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Often when these experiential learning opportunities conclude, there is not a dry eye in the room. These have been some of the most powerful experiences in my career and have helped me on my own reconciliation, inclusion and diversity journey. I encourage all Canadians to seek out opportunities of their own to learn about Indigenous Peoples, their history and culture. 


What does the just transition mean for Suncor? 

We are always thinking about the impact of energy development on people and communities and that won’t change in the future. It is clear we can’t look at the energy transition through a single lens. We need to take a systems approach and recognize the economic, environmental, and social implications of the transition. This will open our minds to new ideas and expand our understanding of what the transition means to our country, our citizens and all the sectors of our economynot just energy. 

We believe the best way to manage impacts or major change is to be open and transparent and to seek input from those affected. Accounting for the impacts to people in energy development will continue to be critical to our success and the resilience of our business through the transition. 

Weve learned a lot from partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and communities and know that we often haven’t gotten it right in the past. We are committed to continuing to learn and make changes in our business through the Journey of Reconciliation. This includes efforts to further partner with Indigenous businesses and communities, strengthen Indigenous workforce and inclusion, incorporate Indigenous worldviews, and partner with Indigenous youth. 

When it comes to communities, we have evolved our approach from simple philanthropy to working much more deeply alongside community partners to tackle complex social issues together. This social innovation approach is exemplified by the efforts of the Suncor Energy Foundation, with the goal of supporting communities near our operations to grow, thrive, and build long-term resilience.
Were also committed to ensuring employees have the training and skills needed to work in the technology-enabled future. We think these skills will be foundational in the future and will help enable the future we are all seeking, regardless of the sector.   

The energy transition will take many decades and our intention is to help shape and play a leadership role in the process and to be a trusted provider of energy now and in the future. Through that process, we will work with our employees and communities to manage the transition. 


What is the greatest opportunity in sustainability in the next 10 years? 

Throughout my career I’ve always enjoyed the challenges and opportunities presented by work in sustainability. The combination of complexity, impact, and values means that success makes a big difference. When I look out over the next ten years, I believe there will be an opportunity to improve sustainability outcomes at an unprecedented pace. The convergence of sustainable finance, corporate ambition, and social engagement brings together the ingredients we need to realize our climate and sustainability goals. I’m very optimistic because I see businesses mobilizing effort and collaboration on these challenges like never before; significant capital being mobilized to accelerate innovation by traditional sectors and emerging ones; engagement with Indigenous communities and youth unlocking new potential partnerships; top talent within firms is being deployed to develop solutions; and companies creating a sense of purpose that goes beyond the balance sheet. This combination of factors creates the potential to re-write our relationship with the environment and with each other. If we’re smart, we have the opportunity to implement solutions that will reduce our impact on the environment and lead to cleaner air and water, less waste, more forests, greater diversity, more liveable cities, healthier food choices, and a renewed value on nature. The possibilities for a better quality of life are endless and that’s what excites me about working in this area. 


For more insights on the road to 2050, join our Destination Net Zero Events: 


Sept 28-29, 2021 | Virtual | Complimentary


Nov 23-24, 2021 | Virtual | Complimentary


Mar 29-31, 2022 | Host Hub: Vancouver Convention Centre West | Virtual Programming | Partner Hubs Across Canada 


Sign up for our email list to be the first to register. 

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Faceoff: The Energy Panacea?

Arctic Canada

Getting Canada’s northern communities off diesel helps everyone

By Chris Henderson, Chairman at GLOBE Series. Original article from Ottawa Citizen, published on January 24, 2019

In the Arctic community of Iqaluit, average daily temperatures fall below freezing for eight months of the year. In the depths of winter, it is bitterly cold.

In such harsh environments, energy is vital to survival in Iqaluit, and in some 300 other remote communities across northern Canada largely populated by Indigenous Peoples. Far from provincial and territorial power systems, these off-grid villages and towns rely on diesel fuel for power and heat.

Such an energy reality has significant economic consequences. Diesel power is costly. Petroleum must be transported by ice roads and marine tankers over vast distances. For some communities, air freight is the only feasible way to get fuel to residents.

