It’s an annoying fact of life we can all relate to: Rush-hour traffic. Idling at a red light, waiting for the colour to turn green, only to advance to another red light. The stop-idle-accelerate grind is an everyday nuisance, but when viewed through the lens of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this repetitive cycle takes on an entirely different—and concerning—dimension.

According to the UN Environment Programme, cities are responsible for an estimated 75% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.

Finding a way to reduce congestion, make streets safer, and reduce vehicle emissions is what drives Miovision. The Kitchener-based cleantech company has developed a suite of scalable, intelligent transportation solutions used by nearly 1,500 customers in more than 60 countries. Finding ways to lower pollution levels has become a critical element to their success, as cities and countries around the globe strive to achieve their emissions reduction goals. 

Rather than view environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperatives as a cost to their business, Miovision has embraced and embedded ESG thinking into everything they do, creating opportunities, sustainable growth and profits every step of the way. 

Intersection inspiration

The inspiration behind Miovision came when company CEO, Kurtis McBride, was a student at the University of Waterloo. A summer job had him manually recording traffic patterns at intersections, which led him to look for a better way of analyzing traffic.

Developing a software solution that would solve traffic congestion and safety issues was the initial goal behind the three-person startup back in 2005. According to McBride, “It didn’t take us long to learn that the major pain point for municipal traffic managers was all about the actual collection of data. So, we developed a range of portable, fully connected intersection devices that lets them gather data and update existing traffic signals 24/7.”

Brand value of reducing emissions

Their customers are municipalities, which require a two-stage sales process before a contract can be signed. First, they have to score a technical win with the end-user—typically, a public works director or traffic engineering manager. Second, they have to appeal to a financial buyer—usually, a senior bureaucrat or elected official—to demonstrate how their public policy goals can be met. These goals can vary widely in each market they approach.

Traditionally, the brand virtue of emissions reduction has played well on the political front, given its obvious positive environmental impact. With climate change and the need to reduce GHG emissions, municipalities are shifting their priorities, repositioning solutions such as Miovision’s from a nice-to-have into a must-have. 

It’s part of a growing trend—the assessment of environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts—that’s become top of mind in policy development and procurement decisions. It’s become equally important in capital markets as well, where ESG is at the core of the move towards responsible investing. 

“There’s no doubt that the whole push to ESG is a huge opportunity for us and has the potential to give us a very real competitive advantage,” says Adelaide Denison, Product Manager and Sustainability at Miovision.

What is ESG?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a framework used by organizations to manage and report on the risks and opportunities associated with their impact on people and the environment. There’s been a marked increase in recent years by investors to look beyond just numbers and evaluate a company’s worth based on their responsible corporate policies. At Export Development Canada (EDC), we believe that good ESG practices are key to long-term growth and success, as they’re instrumental in mitigating risks, forging opportunities, driving innovation and attracting top talent. Read more about ESG at EDC

Street-level solutions

For years, the goal of traffic management was focused on moving as many vehicles as possible—as quickly as possible. Cities and towns were primarily concerned with problematic traffic corridors: The streets where traffic was routinely congested, leading to citizen complaints. 

But there’s a shift underway, with public policy increasingly more centred on addressing the environmental and social impacts of urban mobility. “We’re now seeing cities and towns embrace what we call ‘network-level’ issues. For example, when a municipality adopts a ‘Vision Zero’ approach—meaning they aim to have zero traffic-related injuries or deaths—they need to start thinking about all road users and how they interact across the entire traffic network,” explains McBride.

Urban mobility comes with a substantial environmental cost, and cities around the world are looking for solutions to lower that impact. According to Miovision, poorly co-ordinated traffic signals can force vehicles to stop and start more frequently, leading to greater GHG emissions. Optimizing signal timing using the company’s solutions can reduce GHG emissions by up to 200 tonnes per intersection, per year—an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 44 cars per intersection.   

Similarly, many municipalities now have active transportation initiatives designed to make it easier for people to walk or cycle, rather than drive, for shorter trips. But to succeed, these initiatives need hard data that measures if people are actually walking and cycling more, and if so, how that impacts vehicular traffic. Miovision’s solutions offer the type of detailed multimodal traffic data that’s essential in helping traffic engineers and planners make data-driven decisions. 

“You know the saying, ‘What gets measured, improves?’ As urban mobility shifts its focus to include safety and environmental concerns, they’re looking for detailed data and analytics to better manage their entire traffic networks,” says McBride.     

Growing through a financial crisis and pandemic

This isn’t the first time that anticipating trends has helped the company steer through the roadblocks that have stopped others in their tracks. As if navigating a startup wasn’t difficult enough, they had to contend with the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than just accept that they’d have slowing sales in North America, they reasoned that other markets might bounce back quicker. So, they opened an office in Cologne, Germany, to serve Europe and the Middle East

In January 2020, Export Development Canada (EDC) made a sizable equity investment in the company to help them with international acquisitions. Despite the current downturn, Miovision has been well-capitalized to expand globally.

Thinking big with EDC

“Aside from financial support, EDC’s been incredibly helpful in encouraging us to reframe our thinking and go big,” says McBride. “We know they’re ready to support the bold moves we need to make to really grow our global sales.”

According to Rami Gabriel, EDC vice-president, Mid-Market Growth Business, understanding their sales dynamic in detail was key. “The Customer Delivery team learned a lot about the fiscal constraints that prevent their customers from placing larger orders; this is a huge hurdle since their product is most attractive at scale. We were able to offer a solution, so their customers can run with a fuller order upfront.” 

It was a game changer. 

EDC’s financial solution helped change our sales dynamic. Price is less of a sticking point. Instead, the conversation is all about: Do you like the solution? Does it work for you? Being able to implement our solution more broadly certainly delivers a greater impact for our customers.

Kurtis McBride  —  CEO, Miovision

While financing is critical, having the right connections can really help, as well. Which is why EDC is actively developing relationships with government entities in global markets focused on smart city solutions and introducing Miovision to new markets.

Internalizing ESG

Although fulfilling environmental goals is part of Miovision’s solution, they’re also focused on meeting their own internal ESG agenda. They’ve become a member of an initiative led by Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping businesses reduce their environmental footprint. By tapping into the expertise offered through SWR, Miovision is looking to quantify and reduce the GHG emissions from their own operations, which includes emissions from purchased electricity, heating and cooling, fuel consumption, and waste and water use. 

Miovision is also partnering with Diversio to enhance their inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) initiatives. Similar to the benefits that can accrue through environmental improvements, the company recognizes that strong ID&E practices can lead to competitive advantages on all fronts.

Get ready for the opportunity of change

If there’s one thing that McBride’s certain about—in these uncertain times—it’s that we should embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. He speaks about the pattern that’s existed throughout human history and the evolution of capitalism, where things that were originally assumed to be a zero-cost input ended up having a cost associated, which eventually got priced back into the market. 

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and ozone depletion is a perfect example. According to the Rapid Transition Alliance, the use of CFCs is now outlawed by 197 countries around the world and scientists concur that the ozone layer is slowly recovering.

“There are significant costs to the way we manage urban transportation today,” explains McBride. “There’s wasted time in traffic. There’s the difficulties and lost time associated with traffic injuries, or even more tragically, loss of life. There are the negative consequences to the environment. All of these factors add up to have a profound impact on citizens,” he says. 

“As a result, there’s a tremendous opportunity for companies that can help address these environmental and social costs, and ultimately improve the quality of life for everyone living in cities and towns around the globe.”

Learn more about ESG at EDC