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Teaming up to accelerate sustainability-focused innovation in Canada's oil sands

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  • Sep 19, 2017
Teaming up to accelerate sustainability-focused innovation in Canada's oil sands

New Public-Private Partnership Aims to Accelerate Sustainability-Focused Innovation in Canada’s Oil Sands
Research collaboration with Canadian universities, Alberta Innovates, Natural Resources Canada and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance will build on ‘made in Canada’ innovation model

London, ON (Sept 19, 2017) – A new partnership involving Canada’s largest oil sands producers is supporting research to “innovate the innovation process” – a move aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of the sector while improving long-term competitiveness.

Researchers at the Ivey Business School, University of Alberta and the University of Quebec at Montreal have launched a research collaboration led by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). The partnership includes three COSIA member companies (Canadian Natural, Suncor and Cenovus), Alberta Innovates and Natural Resources Canada. COSIA has been cited as a world-class example of industry sharing and collaboration towards a shared ambition of improving environmental performance. This new project will work with the participating member companies, COSIA and the two government partners to seek important breakthroughs in innovation processes.

“COSIA members are leaders in technical innovation and they have a long history of advancing solutions working with the academic community. Connecting our collaboration model and sustainability thinking and linking it deeply to the innovation process by partnering with these expert thinkers in innovation systems will help us find ways to boost our inventiveness and capacity for breakthrough,” says Dan Wicklum, chief executive of COSIA.

The research team, led by Professor Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in Business Sustainability at Western University and Director of the Network for Business Sustainability, will work closely with the companies to map their innovation processes and identify new opportunities to embed sustainability into innovation.

“Effective innovation goes beyond developing new technologies; it’s about people and processes,” said Prof. Bansal. “Our approach takes design thinking, and applies a systems lens. By understanding the system, we can find solutions that create financial and social value simultaneously. A systems approach invites broad input, which is often the wellspring of creativity.”

The project is a public-private partnership in which industry and government collaborate directly with the research team to understand how new technologies and processes are brought to market—and importantly, the key factors in determining which investments will succeed in creating long-term value. "This project offers a unique opportunity to study firsthand how industry and government innovate for sustainability,” says Assistant Professor Joel Gehman of the Alberta School of Business.

As equal partners in this collaboration, Alberta Innovates, COSIA and Natural Resources Canada are interested in using this process to understand how to accelerate the deployment of new technologies across sectors in Canada.

“Our Government continues to support projects that will help facilitate innovation and bring clean technologies to market,” said the Honourable Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources. “This project demonstrates that through collaboration and knowledge we will be one step closer to reaching our climate change goals, a clean economy and a healthier environment for Canadians.”

“Alberta Innovates is interested in understanding more about how new technologies and processes are brought to market,” says John Zhou, Alberta Innovates Vice President of Clean Energy. “Our focus is to accelerate the deployment of new technologies. This work will provide core insights to make that happen faster.”

This project is the first of several seeded by a $2.5 million research partnerships grant from the Government of Canada through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). This support will help companies across industries connect innovation with sustainability.

This human-centered design-thinking approach has been used by Chilean forestry firm Arauco. After an earthquake devastated one of their main factories, the company performed a significant pivot, committing to a new innovation approach that cut across their four business lines. The new approach required the participation of 400 employees over 54 weeks—but the pivot paid off, creating $1 billion in new value for the firm and society from thirteen different projects.

Media Contacts:
For information about COSIA contact Eileen Kahler at: eileen.kahler@cosia.ca

For information about the Ivey Business School contact Ivan Langrish at: ilangrish@ivey.ca

About the Research Team
The following researchers form the international research team leading the project:

  • Dr. Tima Bansal (Project Leader), Canada Research Chair, Ivey Business School, Western University
  • Dr. Joel Gehman, Assistant Professor, Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta
  • Dr. Marie-France Turcotte, Co-Chair in Social and Environmental Responsibility, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Dr. Sylvia Grewatsch, Postdoctoral Researcher, Western University

About the Ivey Business School, Western University
The Ivey Business School (www.ivey.ca) at Western University is Canada’s leading provider of relevant, innovative and comprehensive business education. Drawing on extensive research and business experience, Ivey faculty provides the best classroom experience, equipping graduates with the skills and capabilities they need to tackle the leadership challenges in today’s complex business world. Ivey offers world-renowned undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as Executive Development at campuses in London (Ontario), Toronto and Hong Kong.

About COSIA
Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is a unique alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands. COSIA enables collaboration and innovation between thinkers from industry, government, academia and the wider public to improve measurement, accountability and performance in the oil sands across our environmental priority areas of greenhouse gases, land, water and tailings. COSIA members search the world for solutions to our toughest problems and we have some of the best minds on the planet working on technologies to enable responsible and sustainable development. To date, COSIA has shared 936 distinct environmental technologies and innovations that cost over $1.3 billion to develop. Visit us at www.cosia.ca.

About Alberta Innovates
Alberta Innovates is a provincially-funded Corporation with a mandate to deliver 21st century solutions for the most compelling challenges facing Albertans. We do this by building on our province’s research and technology development strengths in the core sectors of health, environment, energy, food and fibre and platforms such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and omics. We are working with our partners to diversify Alberta’s economy, improve our environmental performance and enhance our well-being through research and innovation. Visit us at albertainnovates.ca.

About Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) seeks to enhance the responsible development and use of Canada’s natural resources and the competitiveness of Canada’s natural resources products. We are an established leader in science and technology in the fields of energyforests, and minerals and metals and use our expertise in earth sciences to build and maintain an up-to-date knowledge base of our landmass.

About the University of Alberta School of Business
Established in 1916, the University of Alberta School of Business is Canada¹s first and longest accredited business school, recognized for its research excellence, academic program quality, graduate career success, and economic impact within Alberta and Canada. Located in the provincial capital of Edmonton, the Alberta School of Business offers undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees, as well as executive education and leadership development programs. For more information visit ualberta.ca/business.