The social and environmental impacts of diesel-based energy are also debilitating. Reliance on diesel perpetuates an import economy; bleeding scarce funds from community coffers instead of utilizing local energy resources. Fuel spills are common. Diesel generation pollutes the air and emits greenhouse gases that contribute climate change.


“For some communities, air freight is the only feasible way to get fuel to residents.”


For decades, off-grid First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities have sought alternatives to diesel-based energy. The Inuit community of Inukjuak in northern Quebec, for example, has been diligently developing a small hydro project to replace diesel fuel used for power and heating.

There is good news on the horizon. Through the foresight of Indigenous leaders and increasing receptivity on the part of utilities and governments, Canada is on the cusp of a northern energy revolution. New investment is being committed to cleaner energy technologies in remote communities countrywide, anchored to three key pillars.

The first is to adopt an integrated approach by building energy-efficient homes and optimizing the potential of local renewable wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy resources. Gull Bay First Nation located north of Thunder Bay has embraced such an approach. The community will bring Canada’s first remote renewable energy micro grid online this spring and is also implementing an energy efficiency program.

Second, it is essential that Indigenous Peoples play a central leadership role in developing clean energy to meet their needs. Proactive community planning and engagement is proving to be much more effective than top-down directives of the past. In an era of reconciliation, it is also the right thing to do. The Vuntut Gwitchin government of Old Crow, Yukon will break ground on a solar power array with partners this coming summer to replace diesel fuel now being delivered by airplane.

Third, forging partnerships between Indigenous organizations, utilities and developers is of critical importance; drawing on the know-how of clean energy companies and the local knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. The pioneering efforts of Watay Partnership in northern Ontario, comprised of 22 First Nations and a private energy company, is bringing power to communities like Pikangikum with new electricity transmission infrastructure. In Nain, on the east coast of Labrador, the Inuit Nunatsiavut government along with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is planning to erect wind turbines to reduce diesel reliance.

The large electricity transmission and supply systems in southern Canada were built with long-term investment provided or backed by governments. So, too, must this be the case for our country’s North. The federal government has stepped up its support, allocating over $700 million to off-grid energy projects. Those resources, coupled with provincial and territorial contributions, are leveraging new investment from private sector partners, fuelling clean energy based economic development across Canada’s hinterland.

Yet, there are key pieces missing from this story. There is a pressing need for supportive public policies and revitalized energy market regulations across the country. Provincial and territorial governments must introduce independent power procurement policies to facilitate 21st-century clean energy infrastructure in remote communities. Energy rate-setting agencies should work together to establish a fair price for reducing diesel reliance through energy efficiency and renewable energy; a price that provides full value for diesel reduction including economic, social and environmental factors. Finally, there are compelling reasons for provincial and territorial governments and utilities to make a commitment to First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership of clean energy assets, including local ownership.

The potential of Indigenous clean energy for remote communities across Canada embodies words of our national anthem, “True North, Strong and Free.” That’s a future most Canadians could support.


GLOBE Capital returns to Toronto on February 27-28, 2019.

Join us at GLOBE Capital 2019 (February 27-28, Toronto) where we will be discussing emerging sustainable investment opportunities in Canada’s North, including renewable-replacing-diesel energy systems, in our session The Northern Vortex – Unfreezing Sustainable Investment Opportunities in Canada’s North.

Plastic Bank

4 environmental applications of blockchain

Blockchain is a series of data transactions. These transactions are added chronologically as blocks, making up a chain requiring validation by other parties. The data in these blocks can’t be erased or altered, as a result, blockchain is a distributed ledger which is secure and un-hackable. Though commonly associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology offers immense opportunities in the field of sustainability.

