Nowhere is the force of disruption stronger than in our collective need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change around the world. In, addition, we also have an immediate need to better manage our natural resources. And that’s where the opportunity lies for clean technology — it can either provide solutions to these challenges or create entirely new and environmentally optimized ways to do things.

The theme for the bi-annual Globe Forum 2018 — happening in Vancouver March 14 to 16 and aiming to accelerate the global shift to a sustainable clean economy — is disruption. In the spirit of this theme, it’s time to ask whether Canadian cleantech companies know where they fit in this age of disruption. Are they impacted by disruption in their markets, are they the ones causing disruption or are they addressing problems caused by disruption? Understanding the role they are playing should be a key part of their strategy. By gaining that understanding, they will clarify their value proposition to investors, partners, financiers and buyers. At EDC, we also understand disruptive technology and we want to continue to bring our financial and knowledge solutions to support companies through these challenges.

After all, change is coming at lightning-fast speeds. How energy is generated and being transmitted to people is evolving; how we move from point A to point B is also changing. We are further witnessing radical changes in the way we grow and package food, create products and transform waste.

A great example of disruptive technology currently at play is the move toward a greater number of electric vehicles (EVs) and other transportation alternatives. EVs, autonomous vehicles and shared transportation have become common topics in the mainstream media. People are moving away from fuel-run cars to EVs, and some are even foregoing car ownership entirely. Indeed, studies show that the two-car family is increasingly becoming a thing in the past. A study by KPMG predicted that by 2039, fewer than half of U.S. households will own more than one vehicle and you can bet the ones they do own won’t be fuel-operated. California has taken steps to get gas-powered cars off the road and several countries in Europe have announced bans in the near future: Netherlands (2025), Norway and India (2030), UK and France (2040) and even cities are getting in on the action with Vancouver, Copenhagen and Barcelona all saying they’ll ban gas and diesel-powered vehicles by 2030.

Electric vehicles are disrupting

To accommodate EVs, there are already big changes happening. Canadians are building networks of charging stations, changing how they plan their trips and finding new ways to increase power in their homes. Autonomous vehicles and shared vehicles will further disrupt the transportation sector as they will both challenge our century-long love affair with the concept of traditional car ownership.

Speaking of fuel-operated vehicles, even mature sectors, such as oil and gas and mining, are going through their own disruptions. With looming carbon pricing and expectations of increased environmental disclosure, these companies are looking to make responsible choices that will make their operations environmentally sustainable. In short, they are looking for cleantech solutions to make this happen.

So if a Canadian cleantech company has a solution to help them address a problem or challenge, you can bet they’ll consider it. At Export Development Canada (EDC), we know this and for the past few years, we have focused on providing introductions for innovative Canadian cleantech companies to large international corporations in the mining and oil and gas sectors. Specifically, our Global Trade mining team has helped identify companies that are addressing the challenges faced by mining companies and, for the past few years, it has been facilitating meetings and introductions at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada’s mining show, which just took place in Toronto last week.

Are Canadian cleantech companies ready to play a role in disruption?

Are Canadian cleantech companies ready for these opportunities? Canada certainly has the talent, with a cleantech sector that is recognized across the globe and that included 13 companies on the recent Cleantech Global 100 survey highlighting the world’s top 100 cleantech companies. Canada also boasts a research ecosystem that ranked No. 1 in the G20. And yet, to this point, Canada has less than two per cent of the global cleantech market. So the big question is why?

It seems that in Canada all the tools for success exist, but in an era where businesses are striving to make the world greener and cleaner while also balancing their need to survive and thrive economically, some companies are struggling to keep up. How can they then best balance off their forward-looking research and development to find new uses for technology, while also commercializing and selling it? In short, how do they continue to innovate while also dealing with the daily pressures of running a business and selling, selling, selling?

At Export Development Canada, we have heard from our cleantech clients about these challenges and the pressures they cause. We’ve received strong messages that they need capital to simultaneously sell products and services and grow sustainable businesses while keeping research and development sharp. To address this, we have provided working capital to exporters with contracts even when they were in the early stages of commercialization and we have strived to do so quickly because we understand that speed is critical in cleantech.

Helping cleantech companies export

Canadian cleantech exporters know it’s a tough business. And while they know that the key to success will be through exports, they lack the time to do the required market research. That’s where EDC comes in, alongside our colleagues from the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). EDC’s international offices work with the TCS to provide market knowledge and introductions that help exporters better understand the global opportunities. This close collaboration helps accelerate exporters into markets.

EDC is Canada’s No. 1 financier of cleantech companies — we’ve been targeting and fostering these successes since 2012 and we’ve gone through our own internal disruption as we have learned how best to meet the needs of cleantech exporters. We understand the world is changing quickly with the challenges and opportunities that this presents so it’s our goal to focus on building the companies and the sub-sectors of tomorrow. We firmly believe they are key to the future prosperity of Canada.

Simply put, growing cleantech companies is what we do. We understand risk in a time of high disruption, so if you’ve got the ambition for growth, we want to be on your team.

Lynn Côté is the cleantech lead for Export Development Canada, Canada’s export credit agency. EDC, alongside its partners from BDC, SDTC, TCS and CCC, will be at Booth 714 at the Globe Forum. Please stop by if you would like to speak to us.