Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association (NEIA)

Promoting environmental and economic prosperity

Since its inception in 1992, the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association (NEIA) has been a champion promoter of the adoption of biofuel technologies, to the development of low-carbon building products, to finding efficiencies through reducing greenhouse gas emissions and finding value from organic wastes.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with NEIA’s Executive Director Kieran Hanley about some of the associations’ current initiatives and future plans as it promotes both environmental and economic prosperity in the country’s eastern-most province.

At the time of the organization’s first official meeting 27 years ago the environmental industry, as such, was fractured in the province and lacking organization.

“However, there was a leadership group of five individuals representing five companies who came together to establish the association and from there we were off to the races,” begins Hanley.

NEIA has continued to represent the environmental sector while also strongly advocating the need for strong economic results.

“We started to reorganize a bit in 2012 when the notion of clean technology started to really build steam and grow in importance,” notes Hanley.

It was a time for Hanley and his team to work through a strategic planning session in an effort to frame-out what the long term goals and activities were going to be for NEIA in the years to come.

“We decided to essentially focus on six lines of business to drive growth in the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador: provide a support framework for entrepreneurs and start-ups; have networks to help increase productivity and competitiveness for our firms; create tools to encourage and foster innovation within our sector; provide exports and international business programming; provide training and professional development opportunities tailored to environmental sector employees and the membership; and finally – leadership on policy and advocacy issues,” he reveals.

In terms of assessing milestones, Hanley says it’s difficult to assess because as an industry association it’s fundamentally about the achievements of NEIA members that are of most importance.

“As long as we keep seeing success for our members that is the metric of success for us,” remarks Hanley.

Membership now stands at just over 200, and it’s quite representative of the cross spectrum of Newfoundland and Labrador’s business sectors and economic generators.

“Our members apply their experience and expertise in all of the important aspects of the economy in the province whether that is oil and gas, mining, fisheries, aquaculture, forestry, infrastructure and construction – our members are involved in it all,” explains Hanley.

During its 27 years of service, NEIA has proven to be an exceptionally nimble and versatile organization in terms of what it can accomplish for its members in maximizing both economically and environmentally.

“Our organization is really focused on business development for companies that do see that environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive activities,” note Hanley.

With a career background in business development, Hanley joined NEIA seven years ago and has served in the role of executive director for 2 ½ years. Such a position dictates a strong respect for environmental values while at the same time balancing the needs of the economy and the environment together, which is the most practical approach.

Membership within NEIA spans a multitude of different industries. As a result, to support those members and to grow the green economy in Newfoundland and Labrador, the association proudly partners with such sectors as oil and gas, mining, forestry and many others.

Success is predicated on having a strong working relationship with the provincial government, which has worked closely with a number of industries to develop strategic work plans over the past two years. Some are short-term plans and others are longer, stretching out as far as 2030.

“We’ve had the opportunity to contribute a great deal to some of those plans. The forestry work plan was just released in January and the technology sector as well, of which we were the co-chair of that committee where we released a report and recommendations in February of last year,” Hanley proudly says.

As an organization, Hanley sees an excellent opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador to develop an international competitive advantage within clean technology. It’s an island jurisdiction for the most part, surrounded by water with a small, rural population and relatively distant from major markets such as Montreal and Toronto. It’s a type of rare isolation creates unique challenges when it comes to things like waste management, wastewater management, transportation, climate-change mitigation and adaptation. Solutions that may be great for places such as Waterloo or Calgary are not economic in Newfoundland and Labrador because of scale, so it forced a need to find innovative solutions.

“What we have realized over the years is that we aren’t the only rural, isolated market island in the world so the solutions that we do develop here are quite exportable worldwide and are of value,” offers Hanley.

Since 2014, NEIA has been front and centre in assisting provincial firms engage business development in Caribbean markets. The weather is quite different there but many of the challenges are the same. Since 2015, NEIA has led six business development missions to foreign destinations such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Jamaica, Guyana and other countries as well.

“The expertise that we are able to bring there is really in and around things like climate change wastewater and waste management – things that are somewhat unique to places with the geography and environmental conditions of an island,” explains Hanley.

