This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting Canadian cleantech firms and the role they play in help drive the ecosystem in which Canada’s energy transition is taking place.
How big should the ESG alphabet be?
The ESG realm is rapidly broadening — its environmental, social and political forces enveloping an ever-broader swath of stakeholders.
As the movement evolves and morphs, its expanding scope begs democratizing and “inclusivity” questions, including this one: are the three letters foundational enough to do the job? If the ESG letters themselves remain the Holy Grail of a sustainable future, should other letters be added in specific contexts when the main principles — environmental, social and governance performance — need more support to describe their true impact?
How about ESG — and “T”?
“Tech” solutions often underpin the measurable performance metrics and standards in all three pillars — and yet, the importance of technology’s positive impacts risks being more implicitly assumed than explicitly articulated. That would be a shame because the linkage between technological innovation and improved environmental performance, for example, deserves amplification, particularly in an oil and gas context, as “cleantech” becomes the norm.
Indeed, strategically cracking open the ESG dynamic to include a “T” when appropriate could be key to more and more companies stepping confidently into the sustainability space.
Calgary-based Acceleware is a case in point.
Like many technology companies — and other service providers — Acceleware has grasped the importance of an ESG strategy to underpin its cleantech capabilities.
For Acceleware, the ESG + T combination will be illustrated at the foundationally important pilot project of its RF XL technology, which could change the game in thermal oil recovery (see sidebar at the end of this Q&A).
Acceleware’s Kate Tourigny and Tracy Grierson reflect on the company’s ESG philosophy.
Question: At what point did Acceleware start connecting the ESG opportunity dots with RF XL?
KT: Acceleware started connecting the ESG opportunity with RF XL early on. In 2010, we were largely focused on the capex and opex improvements that RF XL could bring to thermal heavy oil production, but soon recognized that as a cleantech company using electrification to replace combustion-intensive applications, our technology provides exceptional environmental benefits. This made it easy for us to recognize that the environmental improvements could be enormous in scale. We were very fortunate in that those “E” benefits also caught the attention of government agencies, resulting in over $15 million in funding.
Transformative innovation carries with it a heightened sense of social responsibility. Historically there has been a keen willingness by our executive to do things the right way — so as ESG awareness increased, we asked ourselves — could we, as a small company, make a meaningful impact on the S and the G, in addition to the E? While we recognize that it’s not possible to do everything right away, the answer was an easy yes. Early steps have included a commitment to increasing gender diversity on our management team and to increasing board diversity, as two meaningful examples. And, of course, there is our Acceleware | Kisâstwêw partnership.
Question: How does your Indigenous partnership figure into your ESG thinking?
KT: The importance of building out ESG initiatives that will yield results with and for Indigenous peoples cannot be overstated. Working in a fast-growing cleantech business environment means that we are really well positioned to integrate meaningful (and long overdue) reconciliation work into our planning. Our technology hits the E on multiple levels, which is part of why we were initially approached about a partnership by Jim Boucher and Jauvonne Kitto of Saa Dene Group — our companies are very synergistic. When we formed Acceleware | Kisâstwêw, we knew that it presented an excellent ESG opportunity, and it continues to be very much at the forefront of many of our developing initiatives. As well as being a partner, Jim Boucher has recently joined Acceleware’s board of directors. His focus on increasing diversity, inclusion and opportunity through meaningful economic and social participation for Indigenous peoples in the global economy, combined with his business experience, means there is a terrific amount that we can learn from him.
As well we expect that RF XL can save trillions of litres of fresh water per year. Eliminating fresh water from oil production results in an amazing domino effect of benefits, such as near-zero GHG potential, reduced air, noise and land pollution expectations, no solvents and — back to our original objective — of lower costs. All these benefits lend themselves very well to environmental stewardship, as well as to development of a long-term, sustainable economy including jobs transition and creation. Handled properly, these benefits can be leveraged and extended to include social and governance aspects of ESG, ensuring that they are inclusive and help to develop meaningful and sustainable changes for Indigenous peoples.
Question: Beyond your website, how are you communicating your ESG message? To who?
