Wells-to-wheels meets farm-to-fork

A supercluster project is pairing the once-disparate oilsands and oilseeds industries. The benefits could impact all Canadians

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Bill WhitelawCan two acronyms help position Canada as a global economic and environmental leader?

Or, what do oilsands companies and oilseeds producers have in common? (Here’s a hint: air, water and land.)

Just ask SASC and CRIN. The first is the Smart Agri-Food Supercluster, the latter is the Clean Resource Innovation Network.

One is obviously a product of Canada’s  agriculture and food sectors, the other a creation of the upstream oil and gas sector’s efforts to focus on clean technology.

Thanks to an emerging way of contemplating collaborative innovation, SASC and CRIN are bound together by innovation dynamics like emissions reductions, land impacts and water quality.

SASC is one of nine supercluster groups awaiting Ottawa’s word on if it will share in nearly $1 billion of innovation funding announced last March. The process unified Canadian industry, government and the post-secondary world in a way previously unheard of.

SASC, in its effort to create a pan-Canadian platform, counts more than 100 companies and 20 post-secondary schools in its rank. More join daily as the momentum builds. It has identified more than $250 million in projects to be matched by Ottawa. Each initiative comes with a defined set of benefits.

CRIN, too, applied for funding but didn’t make the short list. But because the two groups were collaborating, they had a handshake deal to support each other. Now, CRIN is represented on the SASC board.

It’s not a stretch to claim that it’s the first time two resource sectors have aligned so prominently in the interests of the environment and the economy.

Air, water and land bind them.

They’re major concerns for all of Canada’s resource sectors, with each devoting considerable attention to technologies and innovations that will produce substantive results.

But traditionally, in Canadian economic and political contexts, they’re treated as separate sectors with only vague linkages.

Provincial and federal governments haven’t created policies that encourage sectoral collaboration – until the supercluster concept came along.

Now, thanks to SASC and CRIN, the oilsands sector is at the table with the oilseeds industry. That means game-changing thinking will be shared – thinking that Canada can take to the world.

The CRIN-SASC alignment has potential to educate the next generation of Canadians and their leaders. The agri-food and energy sectors are both burdened by widespread ignorance among the folks at the end of their value chains about where their food and energy really come from. That ignorance creates the impetus – and social licence – to grow and improve in the sectors that exist because we eat and drive.

Such unique collaboration can also create a remarkable Canadian-made global brand.

Wells-to-wheels meets farm-to-fork in a powerful alliance.

Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group. He is also a member of the SASC transition board and EVP of Weather Innovations, one of the SASC supporting companies. Find out more about SASC at its new website: smartagrifoodsupercluster.ca.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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