At GLOBE, speakers and participants discussed four different environmental applications that blockchain could have across various industries, including: recycling, energy, and materials and resources:

  • Plastic Bank: Tackling plastic waste and global poverty
  • LO3 Energy: Bringing power to the people
  • Xpansiv: Transforming the global commodities market
  • Consensas: Confidently sourcing natural resources in conflict-affected areas


Plastic Bank: Tackling plastic waste and global poverty

Working with IBM and The Cognition Foundry, Plastic Bank has created a social enterprise which rewards community members for recycling plastic. Operating in Haiti as of 2015, it follows pilots in Peru and Colombia. Community members, often those living in low-income and impoverished conditions, collect plastic and drop it off at a local Plastic Bank processing centre. Using an app, they receive token payments in exchange for the collected plastic. These tokens are kept in a digital wallet that is blockchain securitized (thanks to IBM’s LinuxONE), and can be exchanged for cooking fuel, access to phone chargers, toiletries, and other necessities.

Plastic Bank is currently scaling the model so communities around the world can start creating their own plastic ecosystems. By giving plastic monetary value, the Plastic Bank team is incentivizing the collection of recyclable material and ensuring it doesn’t end up as ocean plastic. The team is currently developing plans for expansion into China, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, among other countries.

Through partnerships with corporations interested in buying the recycled plastic, such as Henkel, Plastic Bank is also enabling big brands to develop more sustainable packaging for consumer products.


LO3 Energy: Bringing power to the people

Through their Exergy platform, LO3 is disrupting centralized power systems by introducing innovative local micro-grids – localized groups of electricity sources and loads that are often connected with the traditional centralized electrical grid. Through blockchain technology, users of the micro-grid can harness, monitor, and exchange energy within their own community. Blockchain not only securely captures the transactional data, but also empowers people to instantly choose how they want to use the energy in their homes, based on real-time price signals.

Applications of LO3 Energy’s blockchain technology are being implemented around the world, in partnership with Siemens. The most prominent example is the Brooklyn Microgrid, which has given home owners and local businesses the ability to become prosumers, producers, and consumers of the local grid’s affordable renewable energy. Other LO3 Energy projects are being developed in South Australia, Germany, and the United States.


Xpansiv: Transforming the global commodities market

Xpansiv is transforming the global commodities market, which so far has relied heavily on manual approaches for data processing. Driven by a concern over climate degradation, Xpansiv created the Digital FeedstockTM, a digital representation that can be used to track the environmental cost of every unit of energy produced.

Through the creation of the Digital FeedstockTM, Xpansiv leverages distributed ledger technologies to analyze and refine the production data of commodities. This data-driven approach unlocks the true value of each commodity by “de-commoditizing” it, and creating a unique “fingerprint” for each unit of production, which is then published on the blockchain.

Joe Madden, CEO at Xpansiv, believes tracking the environmental impact of commodities through the supply chain in this way, will help consumers make informed decisions regarding the impact of the commodities they purchase. Madden also hopes it will not only help global markets determine whether certain commodities have a high-carbon or low-carbon cost, but also price that environmental impact into the commodity itself.


Consensas: Confidently sourcing natural resources in conflict-affected areas

Companies extracting minerals in conflict-affected areas are under increasing regulatory and consumer pressure to address supply chain risks such as corruption, human rights violations, child labour, gender-based violence, and environmental degradation. Drawing upon key elements of blockchain, Consensas created a system for the mining industry that follows all mining materials through the supply chain. It automates the collection of data required for investor disclosures, compliance and assurance reports on a secure and encrypted platform.

Working with non-profit, IMPACT, Consensas is adapting its technology to help industry ethically source natural resources in conflict areas, while compensating women and men in local artisanal mining communities for providing information on how materials are sourced and extracted. IMPACT’s Just Gold project is the first to successfully bring traceable, legal, and conflict-free artisanal gold from Democratic Republic of Congo to the international market, using a traceability and due diligence system, powered by Consensas.


This article is part of our new six-part content series, “Echoes of the Forum”, which provides exclusive videos, interviews, and key takeaways and actions from our world-leading sustainable business event – GLOBE Forum.

Our first chapter focuses on the role of energy leaders and technology in accelerating the clean economy.

