4 CSI Alumni Secure Over 8M in Funding

We’re rounding up a summer of major funding wins from some of our CSI alumni! After participating in either our WOSEN Investment Readiness Supports program or Earth Tech accelerator, these ventures leveraged what they learned to secure over $8M in funding to launch, scale, and drive impact for people and the planet. Check it out: 

Flash Forest 

Flash Forest, one of our Earth Tech 2020 ventures, uses swarms of autonomous drones to plant trees faster, cheaper, safer and with more ease than ever. They’re on a mission to plant 1 billion trees by 2028 by bringing their tech to six continents and pulling billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere. $3.5M in additional funding will help them do that. 

After an initial nomination from CSI for the SDTC’s $100K seed grant, Flash Forest went on to secure another $1.7M from the Canadian clean tech foundation. They also raised $1.8M frm Emissions Reduction Alberta. Here’s their CEO and founder, Bryce Jones, demonstrating what they do and speaking with Emissions Reduction Alberta about what this funding will help them achieve: 

Foodpreneur Lab 

Over the last year, JaniceHeadshot of Janice Bartley Bartley participated in the WOSEN Investment Readiness Supports program. The program is designed to support established social ventures in identifying, developing, and securing funding opportunities in the coming year. This week, Janice’s venture, Foodpreneur Lab, secured $3M in investment from the Government of Canada’s Ecosystem Fund

The ripple effects from this funding will be felt sector-wide: Foodpreneur Lab advances racial and gender equity by supporting the start up and scale up of Canadian food entrepreneurs. 

RainStick

Alisha and Sean McFetridge, co-founders of RainStickAnother Earth Tech alum and SDTC seed fund recipient, RainStick just raised over $1M in investments towards the launch of their water-saving, high-pressure shower. 

RainStick Shower is a unique recirculating system that saves 80% water and 80% energy without compromising quality. “Right now, we need to be doing more,” Alisha McFetridge, RainStick’s co-founder and CEO, told BetaKit in an interview. “I think there’s a huge opportunity. We’re seeing droughts, forest fires, and I think that I’m really excited about the future of climate tech, and I’m excited that RainStick is one of those folks that are working towards a solution.” We can’t wait to see this product out in the world!

Just Vertical 

Just Vertical is on a mission to reduce foodKevin and Conner, co-founders of Just Vertical insecurity by rethinking how we source and produce affordable food. The answer? Vertical, indoor gardens. This Earth Tech alum creates vertical hydroponic growing systems that fit beautifully into living spaces and grow an abundance of affordable, nutritious food. 

Co-founders Kevin and Conner are happy to announce they closed their seed round this July having raised over $625,000. The seed round was raised with two partners: District Ventures and PAX. They are now in the process of raising a Series A round of funding, scheduled to close by the end of September 2021. 

We’re so excited to see how far these alumni have come. Congratulations, everyone!!

ALT TEX Takes Home 1st Place Audience Choice Award at Earth Tech Pitch Night

On June 30, supporters from across Canada and beyond tuned in to meet the next generation of Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs helping to build the Next Economy. 

Sixteen startups from our 2021 Earth Tech cohort presented their work and progress to over 160 people.To make it interesting, we let the audience vote live on which five entrepreneurs would move to the final round, and, of those, which three would win a total of $10,000. Our Earth Tech accelerator supports early-stage climate and water enterprises, and is made possible by the RBC Foundation, Bullfrog Power and the Peter Gilgan Foundation, with additional prize money for Pitch Night provided by Fiix

If you missed the event, catch all the pitches in full here or check out our recap of the night below: 

Breaking down complex cleantech solutions in a time crunch is no easy feat. In a first lightning round of elevator pitches, our 2021 Earth Tech cohort put everything on the line – and we really mean that: one pitch from Farmlife Academy featured farm fresh produce; Nyoka Design Labs lit up our screens with their earth-friendly glow sticks; and of course, no Zoom event would be complete without a cat cameo… though, this time our four-legged friend was part of Community Garden App’s pitch

Then, the audience voted again, and after a very close count, five ventures went on to the finals and delivered their full, five-minute pitch complete with pitch decks. They were: Watersheds Canada, ALT TEX, Calmura Natural Walls, AquaSignum, and Nyoka Design Labs

And the Winners Are…

After a second, very close audience vote, the Audience Choice Awards went to….

Third place ($2,000): Watersheds Canada scored a well-deserved win! Since 2002, this national charity has been working to protect and restore Canada’s freshwater ecosystem. Program Manager, Chloe Lajoie, broke down their Natural Edge program, an initiative that provides people with the knowledge, tools, and guidance to design and restore natural shorelines. Here’s a look at their impact on a three-year project:

Second place ($3,000): AquaSignum landed a second-place win! AquaSignum creates sensors that measure the activity of microorganisms or bacteria in real-time to help determine water quality. 

Check out their cutting-edge technology:

First place ($5,000): ALT TEX took home first prize! ALT TEX is creating the most sustainable polyester alternative, from one of the world’s largest landfill contributors – food waste.

Co-Founder and CEO of ALT TEX, Myra Arshad, won over audience members with her heart and her numbers: polyester is the largest polluter within the fast fashion industry, generating 7 million tonnes of waste and 40 trillion ocean microplastics per year. ALT TEX is positioned to radically disrupt and transform this industry:

Everyone’s a Winner! 

While we love the competitive spirit, it’s worth noting that every venture in our 2021 cohort has big wins to celebrate this year. They are part of a larger network of 139 early-stage ventures who, while participating in our Climate Ventures programs, have earned & raised over $33M while supporting 400 jobs. 

“We’ve spent the last six months working with [each venture] to advance their solutions and businesses,” said Barnabe Geis, Executive Director of Climate Ventures, at the start of the pitch night. “And let me tell you, every one of them has made incredible progress, and many in the cohort have had impressive wins, such as raising significant seed funding and running major pilot projects.” Congratulations to all! 

After the Party is the Afterparty 

What a night! And it didn’t stop there. Following the pitch competition, ventures, panelists, and audience members alike headed to our virtual Gather space for cleantech drinks co-hosted by CleanTech North and the Ontario Clean Technology Industry Association

From textiles manufactured from food waste to data analytics for aquaculture, these early-stage entrepreneurs are doing incredible things for people and the planet. We are proud to be part of fast-tracking their success and to collaborate with so many funders, industry partners, government leaders and innovators, many of whom showed up to cheer on our ventures and support their work. Thank you to everyone who made the night such a success. 

With that, see you next year! 

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Climate Ventures, now an initiative of the Centre for Social Innovation and Foresight Canada, fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at climateventures.org.

