Policy Levers Toolkit: Using government policy to help cleantech succeed

Author: Marla Orenstein

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Introduction: Getting the ‘ask’ right

Successfully commercializing innovation is hard – and good ideas too often end in failure. The cleantech industry in Canada has no shortage of transformative ideas to address environmental impacts and improve energy efficiency. Getting these ideas over the finish line is often a different question. As a result, organizations that are interested in seeing cleantech businesses succeed – industry organizations, economic interest groups, chambers, think tanks, foundations and others – often ask government to step in and help. Requesting government intervention makes sense, as one of the roles of government—whether federal, provincial or municipal—is to manage the conditions that create economic prosperity.

But do organizations ask government for the right things?

Maybe what potential investors need isn’t a tax break, but regulatory certainty. Maybe what would be most helpful to a new cleantech business isn’t an R&D grant, but procurement opportunities. Maybe the place the government could make the biggest difference is by backing a product certification scheme, or providing credible data.

To make good asks, organizations need a robust understanding of what potential government actions or interventions exist. They need to be able to identify what they can and should be asking or advocating for—and what is even in the remit of government to provide. Without a well-developed understanding, businesses and the organizations that want them to succeed may not know where to begin, and there is a good chance that opportunities will be missed.

This policy toolkit is intended to act as that starting point: to lay out the set of government policy actions that can be used to shape the behaviour of consumers, of markets, of producers, of investors and of competing jurisdictions to help cleantech companies succeed. This toolkit can be used both by organizations that advocate for policy changes in support of cleantech commercialization, and by governments that want to review whether they are maximizing the value they provide.

The definition of cleantech is extremely broad, and includes innovations at different stages of development and different scales, and—as a result—with vastly different needs. What is needed to incentivize carbon capture and storage is different than what is needed for clean battery development; the scale of support for developing a hydrogen network is different than the scale of support for developing new waste-to-energy facilities.

While the discussion in this document is framed around using policy to support cleantech innovation, the tool – and the principles that underlie it – can be applied to a wide range of innovation types.

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