View content

Harnessing the Power of Emerging Technologies to Solve Complex Problems

By Gordon Feller, Consultant – Cisco Systems & Founder – Meeting of the Minds

Where and how are cities harnessing the power of new digital tools to transform how they organize their systems? Or how they deliver their services in new and better ways to residents and visitors? Can cities create a prosperous environment for small and larger enterprises?

In the mid-1990s, after Bill Clinton assumed his eight year Presidency, he appointed a new World Bank President. James Wolfensohn focused part of his term on helping cities to make big changes happen, especially in the Global South. He pulled a team together to work on finding ways that could accelerate the progress for cities and bring innovative solutions to bear on the full range of problems facing cities: urban energy, urban water, urban transport, urban education, urban health care. A group was formed inside the World Bank, with a focus on ‘The Urban Age’. In the year 2000, the Urban Age Institute became an independent non-profit organization. One of the best of Urban Age’s corporate partners was Cisco Systems.

Another early partner was Siemens, along with a variety of leading corporates and leading foundations. Working with Urban Age, they saw the world’s rapid urbanization and they sought out technologies which enabled a positive transition for cities around the globe.

In 2006, the Urban Age began working with the Canadian government, the German government, and many cities around the world. What was born was Meeting of the Minds to ensure that the leaders innovating with the very best emerging tools — urban technology, connected solutions, and sustainability – could jointly build a common platform.

In 2009 or thereabouts, Cisco’s executive team invited me to work on these problems, from a base inside the headquarters in Silicon Valley. I took on the assignment of helping Cisco, via teams around the world, address this challenge of getting cities aligned with the data generated by a myriad of assets (buses, taxis, street light, etc.) – so that the city leaders could fully utilize what was readily available to them. Over time, cities were provided with a new way to accelerate their transition to a more equitable, prosperous, environmentally sustainable future.

For many of the smartest and best-led cities the focus has been on infrastructure, which is a strong tie-in to what we’ll be talking about on April 4th and 5th at GLOBE Capital. GLOBE has always been focused on infrastructure problems facing cities and businesses, including the vital digital infrastructures like wireless networks that make so much else possible.

The 3 Stages of the Internet

Think about the transformation of technology in the last 10 years, especially the big changes in how we communicate. The Internet’s first age was all about basics like email, enabling better communication and changing some of the ways we do things. The second stage of the internet was e-commerce and buying things online instead of in person, and then, the third stage – which we’re in now – includes the immersive social media that we’re surrounding ourselves in 24/7/365 and it includes the Internet of Things.

We can now connect with people and project teams we’ve never actually met. Going beyond just better and more efficient communication, we’re surrounded by both e-commerce and by the commercial development of the Internet as a tool for transforming how we live. This 3rd stage of the internet is being characterized by the Internet of Things where all of the objects in the world – city streets, parking meters, traffic lights, street lights, doors, windows, etc. – are all going to be emitting data about their conditions.

Data Is The New Oil

The priority is gathering data that helps generate insights that can make traffic flow more smoothly, and make the parking experience both better and more affordable. Embedding technology into infrastructure systems, like transit, means that technology is going to have an impact on the 99 percent of the world that hasn’t yet been connected to the Internet. New opportunities come with new insights; the data itself doesn’t provide those insights. The insights are derived by analyzing and interpreting the flow of data, and preferably doing so in real-time. This is precisely what allows a smart city to embrace smart infrastructure — receiving data inputs and/or transmitting data about the conditions in this very moment. For example, if you don’t have a way of using real-time data to generate insight on-the-fly, then it’s not very useful to the driver who’s looking for an open and affordable parking space.

Hundreds, maybe even thousands of companies, are busy building the analytical tools that enable big data to become little insights, each of which are (ideally) actionable. The cities in North America starting to make headway along these lines are early leaders. They are the cities investing in the big data analytics to make those little insights available to whoever inside the city needs to take an action.

The Road to Becoming a Smart City

On the road to this smart-city future there are many big challenges, however. Much of the US city infrastructure currently in place was built 30 or more years ago. How do you take digital intelligence and overlay it on top of a city’s aging physical system? A convergence of digital with physical is imperative, since this is what makes it possible to manage infrastructure in ways that reduce energy consumption and decrease overall energy demand.