These Women are Sharing What it Takes to Run an Internationally-Recognized Social Enterprise

When Adrianna Couto and Erika Reyes met at CSI, they instantly felt an “incredible connection,” largely ignited by their passion for sustainability. Neither of them could have predicted that just a couple years later, they would join forces as co-founders of Inwit, a social enterprise working to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste. In fact, before joining CSI, neither of them could have predicted they would become social entrepreneurs at all, let alone pilot Toronto’s first low-waste takeout platform. 

CSI actually inspired me to become an entrepreneur,” Adrianna explains. In Erika’s case, she was “familiar with entrepreneurship and the startup world, but I didn’t know the term ‘social entrepreneur’ until I arrived at CSI.” Both women quickly took our community and programs by storm, enrolling in the DECA program, Social Entrepreneurship 101, the WOSEN program and participating in Climate Ventures. Whew! What a list. Now, Inwit is set to launch after being ranked one of the top 15 global solutions in the international Circular Innovation City Challenge!

Instagram post of Adrianna and Erika holding their reusable containers in the air

With an eye to disrupt Toronto’s single-use plastic takeout problem, the app-based program enables Torontonians to enjoy their favourite takeout dishes from across the city out of reusable containers. 

It’s easy to wonder: how did they get here so quickly? Or worse, be left thinking: I could never do that. There are so many assumptions and myths tied to entrepreneurship (not to mention gendered stereotypes). Here’s a few: you’re either born an entrepreneur or you’re not. Entrepreneurs must work long hours alone, give up their social life, and have a surefire, original idea to even consider getting started. Make no mistake, Adrianna and Erika have persevered and worked very hard, but when it comes to old tropes like these, their story and success defy them all.

Here’s a glimpse into their path to social entrepreneurship: 

Getting Started by Getting Involved 

Erika: When I decided to research and pilot solutions to single-use plastics, I didn’t know how or with whom. I was a newcomer in the city with no network. I made the choice to leave the marketing industry to make the world a better place. I became a DECA at CSI to connect with others. I made amazing friends, and it gave me a feeling of belonging. It also gave me access to other entrepreneurs to challenge my ideas and connect with likeminded people.

Adrianna: I had an internship at the Ontario Council For International Cooperation, an organization based out of CSI Spadina. I also organized awareness events and meetings at CSI, whether for myself or other organizations I worked with, like Water Docs and Kids Right to Know. From there, I launched a single-use plastic reduction initiative called Beaches Reduces and moved on to become a DECA and CSI Member at the Annex location. CSI became my home away from home and as I expanded from my first initiative to my second, Collective Impact Journey, the CSI programs provided me with the tools I needed to feel confident as an entrepreneur.

The Programs 

Erika: CSI has supported me all the way from ideation to the creation of our business model,  giving me access to a network, the skills to become a leader, and the space to pilot solutions and form my team.

Social Entrepreneurship 101 helped me identify my why, ideate my first business model and map all the different stakeholders that I needed to engage to make it happen. 

The WOSEN program matched me with a wonderful coach who guided me and supported my leadership style. 

Climate Ventures gave me the opportunity to incubate my ideas and nourish them, have access to advisors, and interact with other entrepreneurs working for climate solutions who challenge my ideas and inspire me. 

The DECA program gave me a community of other members, DECAs and staff, as well as the opportunity to meet my wonderful co-founder and business partner. 

The Meet Cute 

Adrianna: Erika and I metSelfie of Adrianna Couto and Erika Reyes of Inwit at Climate Ventures. I was organizing a film screening event for Kids Right to Know at CSI at the time. Erika shared her passion for single-use plastic reduction with her first venture, Wisebird, and I asked Erika to table at our event; this was our ‘Meet Cute.’ The magic between us really happened, though, the second time we connected at CSI when I first became a DECA

We shared a coffee in the lounge at CSI Annex and I filled her in on my new venture, Beaches Reduces, at the time. We almost immediately decided to put our passion for waste reduction together and started spreading awareness on sustainable living. Together, we launched The Zero Waste Cafe, Green Sunday and the Zero Waste Dine & Learn series at CSI. 

Fast forward to May of 2020, when Erika called me up and asked me to join her in her new venture, a new and improved reusable container program. Of course, I was thrilled to once again join forces and here we are a year later, after having worked so hard building Inwit, and about to launch!

The Idea 

“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.” Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future.” By partnering with restaurants across the city, Inwit works in four simple steps: order, pickup, return, and repeat. Customers order their favoured takeout dish through Inwit’s website app, pick up their meal, and then return the reusable containers to any participating restaurant. 

The Importance of Community 

Erika: In a world where we have less and less community and interaction with each other, even with our neighbours, I never felt isolated at CSI. Being an entrepreneur is hard, and being a social entrepreneur is even harder. CSI gave me a community that has given me the resilience to try, fail and restart again. 

Adrianna: There is something so magical about being in the space and getting to connect with so many members regularly. I had never been around so many humans who respected and understood why I was doing what I was doing; why I had this drive to make the world a better place. It was also inspiring to hear what other entrepreneurs in the space were working on and nice to know there was a whole community who was there to support, guide, and help with the many challenges social entrepreneurs face.

Today 

Having just completed the MVP stage of the startup (meaning they have successfully validated their concept and developed a workable, saleable product for use, otherwise known as a “minimum viable product”), Adrianna and Erika are hard at work on the ground, securing partnerships with restaurants and educating the community on how to best implement their reusable takeout container system. To follow along with their journey and to find out when you can get your hands on an Inwit-approved takeout dish, find them on instagram: @inwit.app

Photo of Inwit's restaurant partners

Their advice to emerging social entrepreneurs? No surprise here: Find the people who really hear your voice because it reminds them of their own,” Adrianna says. They did and it shows.

Interested in finding your community as a CSI Member?

Today, CSI is Canada’s largest social innovation community. Some of our members are new to the social innovation world, while others have decades of entrepreneurial experience under their belt. Find your community here. 

 

Protecting Old-Growth Forests: A Climate Ventures Conversation with Nicole Rycroft

Nicole Rycroft has made it her life’s work to protect trees and forests. 

For our latest Climate Ventures Conversation, we sat down with Nicole, the Founder and Executive Director of Canopy, for a conversation about how Canopy works to protect the world’s forests by working with industry customers and suppliers to transform supply chains.  

Our conversation couldn’t have been more timely: as we spoke in late May, hundreds of land defenders were attracting international media attention for protecting an old-growth stand on Vancouver Island, B.C. We spoke with Nicole about her work, why we need to stop logging old-growth forests, and why the conservation movement must prioritize justice. We’ve got your highlights below and you can listen to the full conversation here: 

Getting to the Roots of the Problem 

We wasted no time in our conversation getting to the root and scale of the problem when it comes to Nicole’s work. As Nicole pointed out, 3.2 billion trees are disappearing into packaging and clothing every year. In fact, 800 year old trees are being made into pizza boxes. 

“Anybody who reads the newspaper, anybody who reads the scientific journal is probably tempted to reach for a bottle of wine” Nicole jokes dryly. 

