Canadian cleantech: Why green is becoming the rule rather than the exception

Cleantech isn't just helping save the environment, it's also saving money for businesses like yours

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The green economy was once a niche sector devoted to the development of processes and products that reduced or eliminated threats to the environment. Most agreed it was an admirable undertaking, but many business owners believed so-called "cleantech" would be too impractical – costly and inefficient – to makes sense for their operations.

Times are changing.

"There has been a transformational shift across Canada in thinking about innovation and clean technology," says Leah Lawrence, president and CEO of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a federal agency devoted to supporting the creation of a nationwide cleantech ecosystem. "The green economy isn’t green anymore. It's now the whole economy that we're trying to take to a new place."

"The green economy isn’t green anymore. It's now the whole economy that we're trying to take to a new place."

Since its inception in 2001, SDTC has helped more than 300 cleantech companies develop a host of technologies that are changing the way Canadian companies do business, from Ontario-based Morgan Solar's proprietary process of making solar panels using fewer and less expensive parts, to Manitoba's FarmersEdge, a company developing assessment solutions to help farmers more efficiently manage their chemical, water and energy usage.

It's not just the government pushing things forward. MaRS Discovery Disctrict, a not-for-profit corporation in Toronto, has a cleantech division dedicated to supporting the development of sustainable technologies that can potentially have a significant impact both within Canada and around the globe.

"We identify cleantech companies with potential," says Tyler Hamilton, a senior manager of partnerships with MaRS. "We offer advisory support, educational support, and market intelligence. But our biggest role is to connect people with ideas to investors that can help make those ideas a reality."

One of the companies MaRS has helped along is GreenMantra Technologies, a business with a proprietary process that cheaply and efficiently converts hard-to-recycle plastics – like grocery bags and film – into useful waxes and chemicals. And GreenMantra is proving that doing good for the environment is also a good way to make money.

"Our company has been overwhelmed with demand that far exceeds our current capacity," says founder Kousay Said. "We are planning an expansion to our current facility in Brantford, Ont., as well as another plant."

Another MaRS beneficiary, ReDeTec, is helping make 3D printing more affordable via sustainable printing material. Its ProtoCycler allows businesses with 3D printers to recycle their own waste plastic into 3D printer filament, greatly reducing the cost and environmental footprint of 3D printing. And they've no shortage of customers.

"We never thought we'd start getting orders and earning revenue before we started shipping or did any marketing at all," says ReDeTec CEO Dennon Oosterman. "But due to the demand for our solution, people are googling for sustainable 3D printing, finding us online, and putting up with long lead times just to get their hands on one."

Cleantech and innovative new environmental processes are popping up almost everywhere, and in the most unlikely of industries. B.C.'s Westport Innovations – an early SDTC investment – figured out a way to use natural gas as a replacement for diesel fuel in large mining trucks. Nova Scotia's CarbonCure has provided concrete manufacturers a means to store waste carbon dioxide in their products as solid limestone.

And what seems clear is that cleantech is a sector in which Canada is poised to become a trailblazer.

"Canada has an opportunity to match the intense focus of other nations in this area and lead the world in the low-carbon energy transition," says SDTC's Lawrence. "The key is to encourage Canadian companies to adopt the great ideas that are being developed here today."

"The key is to encourage Canadian companies to adopt the great ideas that are being developed here today."

If your company is working toward revamping its processes, here are three key reasons why you might want to consider investing in cleantech.

1. It's not as expensive as you might think

"The crazy thing about cleantech is that it's usually a lot more cost-efficient," explains ReDeTec's Dennon Oosterman. "The whole idea behind it is to conserve resources and minimize waste, both of which drive down costs."

2. You don't have to sacrifice efficiency

GreenMantra's Kousay Said says the best cleantech compares well not just in terms of price, but also function. "Cleantech needs to be competitive in a direct way, at the product level. Our products are cost-competitive, and there is no compromise to performance. Sustainability is the tie-breaker."

3. Your customers want to know you're doing your part

More and more businesses (and retail customers) are researching their suppliers' commitment to sustainable practices as a standard part of the vetting process. They want to do business with companies dedicated to doing their bit for the environment. In many industries, neglecting cleantech is – or will soon be – a competitive disadvantage.