The Jolly Green Investor – Sunday column, November 28, 2010
Canada is “a country that sees itself as a force for good in the world,” says Andrew Heintzman, but “the dawning realization that we have landed squarely on the wrong side of the biggest issue of our time will continue to undermine our self-identity, our self-respect, and our stature on the world’s stage.”
Our transformation into an environmental rogue state is not just a moral and environmental failure, Heintzman notes. It’s also economic stupidity. Humanity has been on an “unparalleled resource binge” that lasted 200 years, but we now realize that resources aren’t limitless. With six billion people on the globe, resources are scarce.
So the biggest economic opportunity of the 21st century is the green economy, “developing processes to use resources efficiently.” That’s where the great fortunes of the future will be made, and that’s where Andrew Heintzman earns his living.
Heintzman, who spoke eloquently at Nova Scotia’s recent “Power of Green” conference, is the author of The New Entrepreneurs: Building a Green Economy for the Future. He is also the president of Investeco, Canada’s first green investment company. Investeco specializes in finding little green companies that are solving big green problems, and turning a profit by helping them to grow.
For example, a billion people rely on contaminated drinking water, which kills 1.5 million children annually. In Southern Ontario, a cluster of small companies are developing innovative water-purification systems. In Toronto, a company called Echologics diagnoses leaks in water mains by their faint hissing sound, saving precious water. People on arid sea-coasts could use a really low-cost, low-energy method of desalinating sea-water. Enter Saltworks, a tiny company on the Vancouver waterfront, which has developed just such a technology.
Investeco owns a piece of Triton Logging, which specializes in underwater logging. What? Under Ootsa Lake, created by BC’s Kenney Dam, stands a drowned forest containing $1.2 billion worth of perfectly-preserved timber. Using its patented “Sawfish,” an unmanned submersible with a huge saw, Triton is recovering that prime wood. Underwater logging is a glorious opportunity. In 1900, the world had no dams higher than 15 meters. Today there are more than 36,000. Triton’s next project is in Africa, in Ghana’s Lake Volta.
Heintzman’s magical mystery tour of Canadian innovation includes small wind turbines, small hydro, photovoltaics, and Dalhousie University’s own Ocean Tracking Network, which provides sophisticated tools for monitoring marine animal populations. He’s enthusiastic about the electric car, the plug-in hybrid, the prospects for dramatic breakthroughs in battery technology. He has a lovely vision of the “smart grid,” where electricity is priced moment-by-moment according to demand. Your electric car charges its batteries overnight using off-peak rates or wind power. You plug it in at work, and in mid-afternoon the grid asks your Blackberry whether you’d like to earn a profit by selling back the surplus from the car’s batteries.
Heintzman admires Bullfrog Power, which now sells clean green electricity all across Canada. Clients – I’m one – pay a little more on their power bills, and that extra money allows Bullfrog to feed power from renewable sources into the national grid, and sell it to customers wherever they are. Heintzman knows Bullfrog well; its president is his brother Tom.
Andrew Heintzman radiates optimism. Like his mentor Paul Hawken, he believes that business is an indispensable player in the green revolution. Government must set rules that recognize the environmental costs of doing business. Business will respond with exhilarating innovation.
But Heintzman is also worried. Although individual Canadian entrepreneurs are quickly moving into the new economy, our governments are dozing. While Israel, Finland, Japan and Korea are spending more than 3% of their GDP on research and innovation, Canada lags at 1.9%. We committed only 0.2% of GDP to green stimulus projects; China committed 2.73%, nearly 15 times more.
“Canada today has virtually no national strategy on renewable energy; no plans for high speed rail lines in development; no national smart-grid plans of any consequence; no greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets of any meaning; and no energy efficiency goals,” Heintzman concludes. “In short, Canada is lacking a coherent national strategy on the most important economic questions of our time.”
Devastating. But it has the awful ring of truth.