Or chain themselves to a tree.

As of early June 2021, the stand on Vancouver Island for Fairy Creek and Walbran Valley has intensified, as hundreds have been arrested and thousands across the country have spoken out, and the government has responded in turn. Why the standoff? Only 2.7% of high-productivity old-growth remains in B.C. and despite small recent deferrals, the government continues to allow old-growth logging across the island and the province.

And given we’re in a climate emergency, Nicole highlighted how old-growth forests are also carbon sinks; older trees store vast amounts of carbon throughout their lifetime keeping it from entering the atmosphere. So “logging in high carbon value forests is akin to fossil fuel and tar sand extraction,” Nicole explains. 

“We don’t have the ability in our carbon-constrained world to continue logging old-growth forests. That needs to stop. Protecting forests is the fastest and most economical way for us to stabilize our planet…The scientific community is very clear: we need to protect (at least) 30-50% of the world’s forests by 2030. There should be protection for those forests that are still old-growth and standing and there needs to be significant restoration of those areas that have already been degraded.”

Photo by Jesse Winter/Narwhal
Photo: Jesse Winter / The Narwhal
Transformation on a Global Scale: How Canopy Works 

Nicole founded the Vancouver-based environmental nonprofit Canopy in 1999 with an $1800 budget and the belief that “we could do things in a smarter way.” They’ve now evolved into an impactful organization with over twenty staff and an impressive list of campaign successes to their name. 

One of Canopy’s greatest successes (and one of Nicole’s favourite stories) is their work “greening” the Harry Potter series in 2007. Working with Raincoast Books and with the approval of J.K. Rowling herself, they developed the greenest book in publishing history to date. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was printed on ecopaper free of ancient or endangered forest fibre.  According to Nicole, this collaboration “triggered a broader revolution in the way that book publishing is done with the Canadian book industry spearheading that.” 

Since then, Canopy has broadened its scope to transform the fashion and packaging industries as well. The organization now works directly with brands and suppliers to shift unsustainable supply chains to more circular practices with a focus on protecting trees in critical, ancient and endangered ecosystems. 

While we environmentally-minded folks are often hyper-focused on plastic, did you know that three billion trees disappear into the packaging we get delivered to our doors everyday? Canopy’s Pack4Good campaign is working to reduce that number through smarter design: “One of the brand partners we work with redesigned the box they use between their warehouse and their store,” Nicole explained. “They changed the design and their systems so they could reuse that box seven to eight times. In doing so, they saved 85% of the resources and saved themselves 14 million dollars. Smart design can move us so far down the tracks.” 

An Ashoka Fellow and former elite athlete, Nicole is also the recipient of a Canadian Environment Award Gold Medal, the Meritorious Service Cross of Canada and the 2020 winner of the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award. Impressive, right?  

“It takes tenacity.” Nicoleheadshot of Nicole Rycroft emphasized. “You have to be shameless. You have to be willing to pick up the phone and call and then call again and again. [You have to] recognize that just because it’s our priority doesn’t mean it’s the priority of the other person on the other side of the phone. Part of getting in the door is understanding the value proposition, priorities and realities of the other person on the line.” 

Nicole recently took to thephones to call up and convince over 100 prominent celebrities, including Margaret Atwood and Neil Young, to sign an open letter demanding an immediate stop to old-growth logging in BC. She said the response was “overwhelming” and her campaign is now making waves. 

Conservation Has to Advance Justice 

“What underscores conservation is that it has to be socially durable and socially just, otherwise it won’t last,” Nicole emphasized. “Decades ago, the approach to conservation was you stick a fence around an area and stick a sign in it, say it’s a path, and then that’s it.” Our conversation touched on this problematic history; it’s well-documented that many leading, early environmentalists were blatantly racist and exclusionary. 

Early conservation efforts often led to the removal of Indigenous people from their lands to create parks. For example, in Banff National Park Indigenous people were excluded from visiting the land and forbidden from practicing traditional stewardship, even though, as Nicole points out, “study after study shows that traditional [stewardship] consistently results in higher levels of conservation of those lands.”

Nicole was clear about where her field is going: “Conservation has to advance justice.” 

What’s more, according to Nicole, “[Conservation] has to be viable for communities that are going to continue to live there, whether it’s in Indonesia or Sierra Leone or here in Canada. It has to be a third door. It can’t just be that everything is 100% protected and we’re not utilizing what it has or we are just going to bulldoze it.” 

Nicole continues, “Here in Canada, governments need to be financially supporting First Nations so they have resources to be able to sit and participate at the table and contribute in really meaningful ways. I was encouraged that in the recent federal government budget, over 3 billion dollars was dedicated to conservation as part of protecting 30 percent of forests by 2030. A lot of that has to go to First Nations because it’s [often] going to be their land that’s going to be conserved.”

While the problem is vast, Nicole finds hope in unexpected places. “As devastating as covid has been and continues to be on so many levels, it’s shown the pace of change that can happen if needed. Oftentimes when there have been economic hardships historically, sustainability has been moved to the back-burner, and during covid, if anything, it has been moved further on the front-burner. Even though some of the dinosaur industries have fired back up in the immediate wake of COVID-19, I think it’s really clear that we are going to be transitioning.”

We’re taking a break for the summer from Climate Ventures Conversations but will be back with a stellar lineup of speakers in the fall. 

In the meantime, join us at our Earth Tech Pitch Night on June 30 to hear cleantech entrepreneurs share how their technologies are helping to build the low-carbon economy and a better future for all. 

Climate Ventures fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also collaborate with governments, large companies, investors and other partners to solve challenges and scale solutions to meet climate targets. Learn more at climateventures.org.

5 Reasons You Should Come to Our Earth Tech Pitch Night

You won’t want to miss Earth Tech Pitch Night on June 30. Earth Tech is our accelerator for early-stage cleantech startups working on climate and water solutions. At the end of June, our 2021 cohort will share about their work and likely inspire you with their tech innovations. Every one of them was selected by us for their potential impact. On top of that, three of them will get selected by the audience – that’s you! – for Audience Choice Awards and cash prizes. We can’t wait! 

Here’s what to expect from an Earth Tech Pitch Night (and why we think you should tune in): 

1. A Party for the Planet 

What better way to ring in the summer than with another Zoom event?! 

Just kidding. What better way to kick off a season of better weather than with a night supporting people working hard for the planet? We all need an excuse for a little celebration. It’s been a tough year, to say the least, and with the climate crisis becoming more terrifying by the day, we could all benefit from hearing about solutions and how we can support them. Also, we’ll end the event with some networking by shifting to our virtual space, which is great for connecting and feels almost like real life.

2. Solutions, Solutions, Solutions 

We’re bringing you promising solutions from 17 ventures across Canada – from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, from cutting-edge sensors to sustainable textiles, from apps to hardware. Come discover and cheer on these entrepreneurs as they share how their technologies are helping to build the low-carbon economy and a better future for all. 

