Driving change is “not a single-threaded problem”

An interview with SPARK panelist, James McLean

For nearly 20 years, James McLean has worked and consulted across North America and Europe. He has led numerous strategic projects in various industries including energy, chemicals, and the industrial product sector. A partner in the Consulting and Deals practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, he has helped drive change, from procurement and supply chain transformation to operating model redesign.

McLean is moderating the plenary panel, Carbon Positive Conditions for Success, on Wednesday, October 30 at SPARK 2019: Carbon Positive. He will be joined by Alice Reimer, Site Lead, Creative Destruction Lab; Brian Vaasjo, President & CEO, Capital Power; Sandra Odendahl, President & CEO, CMC Research Institutes; and Marcia Nelson, Executive Fellow, University of Calgary. The session was developed in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers. We spoke with McLean to learn more.

What do you see as key conditions for success to advance technologies?
It’s a combination really. We need more support from policy and regulatory bodies, as well as larger companies. We need a level of commitment from the people who are contributing the most to environmental challenges to be a part of the solutions. We need to continue exploring collaborations between environment and producers—more can be done with sharing knowledge.

Can you speak to why the panel is the right mix of perspectives?
This is not a single-threaded problem. It will take a combination of innovation and policy makers to drive change. It really helps people when they can start to think about practical use cases and we have an expert panel with a breadth of expertise and knowledge about big, small, and tangible opportunities. We will stimulate understanding as all key elements of the ecosystem are represented and it takes the whole ecosystem to make a meaningful change.

Where do you think opinions will differ?
There are usually differences of opinion around where you start and where you can get, as well as pace and scale, and how quickly-how big. There’s a difference in perspectives coming from a producer like Capital Power than from a disruptor like Creative Destruction Lab. Rarely is there a view that government is doing all it can do—so ‘what more can government do?’ —is likely to be a question that Marcia Nelson will be able to share some insight into.

How has advancing technology evolved over the years from what you’ve seen?
Decarbonization is happening, we are starting to make a decrease on our carbon footprint. Organizations are starting to make a change so it’s important that we continue to share knowledge with each other. This is because of a broad, open source approach to climate change and to sharing knowledge in the interest of having a bigger impact. We are more willing to share and to collaborate.

Where does it need to get to?
We need to look at all the viable options from a transition generation perspective. It’s like a school dance—everyone is waiting to dance. Early adopters don’t like to fail. What’s the cost of failure? What if it doesn’t work? We need to support the approach to start and innovate and if it fails—to adjust quickly. The messaging around ecosystem solutions to this challenge is that we’re going to work hard to bring forward practical solutions and this isn’t about grand theories—it’s about practical steps to move forward.

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