Best Practices for Approaching a “Dirty” Industry with Clean Ideas

By: Michael Carlson, Ph.D., CTO and Co-founder of CarboNet

Clean50 Honouree Michael Carlson explains how innovation in technology, and openness, can reduce the environmental impacts of high-polluting industries that are currently still relied on for resource production.

There are a variety of industries that are considered “dirty” but continue to exist due to the supply and demand for their resources or products. While we don’t have to accept the way they operate currently, we can’t expect to see change without innovation.  

Just like it has taken industries time to grow into the beasts that they currently are, it will take time and unconventional thinking to combat the challenges that now exist as a result of them. The most obvious of these solutions that we see today has been in renewable energy which has helped our society combat climate change by shifting away from our reliance on oil and gas.

While this and many other technologies are indeed necessary improvements, if you zoom in just a bit more you’ll see that many changes can help largely offensive industries lower their environmental impact substantially quicker. 

“A little goes a long way and everything we can do to accelerate change will always be a good thing.”

Michael Carlson

We often focus on the end products of “dirty” industries and forget about the environmental expenditures that are necessary for them to operate. One of the largest expenditures? Water.  

It’s this very reason that CarboNet was founded – to help combat the overuse and pollution of water that takes place in industries around the world.  

CarboNet’s approach has been to work directly with industries to ensure that the pollution of bodies of waters never happens in the first place rather than attempting to combat damage after it’s already been done. Working together, no matter your perspective of an industry, is essential to shifting practices, protecting the environment, and keeping the economy afloat.  

It’s easy to have a stigma based on the news we see, but at the end of the day, the people working in these industries are still people. Just because you’ll often see them in big trucks doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the technology of a Tesla. And just because they work in non-renewable energy doesn’t mean they don’t support the future of renewable energy.  

Like anyone else, when presented with a solution that can make their life easier, they’ll go for it.  

This is why CarboNet, a specialty chemicals company with a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to recycled water, has been successful in oilfields. By creating a new class of chemistry for water treatment, we’ve been able to bring innovation to an industry that has hardly seen any in decades.  

Choices of chemical water treatments in the past have been few and far between. Many “products” have simply been companies putting their branding on the same ingredients and saying it’s new. CarboNet’s approach is different. We’ve worked from the ground up to create completely new products that have helped industries recycle over 1 billion liters of water in just 2 years alone.

Now, with our proprietary NanoNet Chemical Platform, we continue to create water treatments that target and control water contaminants from industries beyond oil and gas making it possible to recycle and reuse clean water instead of putting more pressure on freshwater resources. 

Like everything, gaining success as a “clean” company in a “dirty” industry is easier said than done. But one thing to always remember is: you do well by doing well.  

Doing well can be interpreted in many ways, but the basic definition means to have better outcomes in some shape or form than before. In the case of CarboNet, our focus on doing well began with creating better water treatment products that have both a lower chemical footprint and higher efficacy than traditional chemical treatments. We wanted to do well for the sake of the environment but knew that for this to be a possibility it also had to mean doing well for the people who would use our products.  

These people were and continue to be the water treatment operators and engineers in various industries that don’t have the best reputation, such as oil & gas. But no matter who a person is or what industry they’re in, people will always be willing to do things differently if it makes their lives easier.

Whether it’s cost, time, complexity, or all of the above, the potential of improving these aspects in people’s lives will always result in open ears. There is rarely ever a justifiable reason to do something that costs twice as much or takes twice as long as its alternative.  

The world is changing and so are the people in it. Rather than write a person or industry off, it’s often better to assume they have the best intentions than to assume they are unwilling to change. After all, trying never hurts.  

Green or clean companies can make significant changes throughout industries. Trying something new, having open conversations, and zooming in on the tasks at hand are sure ways to make big-picture changes. Though the results may not be the complete shift of entire operations, a little goes a long way and everything we can do to accelerate change will always be a good thing.