New partners and innovators join the Energy Futures Lab

Given her role as an executive with one of Canada’s largest real estate organizations, Cheryl de Paoli has attended numerous meetings, conferences and summits — but the one she attended early this year, where the future of Alberta’s energy sector and its economy were discussed, stands out in her mind as one of the most productive discussions she has ever been involved in.

“They used the innovation lab model and I like that approach,” said de Paoli, executive director of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation. “It allowed the discussions to go under the iceberg and to deal with topics that might not otherwise have been covered.”

She was speaking about the approach taken at the Energy Futures Lab (EFL) Summit held in Calgary, which officially launched EFL 2.0 and welcomed new leaders and innovators who joined the EFL Fellowship to advance EFL 2.0 goals.

EFL 2.0 builds on the success of the first phase, which saw a diverse group of Albertans — ranging from oil and gas industry executives, to environmental group representatives, to academics and First Nations leaders — work together to discuss aspects of the transition of Alberta’s economy and society to a lower-carbon world.

The EFL is a social innovation process launched by The Natural Step Canada, a two-decade-old organization aimed at accelerating the transition to a sustainable society and economy.

The initiative is aimed at helping Alberta, Canada’s fossil fuel energy centre, play a crucial role in helping the country transition to an economy and a society that can continue to thrive in a lower carbon-emitting world. In the EFL vision, the energy sector continues to be a source of prosperity for Alberta and for the country, with the province’s energy know-how playing a vital role in that transition.

As the fight over carbon taxes, oilsands development and pipelines leads to a more polarized Canada, the EFL process is aimed at getting Canadians from different walks of life to talk to one another about the country’s future.

“The energy and climate change debates of the past decade have left Canada polarized in a myriad of ways,” said EFL managing director Alison Cretney. “Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world … is racing to a new energy future that will reshape politics, economics, and cultural dynamics around the world. It is a time that requires bold and collaborative leadership.”

Collaborative leadership is key for the EFL. This is why 25 innovators and 19 Convening Partners joined the Lab recently. In May 2019, the EFL announced its new Fellows and shared an inspiring joint statement by its Convening Partners.

Cretney highlights that diverse representation is crucial in the Fellowship in order to maintain “creative tension” and understand, and even empathize, with opposite points of view. This diversity was also evident at the EFL Summit and led to some spirited discussion among the 150 participants, and even to some radical ideas being proposed. Cretney wrote about it in a recent Calgary Herald op-ed article.

“One man suggested dismantling capitalism,” she wrote. “Someone else said a carbon tax is a market failure. Others brought up fear about the future, the challenge of energy storage and consumer consumption of goods that arrive on supertankers.”

She went on to write that “the only blanket consensus” was a commitment by participants to “listen to the middle.”

For de Paoli it was that “listen to the middle” approach that worked well at the EFL Summit — and it mirrors the EFL approach.

“The innovation lab model is used globally,” she said. “It’s often used to explore solutions on topics like child poverty and unemployment. At the end of the day there wasn’t an attempt to reach a consensus, because it has been proven that that doesn’t work.”

Instead the model led to wide-ranging exploration of issues that might not otherwise be covered, since there was no assumption that a consensus needed to be reached.

For the EFL, “it is neither about consensus nor negotiation nor consultation. It is about co-creation,” confirms Cretney.

De Paoli’s one criticism was that the Summit participants tended to emphasize the “no-brainer topics,” such as the need for energy efficiency, rather than extensive discussions about pipelines and carbon taxes.

Jana Masters, manager of stakeholder relations for Shell Canada, was also a participant in the Summit. Shell has been involved as a funder since its inception. She believes the Summit was a great success.

“The Summit helped ground people in the challenges and opportunities facing Alberta, as the province grapples with its place in the global energy transition,” she said, in response to emailed questions.

Masters says the lack of a consensus on some key issues came as no surprise.

“It was critically important to have diverse views in the room that day,” she said. “We can’t discuss a topic as complex and important as energy in our own silos.”

Masters doesn’t share de Paoli’s view that only “no-brainer” and non controversial topics were covered at the Summit. In fact, she lauds the whole EFL process for tackling the difficult issues.

“I believe the Energy Futures Lab has always sought to be bold and invite the tough conversations,” she wrote. “As a funding partner of the Lab, Shell also believes that addressing tough challenges requires us to work with diverse partners to make progress. This means working with partners to make progress [and] working with organizations with different perspectives on issues of shared importance.”

She said she was most impressed with the “diversity of those in attendance,” which she said is in keeping with the EFL process. That diversity “spanned different political parties, sectors and belief systems.”

Finally, she said Shell’s involvement in EFL “aligns with our aim to learn from others and help inform the policy, technology and societal changes that will be necessary to achieve a successful energy transition.”

The EFL process is not about choosing between renewable energy and fossil fuels according to Chad Park, a senior associate of The Natural Step Canada, who spoke at the Summit. In fact, Alberta’s hydrocarbon resources will be an important resource for ensuring Alberta’s continued leadership as the world transitions to a low-carbon emission economy.

“Forty years ago, Alberta came together with industry and government to bring the oilsands dream into reality, for the economic benefit of all of Canada,” he said. “The world is changing and some people are saying it is going to leave Alberta behind. The people in this room are not among them.”

He said, just as Alberta led the economic and technological transition that produced the oilsands boom, it can lead the transition to a new energy future, which will include finding ways to leverage our fossil fuel assets and resources, developing renewable energy, and exploring new technologies to convert carbon dioxide into useful materials, among other priorities.

Learn more here about EFL’s Convening Partners and the new innovators and leaders who joined the EFL Fellowship.

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