Clean technology is part of reimagining how our society works. It is a technological and economic force that will create new systems and new structures that redefine how the world works too. We have been here before. Transformative technologies aren’t just invented and then immediately rolled-out to make the world different; they lead to the evolution of new economies and new worldviews. And, that can take a little time.

It was early in the 17th century when the first steam engines began to appear. Yet, we think of that as a 19th century transformative technology. It was 1876 when the telephone was patented. Yet, it was only in the 1920s that it truly became part of everyday life. In the intervening years, people like us changed our lives and how society worked to realize the benefit of these inventions. It was an incremental process lasting several decades and involved the creation of many founding systems. 

For the internal combustion engine, the foundations included establishing a system of laws to govern who could drive and how. It meant building and maintaining a system of roads as well as businesses that employed people to make and distribute cars. Later, banks found better ways for would-be car owners to pay for their wheels. 

In the case of the telephone, city-based phone networks were built. When these were eventually interconnected, they made long distance calls possible.  These networks were eventually organized into utilities to provide telephone services to people who lived where there were too few customers to attract private investment for the build-out of networks. I can still remember listening for the special ring of the party line for the telephone at my great-aunt’s summer cottage.

“The people who work in the companies you’ll read about in these pages are working hard to find new ways to protect our water, our air, and our earth so we can continue to reimagine our lives."

In both these cases, people like us reimagined how things would need to change to make new inventions part of everyday life. The process took all kinds of people to accomplish it. Citizens voted for elected representatives who campaigned on the basis of a new way of doing things. Public officials took up the challenge of enacting new laws, and prudently disbursing budgets for new road and telephone connections.People went to school to be able to qualify for newly created professions and jobs, and families moved for these jobs. My grandparents did not marry until 1940 when my grandfather had saved enough to buy a car. People made life decisions based on new technologies.

The same is the case for the challenges we face from climate change. Each of us, each of our families, are reimagining our lives and how they will be different in a world where there are limits on what we can throw away into the air, water, and the earth. This change will not be easy. But, as we reimagine, we are building new systems that today are like islands — a little like the city-wide telephone networks before they were interconnected for long-distance calls. Though not yet obvious for us to see, new systems are being created so that we can address climate change — clean technology is one such system. 

Without much fanfare, more than 50,000 people took up work in Canada’s clean technology companies from coast to coast to coast. Already that’s as many working in forestry and logging. Still in its infancy, clean technology is now a $12 billion Canadian success story. So why haven’t more Canadians heard of it? It’s a new part of how we are reimagining society, the environment, and the economy. 

So what exactly is clean technology?

Clean technology companies work on problems we all care about, like storing renewable energy so that it is there when we need it. Problems like how to convert sugar (not petroleum) into fabrics that look and feel great — how to replace expensive and polluting diesel power in remote communities with clean, affordable energy. These solution providers are companies protecting our environment and growing our economy.

Quietly and without any fuss, Canada has built an industry of more than 800 firms — employing many Canadians in good jobs where they are part of reimagining our future with their families. Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change says of the industry, “Canadians who work in clean technology are building solutions for transportation, buildings, utilities, oil and gas, and forestry and agriculture. They are helping us reimagine our society, our environment, and our economy.”
So read on, find out what’s happening. The people who work in the companies you’ll read about in these pages are working hard to find new ways to protect our water, our air, and our earth so we can continue to reimagine our lives.