Owen Matthews on the Alacrity Approach to Clean Tech

What does clean tech mean to me?

I think the most important thing to recognize about the clean tech industry is that it isn’t an industry at all. It’s an approach that covers many industries. The energy sector, dominated by oil and gas, can employ clean tech to prevent environment-destroying leaks or to increase efficiency and reduce waste. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might have solar and battery technology fighting to reduce the demand for oil and gas in the first place. And that is just the energy sector. You have to step back and accept clean tech isn’t a sector with a market of customers and suppliers.

Photo of Owen Matthews brainstorming in the Alacrity Canada boardroom.

Owen Matthews in the Alacrity Canada boardroom.

The span of clean tech is as vast as human activity. Effectively cleaning water and air,  increasing energy efficiency, reducing demand, decreasing waste, reducing toxic industrial processes, etc. – the critical challenges that face us cannot really be defined as an industry.

How Alacrity Approaches Clean Tech

For us at Alacrity, it’s important to take a philosophy of approaching all business with environmental impact in mind.  Broadly, we look to increase energy efficiency,  protect natural environments, and reduce waste. These goals have both short term and long term aspects. It might be much more energy efficient to make 10,000 plastic packages for your product compared to making wooden boxes, but that plastic might be around for 10,000 years, doing considerable long term damage. You often end up balancing one goal against another.

We can apply some general definitions around clean tech, although these don’t really guide anyone into action. This is a sector that can be obtuse to even keenly interested people.

Before the days of COVID, one could go to a conference to learn more about clean tech, but even these dedicated events were more of a mutual gratification society than an industry gathering in a sector that is so impossibly broad. At a lumber/forestry conference, there are wood buyers, brokers, and sellers. People get information about the products on offer and they are very likely going to buy them if they like the product and price. At a clean tech conference, there are so many different industries with such a broad array of technology, that companies often have more chance of randomly running into a customer on a busy street than meeting one at their booth. Those curious about the sector would quickly learn that jumping in to support a critical global initiative is incredibly complex.

Clean Technology Areas of Focus

With such a huge range of potential areas to focus on, where should an entrepreneur even start to consider making an impact? Alacrity generally looks for companies that make the biggest impact they can with a technological change that people will accept. We start by looking at the most dominant aspects of human activity. Throughout the developed world, we use an incredible amount of water, we burn an incredible amount of fuel, and we generate an enormous amount of waste.

Water and Water Treatment

Water is an area in which we have spent a lot of time. Alacrity’s work around the world provided us with clear insight on the environmental challenges with water and the demand for solutions. Water is obviously used for drinking and washing. Most people are also aware that a huge amount of water is used for agriculture. The average person may not recognize, however, that industrial processes use an incredible amount of water – nearly 20% of all the water we consume in the world. On the supply side, there are opportunities in desalinating, filtering, and disinfecting water. On the waste side, challenges include cleaning industrial effluent and sewage. Water and wastewater pose a huge problem that affects the global population. This problem has immediate impacts when it isn’t managed well. Because of its critical importance, governments and industries tend to invest in the space.

With potential customers and a huge area of environmental impact, Alacrity looks for companies that can start solving water and wastewater issues with a clean tech hat on.  We have spent a lot of time understanding the space and have worked to find BC-based solutions that we can bring to customers around the world.

Reducing Fuel Consumption and emissions

I think personal transport is another example of an area that is ready for clean tech innovation. People consume more than 45 quadrillion Btus of fuel in vehicles. Expecting even modest change from people or industries to make dramatic impacts for the environment is difficult. Asking everyone to use public transport would have a huge environmental impact, but just doesn’t seem to happen, regardless of the incentive. Making something that looks and feels just like the car people are used to, but that doesn’t burn fossil fuel, tends to be a more effective solution.

With that said, companies also have to pick an area that suits their level of investment. Making a new vehicle for mass consumer adoption takes billions of dollars. It isn’t a suitable approach for a typical early stage entrepreneur or investor keen to get involved in helping the planet recover from rampant human activity. However, finding new or more efficient ways to recycle resources, use renewable energy, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions opens the door for many solutions at a wide range of development stages, making the goal less daunting and costly to achieve.

How to get into the Clean Technology space

In order to get involved and do the right thing for all of us, I encourage entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders to follow our lead. There is no specific right way to contribute. Pick an area you are knowledgeable about and start considering how we can do it differently.

If you are in a particularly dirty industry, you don’t have to abandon everything you know and jump into the green revolution. You can work to make it better from the inside. And if you really aren’t sure where to start, look for the biggest industry around you and work towards making it more efficient. That is likely going to have the biggest impact on the environment in your part of the world.

Most of all, just jump in – learn, help, and repeat.

This post was written by Owen Matthews, Chairman of Alacrity Canada. For more clean tech opportunities that are ready for an innovative solution, browse our Opportunities.

October 27, 2020