Ontario eco-industries enter third stage of evolution

The environmental sector in Canada's Ontario is maturing, says its advocates, and it has moved away from tailpipe solutions towards addressing pollution at source and driving the province's low carbon economy.

Speaking at a press conference in Toronto outlining the province’s aim of becoming a serious player in the global clean tech revolution, Kevin Jones, president of the Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA), charted the sector’s development over the past 25 years and pinpointed opportunities and obstacles to further progress.

“It’s always been an industry driven by Government regulation and policy,” he told journalists.

“In Canada this really began in the 1980s, with the focus on end of pipe to manage pollution.

“This meant landfills, hazardous waste and water treatment and air pollution control.

“We’ve seen a major change in the industry over the years, with a move to advanced technology which might still look at pollution at source but also at how it can be reduced from the outset.

“That might mean material substitution, new processes and products and improvements to existing ones.

“We’ve moved from end of pipe to pollution prevention.”

More recently, the sector has seen a huge shift in emphasis and no longer focuses solely on pollution reduction and waste management.

“It really comes down to a global demand for environmental improvements, a combination of climate change, clean water and clear air,” said Mr Jones.

“[But] the big issue today is clearly climate change.”

He explained that Ontario had roughly 2,500 companies providing environmental technologies, products and services and, as typical elsewhere in the world, the majority of these are SMEs.

While the ideas and innovation are world class, he said, Ontario suffers as much as anywhere else from the garden shed syndrome of able investors coming up with top-notch products – then failing to convince the market to take them.

Mr Jones described a wealth of innovation going on with university spin-offs and developers with a sound engineering foundations but said that many of these smaller outfits, whilst scientifically literate, had no expertise in finding investors and taking their products to market.

“They are often very weak on the marketing and financial side,” he said.

The other threat to innovation was that buyers usually went for the lowest cost and tried-and-tested products – they rarely wanted to take the risk on new products.

To combat this OCETA is trying to set up an independent testing centre that gives an unbiased assessment of products, the environmental technology verification programme so that buyers have something to rely on beyond the manufacturer’s claims.

Mr Jones said that the US does this already and the EU has similar plans in the pipeline and all the players need to look at ways of harmonising the three schemes so products approved by one are approved by all.

“A lot of government policy focuses on R&D but what is equally important is the acceptance and deployment of these technologies,” he said.

“We need to have that paradigm shift to move from a carbon-based economy to a more sustainable economy.”

Sam Bond

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