Natural Step Canada – Energy Futures Lab Phases I and II

Project Lead: Chad Park & The Natural Step

It takes a certain vision, some would say madness, to decide that, when time is of the essence, the best way forward is to get a number of vastly disparate parties together and provide the forum for them to continue their contentious debate. That, however, is idea behind the Energy Futures Lab.

A one-day dialogue in Edmonton in May 2012 focusing on the alignment of agendas for energy sustainability and prosperity sparked the development of the initiative. More than 80 community, industry and government leaders from across the Alberta — a province where energy is never on the backburner — attended this dialogue and expressed interest in a new form of co-operation.

Drawing on an internationally-recognized framework for sustainability-driven innovation and leading practice in social process design, The Natural Step Canada, and its co-conveners set the objective of the Energy Futures Lab. They were joined by the Suncor Institute, The Pembina Institute, The Banff Centre and later the Government of Alberta.

Energy Futures Lab aims to serve as a space to move fragmented and polarized conversations around energy to a new outcome-based dialogue, provide a platform for ongoing experimentation, innovation, and collaboration; and create a channel to re-frame a broader public narrative about energy. The surprise is that it’s working.

Recognizing that tackling the complexity of today’s energy challenges requires a true diversity of perspectives and abilities, a team of Energy Futures Lab Fellows was assembled. Together the Fellows represent a microcosm of the energy system itself. Each was selected for their knowledge of the energy system and their abilities in innovation and influencing. Capable leaders from First Nations, energy, cleantech, finance, NGOs, public sector and youth and others were recruited as Energy Fellows and asked to explore the question: How can Alberta’s leadership position in today’s energy system serve as a platform for transition to the energy system the future needs?

Helmed by Chad Park, The Natural Step’s Chief Innovation Officer — supported by a world-class advisory council and steering committee —  the Fellows address the deeply polarized and polarizing nature of public dialogue on energy issues in order to create new kinds of conversations and insights which can then be used to inform Albertans. Opportunities to identify, test and scale new initiatives and collaborations to help create the energy system of the future are generated. Fellows were brought together for a series of engagements in the Energy Futures Lab’s social innovation lab setting which enables co-creation, real-world experimentation and learning while identifying, testing and scaling new initiatives.  Their initial outputs are a draft Vision for Alberta’s Energy which suggests a series of innovations designed to offer Alberta a prosperous, sound, energy future.

One of the initiatives being supported by this joint effort is the Workers’ Climate Plan, with the aim of retooling and repositioning Alberta’s workforce for energy transition. One group of Fellows is working on converting oil wells into geothermal heat sources. The Indigenous Renewable Energy Circle was formed, partnering with external agencies to explore how best to contribute to Indigenous communities’ leadership in alternative energy development.

Energy Futures Lab Fellows are working on a set of materials and tools to help municipal governments and economic development agencies across Alberta develop a clearer understanding of the emerging energy transition and how their communities can get more involved. Fellows from the oil sands industry, tech, research, and government developed a framework for collaborating to find ways to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of the oil sands, increase its profitability, and ensure it is a continued source of prosperity for Alberta.

Our common future requires common ground for these and many more conversations to be held.