TG: Our approach is to utilize consistent, cost-effective and impactful methods of communication. Influence is a powerful tool and if we can create conversations at a grassroots level and maintain flow of information to increase the buzz, we can not only impact Acceleware’s investment profile in the ESG space but also encourage partner organizations to take action. Our desired reach includes stakeholders such as past, present and future employees and directors, potential investors, shareholders, followers on social media (includes LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube), financial institutions, suppliers, any communities — and particularly Indigenous communities, in which we could have a presence, regulators such as AER, provincial and federal funding agencies, and existing and potential customers such as major heavy oil and oilsands producers in Canada and internationally.
Our ESG initiatives are communicated in a number of ways, including continuous disclosure documents such as management discussion and analysis and news releases posted on our website and on formal investor platforms, quarterly board presentations and corporate overview presentations also posted on our website and used when discussing the Acceleware opportunity with potential investors. As we grow, I do recognize the value that a comparable and validated ‘report card’ could provide us by exposing Acceleware to international rating agencies and larger institutional investors. We continue to monitor the changes occurring in the multiple standards and frameworks to remain nimble in our reporting.
Question: What role will the pilot project play from an ESG perspective? Can it bind all your stakeholders? Do you think a specific project can have specific ESG metrics attached to it?
KT: Our inverter system makes possible the use of electricity, in place of the burning of fossil fuels, to develop multiple natural resources. This means that in the case of RF XL, we can eliminate the burning of fossil fuels to create fossil fuels. This, in and of itself, can bring stakeholders together — we all share a common goal to massively improve environmental, social and economic performance while lowering costs of heavy oil and oilsands production. The pilot will demonstrate significant ESG benefits in that it is expected to validate energy efficiency of the technology, as well as the technology’s capability to materially reduce Scope 1 and 2 GHGs. Those results would credibly demonstrate to operators in Canada and around the world that they can efficiently electrify thermal heavy oil and oilsands production.
TG: The pilot will demonstrate that we have created an environmentally safe method of producing the cleanest and ethically produced barrel of oil in the world. Our product achieves our own environmental initiatives as well as our customers’ environmental initiatives, but this is just the beginning stages for Acceleware — we will continue to ‘ESGize’ the entire lifecycle of the technology including such processes as selection of vendors and suppliers, hiring and retention strategies, and methods of manufacturing components of our product. A successful pilot will allow us to expand on the social and governance initiatives that Acceleware continues to build. This specific project will have metrics associated to it; the pilot will present the opportunity for additional metrics that can be measured by operators to ensure optimal environmental efficiency and safety measures. A few of the SASB metrics applicable to the commercial-scale test of the RF heating technology include total energy consumed, percentage grid electricity and/or percentage renewable electricity and quantity hydrocarbons recovered.
Sidebar: Acceleware’s RF XL technology
Acceleware is developing RF XL, its patented and patent-pending low-cost, low-carbon production technology for heavy oil and oilsands that is materially different from any heavy oil recovery technique used today. Acceleware’s vision is that electrification of heavy oil and oilsands production can be made possible through RF XL, supporting a transition to much cleaner energy production that can quickly bend the emissions curve downward. Further, Acceleware’s RF XL technology could be a key component of an end-to-end integrated carbon management system that can eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with heavy oil and oilsands production, whether for fossil fuels, or for future clean bitumen by-products such as petrochemicals, carbon fibre, and blue or green hydrogen production. RF XL uses no water, requires no solvent, has a small physical footprint, can be redeployed from site to site, and can be applied to a multitude of reservoir types. In shallow oilsands implementations, no tailings ponds will be required.
Construction of Acceleware’s commercial scale RF XL pilot was started in January 2021. The pilot will validate Acceleware’s all-electric RF XL clean heating technology at Broadview Energy’s Marwayne asset, which is located in the Alberta oilsands designated area. Though the pilot test is greenfield, RF XL can also be adopted into brownfield projects, leveraging existing processing infrastructure to increase throughput volumes without the expansion of capital-intensive water treatment and steam generation equipment.
The commercial scale pilot is intended to demonstrate RF XL’s heating capabilities, alongside immediate and sustainable environmental, economic and social benefits. These include ~40 per cent operating and capital cost reductions, no external water use requirements, near-zero GHG emissions through direct or indirect use of renewable power, a significant reduction in surface disturbance and no requirements for the addition of solvents.