3. The stakes are high and you get to decide! 

That’s right: public opinion rules the night. In the first round, each venture will give an elevator pitch. Then, the audience will vote on which five ventures move to the final round. Then, you vote again! The audience will select which three ventures win the Audience Choice and cash prizes totalling $10,000. Don’t miss your chance to have a say – last year was so close; it was gripping! 

4. Money, money, money (monayyyyy)

Early-stage cleantech startups can struggle to raise the funding they need to prove their technologies and get them to market. And while $10,000 may not be make or break, the audience validation helps and every dollar counts! Thanks to prize money contributors Fixx, and our partners at the RBC Foundation, Bullfrog Power and the Peter Gilgan Foundation for making this all possible. 

5. Now’s the Time to Grow Canadian Cleantech 

We’re at a critical moment in the development of Canada’s cleantech industry. As we look to build back better, now’s the time to seize this opportunity to pivot to a green economy and support homegrown talent and innovation. Early-stage ventures are showing us what’s possible. 

Register here and come show your support on June 30! 

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Our Climate Ventures initiative fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at climateventures.org.

“Waste to Wardrobe” Venture Closes Pre-seed Round at 1.5M

ALT TEXALT TEX founders Myra and Avneet in research lab is creating sustainable textiles out of fermented food waste. Best friends and co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra developed a polyester alternative with an eye to disrupt the near $104 billion (USD) polyester industry by creating a circular, biodegradable, and carbon neutral product that addresses two major consumption problems: plastic and food waste. They recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 M, proving there is a major appetite for solving fashion’s microplastic problem and upending the fast fashion market. 

When we asked our 2021 Earth Tech venture what this support means to them, co-founder Myra Arshad said: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

More from ALT TEX:

“ALT TEX, a Toronto-based biomaterials style startup, has closed a $1.5 million CAD pre-seed round to scale the production of its waste-to-wardrobe biotechnology. […] The pre-seed round brings ALT TEX’s total funding to $1.7M, following $200,000 previously raised through non-dilutive sources.

Short for ‘alternative textiles’, ALT TEX is creating circular, biodegradable and carbon neutral textiles engineered from one of the world’s largest landfill contributors – food waste. The company’s novel bio-polymer technology re-engineers sugars extracted from the food waste into high performance, polyester-like fibres and fabrics for sustainable fashion brands. The closed-loop alternative is aimed to replace polyester, which makes up over 60% of textile manufacturing. Their closed loop technology allows them to do this at a competitive price to other sustainable options, and without sacrifice to performance.

ALT TEX was founded in 2019 by Myra Arshad, a third-generation textile entrepreneur alongside her best friend, Avneet Ghotra, who has a background in environmental science and biochemistry. ‘This industry has always been close to me given my family’s background in this space, but the level of customer, investor and general stakeholder interest we have received really validates that the environmental and ethical problems are also becoming personal to the general population,’ said Arshad. According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, the fashion industry could use more than 26% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 – ALT TEX claims that a single t-shirt created with its material can divert up to 9 kg of carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

‘The industry is growing rapidly and with over 60% of consumers indicating a willingness to pay more for the clothes we wear, our highly scalable technology has the ability to completely replace one of the most polluting textiles we use daily.’ With the polyester manufacturing sector valued at $104 billion, ALT TEX expects to expand globally in the coming years to tackle the large market gap.

The NEXT 36 and Creative Destruction Lab backed startup has been well supported through the Canadian tech ecosystem which also includes Centre for Social Innovation, Schulich Startups and University of Toronto Entrepreneurship. They’re now attracting attention from the global fashion ecosystem with several pilot agreements locked in for their 2022 launch. With this funding, they are now looking to quickly grow their team with several new research positions and expand their R&D operations to begin serving these fashion brands by next year.”

Continue Reading:  https://betakit.com/alt-tex-closes-1-5-million-pre-seed-round-to-commercialize-sustainable-polyester-alternative/

Read more about our Earth Tech Ventures’ recent wins!

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Our Climate Ventures initiative fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at climateventures.org.

13 Earth Tech Ventures Winning Big for the Planet

It’s Canadian Innovation Week. This year’s theme includes a call to celebrate social innovators who move “from challenge to champion.” With that, we’re profiling the big wins of some of our 2020 and 2021 Earth Tech ventures as they champion cleantech solutions that tackle pressing environmental challenges. 

Earth Tech is CSI Climate Ventures’ accelerator for those working on climate or water technology solutions across Canada. Over six months, our 2020 cohort earned and raised $4M, supported 76 jobs, and established 116 partnerships while participating in Earth Tech. Our 2021 cohort is on track for as much success. Three of our Earth Tech ventures have  received funding from the SDTC Seed Fund with our nomination. All of these ventures are working harder than ever to ensure a flourishing future for people and the planet – and from the looks of their ‘wins’, it’s paying off. 

Our 2021 program has been supported by the RBC Foundation, the Peter Gilgan Foundation, Bullfrog Power and VCIB

Headshot of Myra ArshadALT TEX

ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles engineered from food waste. Using their proprietary fermentation technology, this venture ferments food waste into polyester-like bioplastic fabric that is biodegradable and carbon-neutral. 

Big wins: ALT TEX recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 million. They also secured the top prize and audience choice at the UofT RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (awarding them $29,000), top prize at the UofT Adam’s Sustainability Pitch Competition, and the TiE50 prize

Big impact: According to founder Myra Arshad, Grants and awards are how we built ALT TEX’s foundation. Continuing to receive these awards not only provides us the resources we need to continue, but also validates all of our progress and growth.”

Big love: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

Photo of Bryce Jones holding droneFlash Forest 

Flash Forest uses swarms of autonomous drones to plant trees faster, cheaper, safer and with more ease than ever. They’re on a mission to plant 1 billion trees by 2028 by bringing their tech to six continents and pulling billions of tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere. 

Big wins: Here with the numbers, Flash Forest secured $100K from the SDTC seed fund, $100K from their Kickstarter, a pre-seed investment totalling $1.6M, and another $1.8M from Emissions Reduction Alberta! They recently landed four contracts with Canada’s largest forestry and pilot companies, and are set to plant 19 species of trees with 12 pilots across Canada in Spring 2021. How many people does it take to make all this happen? Flash Forest is a team of 18 brilliant minds in engineering, biology, and business development (with a Nobel prize winner on their board to boot!). 

Big impact:These wins will propel us closer to our goal, through investing in R&D, scaling pilot operations across Canada and internationally, building our team, and ultimately planting more trees,” founder and CEO, Bryce Jones emphasized. 

Big love: “I feel energized, privileged, and proud – like seeing your baby grow up.”

