Women-led companies are already tackling climate change issues discussed at COP26

Nov 3 2021, 8:50 pm

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our planet today.

From the smoke that engulfed Vancouver and Toronto during this year’s forest fire season to the summer’s record-breaking heatwaves, evidence that we’re in the grips of a warming planet is inescapable.

Its effects are so omnipresent that optimism, at times, can feel out of reach. But what we don’t shine a light on nearly enough are all of the incredible innovations emerging in the fight against climate calamity.

Taking the lead in championing the innovators and entrepreneurs who are hard at work creating solutions is RBC.

As Canada works towards drastically reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, the bank has continued to support the country’s change-makers through RBC Tech for Nature: a multi-year commitment to preserving the world’s natural ecosystems.

These objectives may seem ambitious, but not if we have the right minds at work. One of RBC Tech for Nature’s partners, MaRS Discovery District — North America’s largest urban innovation hub — is operating the RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator to support the next generation of women-led climate solutions.

Ivan Chudakov/Shutterstock

Building on the success of MaRS’s past cleantech challenges, the accelerator supports a cohort of 10 female entrepreneurs from across Canada, with an emphasis on those from under-represented communities.

 “Through our partnership with MaRS, we’re helping these impressive entrepreneurs gain access to valuable capital, while also giving them the advice, coaching, and mentorship needed to make meaningful change across the sector,” said Peter McArthur, who works at RBCx (the bank’s entrepreneurial growth platform) as VP and national cleantech lead.

For Tyler Hamilton, director of cleantech at MaRS Discovery District, it’s about stepping up to help startups in their earliest days. “Getting through that gruelling early stage of growth when it can be difficult to access capital and customers is the major hurdle. Thanks to the support of RBC Tech for Nature, more of these promising projects will have the opportunity to make a difference in greening our economy.”

In promoting climate-friendly solutions for the world’s largest emitting sectors — real estate, transportation, and energy — there’s the potential to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cement Canada as a cleantech leader in the process.

We recently chatted with Asvini Keerawella, the senior manager of national programs at MaRS, who manages the RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator, to discuss some of the most exciting ventures to emerge from this year’s cohort.

Illustration of the 2021 RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator entrepreneur cohort (MaRS Discovery District)

One of the ventures, ALT TEX, is using a series of novel chemical processes to transform food waste into biodegradable, carbon-neutral textiles. The end result of their innovative work is materials with polyester-like performance but with a more sustainable lifecycle and less carbon emitted during production.

“This is so important because the fashion industry is projected to create more than 25% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050,” Keerawella elaborates. “Food waste also contributes 20% of global industrial pollution and 25% of all ocean plastics.”

“How virtuous is it to repurpose this food waste, instead of it going into a landfill,” RBCx’s McArthur adds. “By using it for the clothing we wear, we’re displacing plastics from negatively impacting the health of our land and water environments.”

Liven Proteins is another company addressing waste by creating new food sources using fermentation processes. They take lost food and turn it into new, animal-free protein using fermentation. Though produced from plant-based, raw material, co-founder Fei Luo asserts her product provides the same nutritional, textural and functional properties as meat and fish.

Another innovation being spearheaded by Hyperion Global Energy captures carbon dioxide emissions from carbon-heavy industries, such as the cement industry, and converts them into valuable commodities.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Moment Energy is another exciting company supported by the accelerator. “They are redirecting used electric vehicle batteries that are piling up rapidly in the transition to electric vehicles,” McArthur says. “Instead of having them go to landfills, Moment is repurposing the batteries for energy storage solutions to help off-grid and on-grid needs, reducing demand on our grids during peak needs.”

Peak energy need periods are normally met through additional electricity production from greenhouse gas emitting “peaker plants” — which are typically the last to be turned on during peak energy periods as they contribute to poor air quality. “How phenomenal to take something that would otherwise be waste and repurpose it to dramatically reduce emissions,” adds McArthur.

While there are numerous other ideas and innovations the accelerator is home to, collectively, they are proof of the benefits that come from engaging women of all backgrounds in a space that is predominantly male-dominated.

In fact, the Innovation Economy Council’s 2018 federal strategy paper, Clean Slate, stated that greater participation by women, people of colour, and Indigenous people is crucial to Canada’s cleantech sector — and while it’s growing, the number of woman-founder companies remains low.

“There is no one approach or one technology that’s going to solve climate change,” says Hamilton. “You need diverse perspectives, and that is why it’s so important to have innovators and entrepreneurs from under-represented communities all come together to find solutions.”

Programs like these, which are helping Canadian women advance their cleantech technologies into market-ready solutions, are critical to both the diversification of the cleantech sector and climate change intervention.

SeventyFour/Shutterstock

The timing, too, could not be more salient as the climate change crisis continues to crest.

This mounting issue of climate change and our need for future-focused solutions is the focal point of the UN’s climate conference, COP26, happening now in Glasgow.

We’re at a pivotal moment in determining the planet’s future and the conference — where the world’s leaders are gathering for 12 days of talks — is being regarded by many as the final opportunity to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Many conversations are expected to focus on the same issues addressed by the RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator: reducing waste, better leveraging renewable materials, capturing carbon emissions, and many others.

But it’s not just up to global leaders to make these changes — it’s up to everyday people who are proactively creating the new solutions needed to protect our planet.  

“Tackling climate change presents a challenge but an even bigger opportunity,” says McArthur. “By working collaboratively to support forward-looking innovators today, we help to ensure a more sustainable, inclusive, and competitive Canada tomorrow. For the enormity of the challenge we are facing in the transition to net-zero, we need as diverse a team as possible on board.”

MaRS Discovery District is supported by RBC Tech for Nature: a multi-year, global initiative by the RBC Foundation dedicated to preserving the planet’s greatest wealth — our natural ecosystem. It supports the new ideas, technologies, and partnerships needed to address and solve pressing environmental challenges.

Read the stories of other partners on the RBC Tech for Nature Hub.

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