Expensive physical assets, into which we’ve invested trillions of our treasure, do not change without a fight.  How do existing structures — buildings, roadways, pipes (water, sewage, gas, oil), bridges,  tunnels — become a hyper-intelligent, more responsive, sustainable infrastructure? One method is by using digital sensor networks placed on top of old existing systems. This seems to make more sense than ripping out these degraded physical systems.

Achieving important goals – such as reducing climate-changing gas emissions — means reducing energy consumption and softening the natural system impact of human activity. In essence, we must re-engineer our collective metabolism. This becomes a bit easier when connected things transmit data – and due to their connectivity these smart-objects have the potential to effect change. When data is analyzed in real time, it then becomes possible to change the business process, whatever it might be. It could be commuting from point A to point B; finding a parking space; lights turning on and off, as needed – all of these systems can be made more responsive to real world conditions.

Canadian-Style Public  + Private Sector Partnerships

There are an abundance of innovative solutions emerging from the private sector. Public sector agencies – often lacking technology backgrounds – do struggle to figure out which technologies are the best for their city. Unfortunately, this often results in a state of confusion, especially with such an abundance of choices.

Public/private partnerships, Canadian style, will inevitably become much more prevalent around the world. Canada’s certainly been a pioneer by developing innovative approaches to public-private partnership.

There are many companies who offer smart streetlights and many other companies providing smart parking meters. The question is, how best to help the decision makers in these cities make the most appropriate choices? Sometimes public agencies will have to partner with the private sector; sometimes they need to turn to their citizens; and sometimes they need look closely at what other cities are doing and learn from their lessons.

The good news is that we can and will transform the built environment. There are always going to be unknowns, and we’ll find some unintended consequences that we didn’t expect. Consider the situation facing my home city of San Francisco. One of the unintended consequences of the economy’s digital transformation is that living in this city has become much less affordable than it should be. A shift has occurred, rending any semblance of economic balance, accentuating big divides between the haves and the have-nots. Those who historically lived in the downtown are now in conflict with young, highly-paid technology workers who want to live downtown — even if it means crowding out the people who have historically been there. This is same situation in other cities, like Toronto and Vancouver. An unintended, negative consequence for all the people suffering through resultant dislocations.

The Bankers’ Lens

What’s holding us back from making all the changes as fast as they’re needed? How will these changes be financed? GLOBE Capital in Toronto on April 4th and 5th will address this head on. We’ll debate how to finance the innovation economy in ways that enable the deployment of transformational digital tools — and in ways that make all lives better.

In this domain the visionary bankers are key. Bankers will always look at new opportunities through a banker’s lens. They do want to know the risks, and to understand the impacts: What will generate new revenue? What will reduce existing costs? Offering solutions that reduce costs or increase revenue or create new revenue models – this is key. Without these, the banks won’t step up and participate in financing smarter urban infrastructure.

I spend much of my time advising investors, and the very first priority is to find the inefficiencies. Consider Uber, as an example: take on the highly inefficient taxi industry, build a platform that allows the car owner to provide their own asset, thus making it possible for Uber to not own a single vehicle while being the largest provider of taxi services in the world. The same with Airbnb – as the largest hotelier in the world they sell a million room nights every day, but don’t own any hotel. These companies have created ways to engage asset owner who are willing to make their asset available for a fee. Technology enabled these transactions between asset owners and short-term buyers who had a need. Look first to the inefficient systems that the economy has slowly built, over decades or centuries, and change those systems very fast.

Can digital innovation disrupt those businesses in a ways that don’t create economic dislocation for those who depend on incomes built on the older models? Uber creates a lot of disruption, and not all of it is ethical or sustainable. Impact-minded investors increasingly want to see responsible investment opportunities created by emerging technologies.

The challenges ahead are fourfold: keeping the new economy people-centered; minimizing potential negative impacts; bringing wealth-generation opportunities to all classes of people; and, reducing the environmental impacts of human activity.

We are in the middle of an historic time as we experience a big, fundamental transition to a new technology-based economy.