Photo of Alisha and Sean McFetridgeRainStick Shower

A water tech company, RainStick’s first product, the RainStick Shower, is a high-flow shower system that saves 80% energy and 80% water through point of use recirculation and filtration, making water clear and clean enough to drink! 

Big wins: Coming on the heels of a successful seed raise, RainStick just received $70,000 from the SDTC Seed Fund and has been named Top 5 in Canada for the Spring’s National Impact Investors Challenge. 

Big impact: CEO and Co-Founder, Alisha McFetridge explains, “These wins allowed us to set up for our official ‘go to market’ in early 2022. It feels fantastic to have others as excited about RainStick as we are. We can’t wait for what the future holds.” 

Photo of Kat Kavanaugh Water Rangers 

Water Rangers empowers people without science training to sample the lakes and rivers near them, upload their data into an app, and learn to become stewards of their waterways. 

Big Wins: Water Rangers recently launched a five-year project with the University of Regina to fill data gaps and conduct scientific research for the province. Volunteers are monitoring 70 lakes alongside scientists. They also co-launched the Lake Erie Guardians with Canadian Freshwater Alliance to monitor and protect the Lake Erie watershed.

Big Impact: Executive Director Kat Kavaunaugh remarked,This growth, plus supporting many other communities to collect water quality data, has our store revenues growing by 425% from last year and allowed us to double the size of our team to support our community. 

Combined with a 320% increase in web traffic from last year, a fully bilingual website, and our work in promoting community-based water monitoring to be included in the new Canada Water Agency, we see no end to where 2021 will take us!”

Photo of Jane JiSpringbay Studio

Springbay Studio drives behavior change of children through empowering, playful and action-based environmental education programs. They provide a data-driven platform for communities and schools to gamify, measure and inspire GHG emissions reduction.

Big win: Springbay Studio successfully piloted a first-of-its-kind online kids competition about climate action. Their League for Green Leaders program promises to engage children in play to learn, play together, and play for our future. During the pilot season, they empowered over 300 children to reduce 15 tonnes of GHG emissions.

Big impact:  Co-Founder and Game Designer, Jane Ji, is planning for scale in the next year: Our goal for the next 12 months is to empower 18,000 children to reduce 14,000 tons of GHG emissions. The pilot proves the feasibility of our new program and provides invaluable learning on how to launch the first season successfully.”    

Big love: We were thrilled by how children were engaged with our League for Green Leaders program. Our original goal was to empower contestants to save 3 tonnes of CO2, but we ended up with over 15 tonnes. Every metric measured here represents a more eco-friendly choice our league participants took in their life. We are excited about the behaviour change empowered by our solution.”   

headshot of Bo SimangoAquafort

Aquafort’s technology works to make aquaculture more sustainable and healthier for fish. They help producers proactively manage and automate disease diagnosis, boost production ecosystem health, and automate monitoring for fish behavior.

Big win: Aquafort developed their MVP software product with two predictive algorithms and a visual dashboard. 

Big impact:  We have a product that we can demo to potential early adopters and ready to deploy in a live, operational setting,” CEO and Founder, Bo Simango, told us. 

Big love:It’s an important milestone which we can use to gain market traction and gather more interest from investors as well. We can also use this evidence to apply for tech development funding.” 

Photo of Conner Tidd and Kevin JakielaJust Vertical

Just Vertical is an indoor vertical hydroponic company that creates furniture that feeds you. Specifically, this venture is a premier vertical growing and vertical farming systems provider for residential and small scale commercial urban farmers. 

Big wins: Just Vertical secured $100,000 from the SDTC Seed Fund, and both funding and a spot in PAX Momentum’s US-based accelerator. 

Big impact: Co-Founder and President Kevin Jakiela explained, This support will help us with our formal US Launch in May, acquiring new customers and expanding growth and sales strategies.”

Big love: “Just Vertical is very proud of this accomplishment as we take the next step in our growth journey as a start-up.”

Photo of Jonas Goldman talking to two peopleScarcity Analytics

Scarcity Analytics uses environmental models to help agriculture-dependent businesses avoid price spikes in their supply chains and improve their climate resilience by pre-emptively building up inventory when an environmental shock is on the horizon.

Big wins: Scarcity Analytics was accepted to the Volta Logistics AI Accelerator with access to $14,000 in pre-seed funding.  

Big impact: According to CEO and Co-Founder, Jonas Goldman, “We’ll use this pre-seed funding to build out our backend machine learning infrastructure – moving beyond our MVP that models almond crops – to allow us to start tracking the impact of environmental disturbances for more crops, and so provide environmental disturbance monitoring solutions for a range of new food and beverage companies.”

Big love: This is a big win for us and we’re excited to see just how many more crops we can provide modelling too.”

Headshot of Shirook AliEcosystem Informatics Inc.

Ecosystem informatics Inc. provides hyper local environmental and meteorological data and analytics with our state of the art AI-powered, mobile monitoring platform. It is an extremely cost effective tool for smart cities and industries to manage the environmental footprint and achieve their suitability objectives.

Big wins: Ecosystem Informatics Inc. received the 2020 Business Excellence Award from Mississauga Board of Trade, and was a featured impact company at Collision 2021.

Big impact: CEO AND Co-Founder, Shirook Ali, told us this recognition “provided exposure and gave additional credibility, boosting our energy as a team as well.” 

Innovia GEO

Innovia GEO Corp. provides clean and efficient geothermal heating and cooling solutions to stakeholders involved in the design, construction, and operation of buildings and homes. Going beyond the status quo, they seek innovative and cost-effective solutions to support the sustainable development of our world.

Big wins: Innovia GEO Corp. successfully commissioned their first full-scale pilot project for their GEOThermal Piles in February.  The technology dramatically cuts the cost of implementing a geothermal heating and cooling system by integrating geothermal functionality directly into a structure’s steel foundation piles. In their summer, they will continue testing so their product will be ready for commercial installations this fall. 

Big impact: President and Co-Founder, Andrew Lee, said, “It’s an amazing feeling getting our pilot project installed after two years of hard work. Our team can’t wait to finish up our testing this summer so buildings can start using clean, efficient and cost effective heating and cooling with our GEOThermal Piles.”

SENTRY

Sentry is a robust real-time biological monitoring platform allowing wastewater treatment operators to understand imbalance and optimize their processes.

Big wins: SENTRY recently closed a funding round with two globally significant investors: SKion Water, a leading investor in the water space, and Factor[e], a leading impact investor. 

Big impact: Client Ambassador and Water Professional, Jon Grant, explains, “To date, we’ve deployed 80 systems globally, and we’re shooting for 400 by the end of 2023. This Series A investment and partnership will play an integral role in helping us do that. SENTRY will also continue to actively explore new projects and partnerships as we continue scaling with the help of Factor[e] and SKion Water.”