With a population of 530,000 people, Hanley concedes the province does not have the base to support accelerated growth for clean technology so one of the first thing NEIA emphasizes to its members is to think about exporting their products and services from the outset.

“We’ve developed considerable expertise as a non-profit organization and international involvement is the second primary area that we want to focus on,” he says. “Most of our economic activity is related to the ocean whether it is fisheries or aquaculture or transportation but the major driver is our offshore oil and gas industry.”

Hanley envisions an enormous opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador to develop a niche expertise in applying clean technology in the offshore oil and gas industry. Emissions from the industry are considered quite low compared to other jurisdictions. He also believes there is a lot to be learned from countries such as Norway and the United Kingdom.

“Eventually as technology and knowledge are transferred to companies here we’ll get to the stage where we’re developing our own technologies in that regard. We already have a very strong ocean technology industry,” says Hanley.

Costs & efficiencies

In order for there to be widespread acceptance of green technologies, it must be affordable for companies to engage. The cost factors vary significantly depending on the business sector and the process technologies.

“Our view is that it’s not good enough for a solution to be only environmentally friendly or sustainable – it also has to be cost competitive,” notes Hanley.

NEIA provides training programs for companies throughout the economy that examine where the environmental efficiencies could lead to ultimate cost savings or new revenue opportunities. A very prominent example is the electric vehicle. As of now, it’s a technology that’s still considered too expensive for most, but Hanley suggests that as electric vehicles become more cost competitive with the combustion vehicle, we’ll see a widespread adoption of that technology.

“People do ultimately vote with their wallets and that’s important for businesses in the environmental industry to understand. They have to go above and beyond sustainability – it has to be a better product in some way,” he says.

NEIA currently primarily engages with stakeholders in four specific industries: oil and gas, aquaculture, forestry and mining, although collaboration takes place with a wide variety of industries on a regular basis. Over the last year NEIA spent time working with industry to identify where environmental opportunities exist and how to best get that information to those who are inclined to do something about it.

“Right now as an organization and as a community of interested partners we’re asking ourselves how do we accomplish that and facilitate industry innovation,” says Hanley. “Is it through challenges or contests, and do we continue to focus on start-up events to stoke new ideas? Is it about more research and business events? It’s all about enhancing the local innovation ecosystem for clean technology.”

Those are just some of the questions Hanley and the team at NEIA will continue to pursue, with hopes of generating substantial feedback and answers by the end of this calendar year through collaborative efforts with industry partners and also the provincial and federal governments.

NEIA is constantly front-and-centre in promoting strong corporate and social responsibility within the province. The association hosts two key events throughout the year. New Leef was launched in 2012 and is held each October in St. John’s. The event showcases the environmental technologies that are coming from Newfoundland and Labrador and help bind the community of environmental professionals and businesses to facilitate collaboration, cooperation and knowledge sharing.

The other main annual event spearheaded by NEIA is called the Innovation Connector, which is also held in St. John’s each May. The intent is to explore what the actual needs of the industries are with respect to the environment or the opportunities and how to communicate that information to those people who can do something about it – namely entrepreneurs and academics. The event aims to make some of those necessary connections within the ecosystem who would not otherwise necessarily cross paths with one another.

Looking to the future

The global market for clean technologies is set to grow to $2.5 trillion by 2022 and it is Hanley’s hope that Newfoundland and Labrador will have its own distinct identity when it comes to clean technology and especially with respect to ocean industries. He acknowledges that it won’t happen over the next few years, but over the next 10 to 20 years his goal is to have the province be recognized as one of the world leaders in the development of such technologies.

All of these exciting developments are still being developed, but in terms of current milestones, NEIA has just released a clean technology environmental services directory for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We undertook the project for three reasons,” says Hanley: “to help inform local decision makers and procurement officials on the products and services available right here and moving along the ‘buy local concept; to generate greater awareness of the sector and the individual capabilities of firms within the province on a national and international scale; and finally to create a tool for innovators, whether it’s companies or researchers, to find resources and collaborators on projects, which hopefully will stimulate new conversation and activities and projects.”