Big love: This was amazing for the team. We have been laying the groundwork through a number of early stage programs like Earth Tech who supported us in building skills. To see it pay off is a win for SENTRY and our broader support team.” 

CERT team photo CERT

CERT converts CO2 into renewable chemicals using only electricity and water.

Big win: CERT was selected for the first cohort of the Carbon to Value Initiative

Big impact:We’ll have the opportunity to work with an industry-led Carbon Leadership Council to grow our company and develop partnerships towards deploying our technology for industrial decarbonization.”

Big love: We are very excited to join C2VI and build on our success from 2020 through our participation in the Carbon XPRIZE and the Earth Tech accelerator. To be chosen as one of the top 10 most promising carbontech companies in the C2VI program validates the potential of CERT’s technology.”

SEI Logistics 

SEI Logistics is a manufacturer of solar power equipment and a work lighting system. Based in the interior of British Columbia, they specialize in solar farm construction and off grid solar solutions.

Big wins: SEI recently delivered its prototype solar work light to a local mining operation. In 2021, they also secured their supply contract with Finning Canada, the exclusive dealer of CAT equipment in Western Canada.

Big impact:  CFO Eric S Little emphasized, “This partnership with Finning will enable us to reach a larger audience and provide case studies to the mining industry. It’s also allowed us to hire two employees.”

The Centre for Social Innovation is helping to prove that the Next Economy – one that is regenerative, inclusive and prosperous for all – is possible. 

Our Climate Ventures initiative fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs who are developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also work with governments, large companies and partners to solve challenges and scale solutions. Learn more at climateventures.org.

Human Health Meets Planetary Health: An Earth Day Conversation with Dr. Melissa Lem

Protecting the planet got a little more love and attention this week. And while we know that every day is Earth Day, we were delighted to commemorate by sitting down for a Climate Ventures Conversation with Dr. Melissa Lem, the President-Elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Director of PaRX, and a Vancouver family physician. 

Dr. Lem discussed how we can better human health by protecting the planet, why healthcare workers are positioned to take up the climate justice fight, and how nature is the doctor-recommended prescription we all need to fill. We’ve got your highlights below and you can listen to the full conversation here: 

Why prescribe nature? Planetary health equals human health

Dr. Lem opened our conversation by recounting the first time she saw the stars beyond the urban glow of her hometown of Scarborough: “I felt small but also part of something greater.” This formative, childhood experience on a family camping trip in Bruce Peninsula National Park began her lifelong connection to nature. 

Later, after becoming a family physician and moving to Hazelton in Northern B.C., she felt the everyday impact of what locals there seemed to know – that connecting to nature has a positive impact on your health, too. Yet, being the scientist that she is, Dr. Lem asked herself: “is there evidence to support this feeling?”

A decades-long literature review followed and revealed heaps of research proving the health benefits of nature, none of which she’d heard about in medical school or in any doctor’s office. Through PaRX, Dr. Lem wants to change that. 

Dr. Melissa Lem smiling on a British Columbia beach

PaRX, an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation, is Canada’s first evidence-based nature prescription program. Launched in British Columbia and Ontario last year, the initiative encourages and enables healthcare professionals to prescribe time in nature to patients as a research-supported part of treatment. As Dr. Lem explains, “we wanted to formalize [connecting to nature] because in part, the evidence shows that writing something down increases the chances that the patient will be motivated to make that change.” 

PaRX seeks to make nature an integral part of our healthcare system. And as it turns out, prescribing nature is a prescription for the planet’s health, too. 

“There is a pretty good body of evidence showing that people who are more connected to nature are more likely to protect it,” Dr. Lem told us. “Every time you get someone closer to a meaningful nature connection, you are also doing something for the planet. We are creating this body of people who are nature-connected, so [they are] healthier, but also more motivated to save the planet, which is what our overarching goal is right now.” 

Ensuring everyone can fulfill their nature prescription is something PaRX also cares about. Nature is not open to everyone equally; structural barriers, including park fees, inaccessible or unaffordable transportation, and lack of green urban spaces, make access difficult for many people. There are also exclusionary ideas about who belongs in the “wilderness”. “I think people need to see more people like themselves out in nature,” Dr. Lem emphasizes. 

Beyond encouraging conservation and the stewarding of green spaces to make access easier,  Healthy By Nature Canada, another initiative of the BC Parks Foundation Dr. Lem works with, also partners with organizations like Mosaic to bring people out into nature who might face barriers to access, including new Canadians, refugees, elders, and youth with addiction and mental health issues. 

Reflecting on her own experience, Dr. Lem said: 

“For example, I grew up in Toronto, in a majority-white neighborhood, and I did experience racism growing up that made me feel like ‘other’ and made me feel like I wasn’t necessarily accepted in the space that I grew up in. What I found, personally, is that when I went into those natural spaces, I felt safe. The trees weren’t going to tease me. The brook babbling by was speaking to me in a language I could understand. I think that’s part of connecting people to nature: helping them see that it’s a safe space. […] Giving people that experience goes a long way – for them to see the tall trees for the first time or the stars for the first time in a group that is supportive and inclusive.” 

How does a Family Physician Become an Outspoken Climate Advocate?  

A headshot of Dr. Melissa LemDr. Lem reflects, “To be completely honest, I was kind of avoiding climate change for a while. I was aware of it and I knew we needed to take action on it, but it really wasn’t until I had a child that I realized I had to take action.”

Dr. Lem remembers the exact moment: nursing her three-month old son and reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. “I’m looking at my son on my lap and I can’t ignore this anymore. I’ve worked in the nature and health movement for a while now and [I decided] I really need to start directing my energy towards climate change because that’s what we need to do to save our planet.” Thankfully, she knew other physicians who were speaking up with CAPE, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Their mission? To better human health by protecting the planet through research, campaigns, and organizing healthcare providers to speak up.

“It’s really important for us, especially in the health profession, to frame the work we do in climate change as having co-benefits for humans,” Dr. Lem explains. “The research tells us that it’s not images of polar bears or forests or coral reefs that motivate most humans to make a change. […] Health is something in common we all have. When we start framing climate change as having effects on our health, I think that’s what is going to motivate people to move.” 

And as some of the most trusted professionals, doctors can and must use their voices to advocate for action on climate. “We [need to] mobilize all health professionals to start communicating the message that taking action on climate change is healthy for us and our kids. […] That is what we are really trying to do at CAPE, to get that message across that a healthy planet equals healthy people.”

A Healthy, Green Recovery from COVID-19 

This year has taught us what a severe, global threat to human health means. And yet it bears repeating: the WHO has said that climate change is the greatest risk to human health in the 21st century. 

The clock is ticking, but it’s not too late, and we face a unique opportunity for transformative change in our recovery to COVID-19. One that prioritizes human and planetary health. 

At CAPE, these are the doctors’ orders: We need to invest in areas that improve people and the planet at the same time. Not only is it one of the greatest health threats, tackling climate change is also one of the greatest opportunities we have to improve people’s health.”

For instance, CAPE’s Healthy Recovery Report, released in June 2020, shows that if Canada meets its climate targets, we will save over 100,000 lives between 2030 to 2050 due to air quality improvements alone. 

“These are just the benefits from [tackling] air pollution. By doing this, we also projected we will create 1.3 million good clean sustainable jobs by 2050. […] We need to create investments and regulatory changes that decarbonize our electricity generation, our public transit, our vehicles, our healthcare, and we also need to protect and invest in connecting to nature. We can do this in times of crisis, we’ve done it before.” 

Organizations like CAPE have given us a roadmap. We know what we need to do. For Dr. Lem, two questions remain: “How do we keep ourselves accountable? How do we make it happen?”

We commend Dr. Melissa Lem for doing everything she can as a parent, doctor, and powerful leader to address the climate crisis. You can join her by adding your name to the Earth Day Sign-On letter for a Healthy Recovery to COVID-19. 

What else will you do? 

Our next Climate Ventures Conversations is with Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy, on May 20. Get your tickets!

The Centre for Social Innovation’s Climate Ventures fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also collaborate with governments, large companies, investors and other partners to solve challenges and scale solutions to meet climate targets. Learn more at climateventures.org.

Rethinking Scale to Drive Down Carbon: A Conversation with Mary Pickering

CSI Climate Ventures Conversations are a chance to hear from leaders working for climate solutions. This event series is a part of CSI’s Climate Ventures initiative.  

“More and more, [cities] have become a centre for knowledge and action around climate,” Mary Pickering reflects. And she would know. Mary is the Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships at The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and Senior Advisor of Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3). In March, she sat down with CSI’s Community Manager, Stefan Hostetter, to discuss how TAF and LC3 are investing in low-carbon solutions across Canada, why this work has her rethinking scale, and how we can all be part of the solution. We’ve highlighted a few ideas that really stuck with us below, and you can watch the full conversation here:

In 2004, Mary joined The Atmospheric Fund (TAF), an organization founded on the concept that a city should have a climate agency — something she says was “unheard of” in 1991 Toronto when TAF began. Thankfully, attitudes have changed and with attitudes, so has TAF’s name: TAF originally stood for the Toronto Atmospheric Fund before the organization expanded its mission to drive down carbon all across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

TAF is on a mission to help cities in the GTHA region (and now others, through LC3) become carbon neutral by 2050. The agency invests in low-carbon solutions and supports their scale-up for broad implementation. Scale is everything to TAF. The organization is a bit of a “swiss army knife,” as Mary points out: they are a city agency supported by a government endowment, working inside communities to test and scale a lot of models, all of which give them unique perspectives on the work and frankly, what works.

Low Carbon Cities Canada is an ambitious partnership that brings TAF’s model and learnings to major cities across Canada. LC3 is focused on enabling accelerated scale-up of low carbon solutions while also unlocking community benefits by co-creating with the communities they work in, in an equitable way.

Redefining Scale: Meeting Urgency with Interconnection 

LC3’s mandate is to enable climate action at scale. What does “scale” really mean? For a traditional accelerator or business, scale likely means creating processes that generate growth in product and profit. At TAF, scale means increasing impact. We have so many climate solutions already, yet most of them struggle to scale. Scale looks like reducing more carbon, and quickly. Except, as Mary reflects, it’s not that simple: 

“One the one side, we are on this threshold. If we don’t get this cracked in ten years, forget it. We have to position the scale for us to reach these targets by 2050. […] Incrementalism hasn’t been working. We need these bigger jumps, [and] this is where scaling ideas come in. There’s this urgency, on the one hand. 

On the other hand, it’s about this interconnection. More and more, we understand how Indigenous principles come into play. Everything is connected. […] We need to look at things more broadly. We have to think about multiple outcomes. We talk about multi-solving. […] Not just because we have to solve everything at once. Because if we don’t consider all the different elements, our single issues are likely to fail. Maybe we get one win; maybe we lose it at the next election. We didn’t build broad enough support. We have to design to make these climate issues relevant. And that’s not fast. That’s slow. That takes all kinds of skillful management.” 

TAF and LC3 are rethinking scale by understanding that climate solutions cannot just serve carbon emissions; they must also be rooted in equity and prosperity for all. Gone are the days where every answer to an implementation problem is “faster and bigger”. Local governance, relationship-building at the grassroots level, and prioritizing community benefits are all part of designing for scale. 

Applying Four Lenses for a Low Carbon Future

LC3 focuses on finding local solutions that are proven to work, and positioning them to scale and replicate their success across Canada. As we mentioned, creating solutions requires an interconnected, multi-outcome approach. In our conversation, Mary broke down the four lenses LC3 applies when evaluating projects for this kind of impact: 

1) Significant carbon reduction opportunities 

Mary explains: “Looking out twenty years, we are looking at the potential of something at scale to give a significant reduction. We know what those things are: it’s about buildings. It’s about waste reduction. It’s about the electrification of everything.”

2) Designing for Scale 

She continues: “We analyze [carbon reduction opportunities] but we [also] think about how the activities on those high-impact, low-carbon pathways are being positioned for scale. When you are designing for scale, what’s different about that? We’ll be assessing the ability of the project at hand to scale.” 

3) Community Benefits 

She emphasizes: “We are building broader constituencies of support. We can’t get away anymore with different silos. […] We are always going to be looking for: how can we design these climate actions to do more than the sum of the parts? Contributing to some issues in our cities that are frankly more top of line to people than reducing carbon. So, it makes [the project] more relevant.”

4) Equity 

Mary concludes: “When we find these opportunities, we are going to be applying a fourth lens, which is: how can these benefits be most equitably distributed? Those are the four lenses we will be applying.” 

We Need Everyone 

Working together requires what Mary calls “skillful management,” and as she emphasizes throughout the conversation, it’s worth it. We are stronger together. And while building trust can be a slow process at first, networks save time in the long run. We’re inspired by the work of TAF and LC3, who take these truisms to heart, working hard on the ground and at the national level with seven different organizations in seven very different cities and towns. 

Mary said it best with her call to action at the end of our conversation: 

“Let’s keep trying to unlock these possibilities together because we need everybody on deck. This isn’t something that happens alone. We’ve got to all pull in the same direction – not in the same ways necessarily. […] This is about mobilizing the energy and the ideas we need to really jump ourselves into this new phase. And it’s going to be much better. It’s going to be low carbon and there will be lots of other benefits, too. Let’s create this exciting vision together. 

Our next Climate Ventures Conversations with Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician, Director of PaRx, and President-Elect of the Canadian Associations of Physicians for the Environment, is next week on April 20. Get your tickets!

The Centre for Social Innovation’s Climate Ventures fast-tracks the success of early-stage entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders developing and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. We also collaborate with governments, large companies, investors and other partners to solve challenges and scale solutions to meet climate targets. Learn more at climateventures.org. 

A Just Transition for Oil and Gas Workers: A Conversation with Bruce Wilson

Solar panels, wind turbines, and building labelled energy storage in background of sun-lit field.

CSI Climate Ventures Conversations are a chance to hear from leaders working for climate solutions. This event series is a part of CSI’s Climate Ventures initiative.  

After almost 16 years with Shell, Bruce Wilson felt his life philosophy was diverging more and more from his work at the global energy giant. In 2018, he left to take more urgent action on the climate crisis.

Today, he sits on the Board of Directors at Iron & Earth, deeply involved in paving a path for the just transition to a renewable energy economy. He also founded Thor Hydrogen, an organization focused on the potential of renewable hydrogen to create jobs and decarbonize our energy system.

In early December, Bruce sat down with our Senior Programs Manager Shea Sinnott for a virtual conversation about the challenges faced by oil and gas workers, hydrogen as an energy source, and the complexity of the fossil fuel industry. We’ve highlighted a few key ideas that resonate with us in clips and excerpts below, but you can watch the full conversation here.

On This Page

Iron & Earth: By and For Workers

Iron & Earth is a nonprofit organization led by oilsands workers that is building a future in renewable energy for their fellow oilsands workers through training, education, and advocacy.

At their core, they develop and deliver training programs to facilitate the transition of these workers to jobs in renewable energy. They blend classroom learning with hands-on project experience (through partnerships like RenuWell), so that individuals not only understand the technology and theory behind renewable energy, but are also able to put what they learn into practice.

Through community-based sustainable energy projects, Iron & Earth shows that this career transition is both possible and rewarding, and they build support for a just and prosperous transition. To encourage this shift to a green economy, and fast, they’ve prepared a four-point plan that seeks to retrofit and repurpose infrastructure, support and strengthen ecosystems, upskill the workforce, and support oil and gas companies who want to reposition their work.

For years, the federal government has dragged their heels in taking necessary, bold action to address the climate crisis, despite their stated ambitions to be net-zero by 2050. Since our conversation with Bruce, the federal government announced a long-awaited new Climate Action Plan, including a $15B increase in spending, with policies that match their stated ambitions for emissions reduction.

Yet as we discussed with Bruce in December, and still feel today, time will tell. Bruce put it well: “The devil is in the details, and not just in the details, but in the execution of the details. How do we get ‘er done? What do we need to do?”

A Just Transition for Oil & Gas Workers

Bruce contextualized the shift away from fossil fuels: “The ground that was once solid under the oil and gas industry is eroding, to the point that there’s real jeopardy for a lot of people. Add it to the government’s commitments [and] those all begin to amount to writing on the wall.”

He called on the need to act now, and to act while centring the people most impacted by this transition. We need to figure out a way to support those that would lose their jobs as they look for meaningful, fulfilling work in the Next Economy (as we at CSI and others call it).

“We can wait for bad things to happen, for more people to lose their jobs, and for there to be an economic malaise, the likes of which we’ve never seen — or we can take preemptive action now,” said Bruce. “A just transition is about looking at the totality… We need to protect people, we need to train them for new jobs, we need to identify what these jobs are, we need to identify who is disadvantaged by this. And it needs to be from the people, by the people, driven bottom up. We need a series of dialogues that make sure we bring everyone with us.”

Hydrogen: the new natural gas?

As the Founder of Thor Hydrogen, Bruce is a firm believer in renewable/green hydrogen both as an alternative to fossil fuels, and as a way to transition oilsands workers to new roles in the Next Economy. Our moderator, Shea, and a few attendees voiced some skepticism around hydrogen as a renewable energy source.

As Shea noted, not all hydrogen is truly renewable, and many are wary about the buzz and attention it’s getting as a solution. Shea put it bluntly: “Is hydrogen just the new ‘natural gas’?”

Bruce acknowledged this, but explained what makes him so optimistic: “Blue hydrogen is the new natural gas. It’s the new bridge to the future.”

“[But] to me,” he continued, “the beauty of renewable [green] hydrogen is decentralization. It can be a wonderful thing when you’re up in rural or remote regions where you’re not on the electricity grid, where you want energy independence. [Green hydrogen is] regional, and you can build ecosystems around it.”

The differences between blue and green hydrogen stem mainly from their production process. To make blue hydrogen, you strip carbon off of natural gas using steam methane reformation. To make green hydrogen, you pass a current through water (a process called electrolysis) using any kind of renewable energy. As a result, the water molecule (H2O) is split into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. With the exception of the buildout of equipment and the energy required in its production and possibly distribution, green hydrogen is a clean, carbon emissions-free fuel.

At the end of the day, hydrogen is one of many renewable solutions. (This idea came up in a previous conversation with Laura Witt, too!). We have the solutions we need – it’s a matter of implementation and leadership in making it happen.

Should we let the fossil fuel industry die?

People like Bruce illuminate the complexities of the oil and gas industry. Company leadership doesn’t necessarily represent workers, many of whom are a living dichotomy: they care deeply about the environment, but work in oil and gas (for a multitude of reasons).

“The industry is not monolithic,” said Bruce. “It’s not only full of people who are resistant to change, but people who want to make change and who want to understand how they could be part of an energy transition.”

Bruce explained the ecosystem that the industry creates: it’s not just the workers on the “coal face,” so to speak. It’s also the manufacturers, planners, engineers, accountants, and other workers that exist all the way up the supply chain.

“There are communities all around the world built on one resource [like coal], and so we need to break that down. Where that is most important is [in] conversations around a just transition,” said Bruce. “When we talk about who’s included in the just transition, first and foremost, it’s that ecosystem of everybody who makes their living directly from it. But one could argue [it has an international] impact. And intergenerational too. Let’s not forget about when you talk about how you plan for transition, we need to think of generations ahead.”

Therefore, we must understand the fossil fuel industry and those who work in it with nuance. While there’s a mounting call to just let the industry die, as Bruce hinted, we can’t just turn the taps off. Rather, we can plan for a “managed decline”: one that includes a fair transition for those most impacted – including the people whose livelihoods depend on our current energy system – and, most critically, one where no one is left behind.

And, commenting on the pride and deep-rooted culture that many draw from long associations with the oil and gas industry, Bruce said: “Pride is portable. You can bring it with you and apply it to new endeavours.”

Further Reading

Our conversation with Bruce covered a number of topics, and we’ve only highlighted a few big ideas here! You can watch the full conversation on YouTube and check out the links below to continue learning:

Our next Climate Ventures Conversations with Seth Klein, public policy expert and author of A Good War, is coming up on February 11. Get your tickets!

CSI Climate Ventures is an incubator, coworking space, and a range of national accelerators that support entrepreneurs and innovators working on climate solutions.